What Consumers Want

By Dan Malovany

In our exclusive survey, Americans reveal why they buy bread and what drives them to purchase specific varieties. Are they confused when it comes to health, nutrition and baked goods? Not really. At least, they don’t think so.

Hearth healthy. Made with whole grains. High in fiber. Multigrain. Even though these claims are placed on billions of bags each year, consumers say there are more practical reasons for eating bread.
In fact, nine out of 10 indicate that they simply use bread to make sandwiches, while 71% do so because they enjoy its taste, and 56% eat it as a complement to other foods.
“Consumers are not putting into practice what they know about nutrition,” notes Marcia Scheideman, president of the Wheat Foods Council in Parker, Colo. “They’re buying bread for other reasons.”
Case in point: Only about one-third of consumers mention eating bread as “part of a balanced diet” or for the nutritional composition of the product. Moreover, fewer than one out of five say they eat bread as part of a healthy lifestyle, because it gives them energy or to maintain or lose weight.
These are just a few of the number of findings of an exclusive consumer survey by InsightExpress, a Stamford, Conn.-based market research firm, for Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine and the American Bakers Association. Some 500 adult consumers from across the nation participated in the online survey, which was conducted Jan. 17-26, 2007.
“At first, I was a little skeptical with the data because it’s such a small sample, but now, I agree with it,” notes Jerry Smiley, baking industry consultant and partner with Strategic Growth Partners in Roselle, Ill.
“When I think about our use of bread, the biggest use in our house is to make sandwiches,” he adds. “We use sliced bread for sandwiches and crusty bread with meals.”
Who’s shopping for these breads? Nearly all respondents say they purchase most or all of their own groceries, with 61% buying food at traditional supermarkets, 20% at Wal-Mart and the remainder at a variety of other channels. And nearly everyone purchased a loaf of bread in the six months leading up to the survey. (See “How InsightExpress Conducted the Survey,” page 10.)
Likewise, health and nutrition are important, but they’re not the most critical factors in determining which breads consumers buy. Again, practical reasons and personal preferences drive purchasing in the bread aisle. In fact, 94% of those surveyed named taste as somewhat important or very important in their purchase of a specific type of bread, while four out of five do so because their families likes a certain variety. Yes, kids have a big influence on bread purchasing patterns.
For instance, more than 70% list texture or softness as key factors, followed by healthy ingredients (68%), because they trust the brand (64%) or because it has whole grains (62%). Only about half list the size of the loaf or the slice of bread and the way it toasts as significant reasons for purchasing a specific type of bread.
Size might not matter, but taste certainly does.
As Judi Adams, president of the Ridgway, Colo.-based Grains Food Foundation, says, “nutrition might not always be the main driver for why people buy/eat bread. Our job is to remind them that not only does bread taste good, it’s good for them, too.”
Why Consumers Eat Bread
(Survey Finding: Only one-third List Health Benefits)
To Make a Sandwich 89%
Enjoyment and Taste 71%
Complements Other Foods 56%
Balancing the Diet with a Variety of Foods 32%
Nutritional Ingredients in Bread 31%
Maintaining a Healthy Routine and Body 20%
Eating Bread Gives Me Energy 13%
To Maintain or Lose Weight 9%
Other 7%
Source: InsightExpress survey of 501 consumers, conducted January 17-26, 2007.
Even though Americans don’t rank nutrition as the greatest reason for eating or buying bread, they have definite opinions about what type of breads are best for their health. Some bakers and nutritionists might not agree with consumers’ opinions, but that’s a different story.
What Consumers Believe
Contrary to popular belief, the InsightExpress study indicates that consumers are not confused when it comes to health and nutrition, at least with regards to baked goods. Granted, many people might not understand the intricacies of the glycemic index or read up on the latest fad diets. Moreover, some consumers might have misguided ideas of what’s good to their health. However, in this survey, respondents seem to have a pretty good idea of which healthy benefits in bread are important to them and which are not.
“They’re clear about what their opinions are, but they’re confused about the labeling and what is healthy, especially when it comes to whole grains and whole wheat varieties,” Scheideman says. “I’m also not sure that consumers know what multigrain is. They see the word ‘grain,’ and it sounds great to them. It’s not the consumer’s fault. They don’t realize that multigrain [bread] may not have whole grains in it.”
For example, the survey asked respondents to rate how various varieties of bread impact their health. Whole grain breads top the list, being named beneficial or somewhat beneficial by 83% of consumers, followed closely by high-fiber (79%) and multigrain (77%). These percentages are the combined totals of those consumers who gave these attributes a four or five rating, with one being “detrimental” and five being “beneficial.”
What is Important to Dieters
Health Benefit Dieters Non-dieters
Whole Grains 76% 63%
High Fiber 68% 58%
Heart Healthy 63% 50%
Low Calorie 52% 24%
Low Fat 49% 34%
Omega-3 40% 29%
Source: InsightExpress survey of 501 consumers, conducted January 17-26, 2007. Percent of respondents who rank a specific health benefit as important or very important in determining why they purchase bread for PERSONAL consumption. Check all that apply.
Smiley says he believes the baking industry is benefiting from other industries that are advertising and promoting whole grains more aggressively.
“Whole grains have had a ‘halo effect’ from other food groups,” he says. “There’s more promotion on TV going on in the pet food industry with whole grains than with the baking industry.”
Because their profit margins are so low, especially compared with other good categories, bakers don’t advertise as much on television.
“You do see commercials occasionally, but not very often,” he says. “What they need to be doing is a better job at point-of-sale. They also need to be doing a better job on their labels.”
But how do consumers rate varieties and health attributes. More than six out of 10 (61%) say all-natural loaves are beneficial or somewhat beneficial while 55% say that about artisan breads and 51% about “white bread made with whole grains.”
Despite the big hype over organic, only 41% list it as beneficial to their health. Organic seems to work in the produce section, but not as well in the bread aisle. Consumers, it seems, are just not bowled over by the purported wholesome image of organic baked goods. Bakers, it seems, are rolling out organic products more in response to requests from Wal-Mart and other major retailers, and less in response to consumer demand.
“Organic doesn’t seem to be on everyone’s radar anymore,” Scheideman notes. “I’d take an all-natural claim over organic.”
Likewise, Smiley is a bit skeptical about organic breads in the long run because of the high ingredient costs and processing requirements, especially for certified-organic products.
“I’ve seen some ‘made with organic’ products priced similarly to conventional ones, so I bought them,” he says. “Why not? But if they are much more expensive, I would think twice.”
The survey notes that just one-third of those surveyed rank French or Italian bread highly. Only one in five consumers perceive white bread as good for their health.
When purchasing bread for personal consumption, about two-thirds of consumers claim that bread that consists of whole grains (69%) or are high in fiber (63%) are important to their health. Some 56% also believe that “heart healthy” is vital. Again, these percentages are the combined totals of those consumers who gave these attributes a four or five rating with one being “not important at all” and five being “very important.”
The remaining attributes are viewed less positively by more than half of those polled. For instance, calcium-enriched (46%), all-natural (42%) and low-fat (41%) received okay grades.
However, only about one-third of all consumers view light or low-calorie breads (37%) and Omega-3 (34%) as important health benefits, while one-quarter (26%) mention sugar-free and organic. Additionally, 44% of consumers don’t have positive views of organic, while 42% don’t care about sugar-free.
The fact that at least a third of consumers value Omega-3 is huge, Adams says.
“Most people haven’t a clue what they are or what they do, but have been convinced that they are important,” she explains. “In 2006, 31 new bakery products with Omega-3 were introduced as compared to six in 2004. The industry is obviously responding.”
Smiley sees a potential upside when it comes to Omega-3 usage in bread.
“I don’t think the food industry has done a really good job articulating what are the benefits of Omega-3,” he says.
Lifestyle Impacts Purchases
Survey data also clearly shows that lifestyle can influence opinions on bread, health and nutrition. Specifically, two of the biggest X-factors are dieting and children. Those on a diet, for instance, have significantly different views than non-dieters when it comes to the health benefits of bread. In addition, what’s important to households with children under 18 is often not as big a factor to consumers without kids.
To a lesser extent, income, age, gender and other factors might skew a demographic group toward one opinion or another. For instance, a greater number of higher income households, those making more than $75,000 a year, value whole grains, compared with those making $75,000 or less a year. Size of loaf is less important to higher-income households.
“The affluent can better afford whole grain and multigrain breads, while the low income or those with children may not be able to,” Adams suggests. “It may be a case of valuing what you can attain. I also think it’s partly because higher income households tend to read more about diet and health — therefore, they receive more health related messages.”
By subdividing the research data into these various groups, however, wholesale bakers and their customers can get a better idea of what specific types of consumers think about specific types of bread and their nutrition attributes. That’s something Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery will be doing off and on in reports over the next few months. Additionally, such insights might help these bakers more effectively target consumers in their sales and marketing efforts.
Children, not surprisingly, often influence consumers’ perceptions of bread in some cases. White bread is rated somewhat beneficial or beneficial by 27% of households with kids versus just 15% for consumers without youngsters. Those numbers might seem low, considering that consumers with children spend 37% of their bread budget on white bread, 17% on 100% whole wheat and less than 10% on any other variety, according to the survey.
On the other hand, 81% of childless households view multigrain as beneficial, while only 71% of families with kids share that opinion. Artisan also ranks significantly higher (59%) in homes without kids than those with them (49%). Consumers without children at home only spend one-quarter (26%) of their bread dollars on white bread, 18% on 100% whole wheat, 16% on whole grain and 12% on multigrain varieties. They also spend less than 10% on any of the other varieties.
Naturally, more families (54%) consider calcium-enriched products a vital health benefit versus 38% of those without children.
“Many families with children also tend to buy one type of bread for the entire household, and often times, white bread will please everyone in the family,” Adams says.
Smiley, however, says purchasing patterns are slightly different for his household.
“When we buy sandwich bread, we buy the wide-pan products that my wife and I eat, and we buy the soft white bread for the kids,” he says. “They tend to be more finicky. If you give them the whole wheat white, they’ll eat the whole sandwich.”
If consumers go on a diet, it’s a whole other ball game when it comes to health attributes. For instance, more than three-fourths of dieters (76%) say whole grains are important, compared to 63% of non-dieters. And those who monitor what they eat (63%) like the “heart healthy” label, while only 50% of non-dieters think so.
“There are studies showing that whole grains make you feel fuller and therefore eat less, which is attractive to dieters,” Adams explains.
It’s no surprise that diet-conscious consumers are counting their calories and watching their fat intake, as well. The survey shows that more than half (52%) believe light or low-calorie breads are important, versus 24% for non-dieters. Additionally, more dieters (49%) think positively about low-fat varieties than non-dieters (34%) do. Some 40% of dieters rank Omega-3 as important, versus 29% of those not on a diet.
“When calories are being limited, it is very important to eat the most nutrient dense foods or ‘more bang for the buck,’” Adams says. “By getting Omega-3s in bread, you don’t have to consume other foods, and hence more calories.”
When purchasing bread for their families, health benefits are a slightly less important factor in their bread buying decisions than if consumers are purchasing it only for themselves. Obviously, factors such as taste and making sure that the little ones eat their bread is more top of mind.
“People buy white bread because it tastes good,” Scheideman says. “For some people, they’ll buy whatever their children will eat.”
Adams believes the baking industry has a huge opportunity to educate consumers about wholesomeness of bread.
“To increase long-term consumption of bread and other grain products, we must convince the consumer that they are vital to a healthful diet,” she says. SF&WB
How InsightExpress Conducted the Survey
If you ever filled out an online survey rating your hotel stay or shopping experience, you have a pretty good idea how InsightExpress and online market research works.
The Stamford, Conn.-based research firm employed their e-RDD recruitment methodology to conduct the research. e-RDD uses banners, leader boards and other call-to-action techniques to invite consumers from tens of thousands of Web sites across the Internet to participate in its surveys. Individuals accepting the invitation complete a short screening survey to capture age, gender and other attributes. Based on their answers, respondents are randomly assigned to an active survey for which they qualify.
For Snack Food and Wholesale Bakery’s survey, respondents needed to be 18 or older and do at least half of the grocery shopping for their households. In all, 501 qualified consumers completed the survey. Geographically, respondents came from all areas of the nation. InsightExpress researchers note that the overall survey represents a broad cross section of the U.S. population. The survey was conducted Jan. 17-26, 2007.
Typically, baking companies target moms who are between the ages of 25 and 45 and who buy most or all of their groceries for their family. Our survey sample was different. Some 25% of respondents were male and 60% had no children. The latter is not unusual since many parents with children don’t have time to opt-in to such surveys. In addition, more than 40% noted that they made more than $75,000 a year, and a significant number of consumers over 50 participated, as well.
As a result, this broad representation of consumers allowed SF&WB and InsightExpress to analyze the data that was different than most surveys conducted on baked goods. In addition to comparing households with kids versus no kids, we compared consumers by age, gender, marital status and income. The survey also broke down respondents into dieters and non-dieters. Not surprisingly, of the 46% who said they have been on a diet in the past 12 months, 51% are females while 29% are males. To develop the survey, SF&WB worked with InsightExpress, as well as members of the American Bakers Association Marketing Committee, which is made up of some of the industry’s top marketing executives. In all, respondents answered 29 questions about themselves and their views on bread, the health attributes that drive bread sales and snacking.
For more information about InsightExpress or online market research, visit www.insightexpress.com or call 1-877-329-1552, or visit www.snackandbakery.com
Profile of the White Bread Buyer
White bread consumers tend to be a breed of their own. Nutrition, for instance, is not top of mind when they or consume bread. Although they know that whole grains are beneficial to their health, this is not a major factor when it comes to making purchases. Yes, they often buy variety breads for their personal consumption, but overall, these shoppers and their families simply like eating white bread.
In fact, four out of five consumers cite the softness of white bread as a major reason for buying it, according to a recent survey by InsightExpress. About 54% of those surveyed note that healthy ingredients are valuable, while only 43% say whole grain gets their juices flowing. Whole grains just don’t have the aura with white bread eaters that they do with consumers as a whole.
However, that doesn’t mean that these consumers don’t know what’s healthy and what’s not. In fact, three-quarters of survey respondents perceive whole grains as beneficial, while seven out of 10 say high fiber is good for them. Even 56% of white bread buyers list all-natural baked goods as beneficial. These percentages are the combined totals of those consumers who gave these attributes a four or five rating with one being “detrimental” and five as “beneficial.”
Moreover, six out of 10 have a healthy view of white bread “made with whole grains,” but only 31% of those who buy traditional white bread say it’s better for their bodies, according to the survey’s results.
White bread buyers ranked “calcium-enriched” highly, but don’t try to peddle heart healthy, low-calorie, low-fat or Omega-3 items to this group. Most don’t believe that these health attributes are critical when purchasing bread for their personal consumption. In fact, only 45% say heart healthy is a factor, versus 33% for low-fat, 30% for reduced-calorie and 29% for Omega-3.
Overall, these consumers spend more than 54% of their bread budget on white bread compared to 12% for 100% whole wheat and less than 10% for any other variety.
That’s not surprising to Marcia Scheideman, president of the Wheat Foods Council, Parker, Colo. Just before a huge blizzard slammed into Denver late last year, Scheideman headed to the supermarket to pick up some white bread to make stuffing.
“When I got to there, all of the white bread was gone, but the whole grain was still there,” she recalls.
In sum, despite rumors to the contrary, white bread is far from toast.
Time for Lunch
If it’s high noon, white bread and rolls still rule, but other varieties are making their moves. That’s what consumers say when buying bread for lunches they prepare for home.
In all, consumers said they spend 37% of their lunch dollars on white bread, according to a recent survey by InsightExpress. Wheat bread accounted for 22% of spending, followed closely by whole grain (19%) and multigrain (14%). Shoppers spent the remaining 9% of their bread dollars on other varieties.
Away from home, freshness (74%) is the most important feature when selecting a sandwich. No doubt, providing “fresh-baked” bread should be a promotion strategy for almost any establishment that serves sandwiches. That’s probably why chains such as Subway and Panera Bread continue to do so well.
Consumers also rank portion (59%), variety (59%) and nutrition (58%) highly, followed by not being messy (44%) and the fact that the bread is warm (42%).
The size of a sandwich is more important for a significantly greater number of young respondents. Indeed, 5% of those ages 18 to 44 consider the portion or size of the bread more important than those 45 and older (55%) do. Apparently, small is better for those who are really watching what they eat. Dieters (65%) are more likely than non-dieters (55%) to list size as critical. Not surprisingly, 71% of dieters consider nutrition important when buying a sandwich, compared to 46% of non-dieters.
As for kids, warm bread does the trick. In fact, 49% of respondents with children ranked “bread is warm” highly, compared to 37% of childless households. In other words, toasting that sandwich or grilling that cheese might be one way to win over the hearts and stomachs of the little ones.
The Average Jane-Joe Diet
By a huge majority, Americans prefers to just wing it when it comes to dieting, according to a recent survey by InsightExpress.
More than 67% of respondents say they watch what they eat on their own when dieting. No real diet even comes close. Slightly more than 46% of consumers say they have been on a diet during the past 12 months. Only 29% of men currently are on a diet versus 51% of women who are.
Maybe consumers should try a different approach, says Judi Adams, president of the Grain Foods Foundation, Ridgway, Colo.
“There is no other medically or self-prescribed therapy that is such a dismal failure,“ Adams notes. “Dieters are often nutrient deprived because they are more concerned about calories than what their body needs. And they are often too fatigued to exercise. Exercise is not only important for balancing caloric intake but to help prevent diabetes, depression and heart disease, as well as building muscle, which burns more calories at rest than does fat.
“While it’s validating to see consumers take a common-sense approach to their eating habits, unfortunately, most diets end in failure,” she adds. “In fact, the majority of consumers actually gain weight on a diet, as opposed to losing weight.”
The survey also shows that more than 57% of participants say they are overweight by more than 10 lb., 23% suffer from high blood pressure, and 21% have high cholesterol. Around 76% of dieters are overweight versus 42% of non-dieters.
Only 2% say they had a heart attack. Presumably, other sufferers couldn’t get to a computer.
Sneaking Snacks
If two-thirds of Americans are obese or overweight, don’t blame it entirely on snacking.
A recent survey by InsightExpress indicates that eight out of 10 consumers snack twice a day or less between meals. Some 37% nibble on treats twice a day, while 34% do so once daily, and 9% never do. Only 14% snack three times a day, compared to 6% who do it four times or more.
“Grazing throughout the day can be very beneficial, as long as nutrient-dense foods in small portions are selected,” notes Judi Adams, president of the Grain Foods Foundation, Ridgway, Colo. “We’ve also seen research that suggests the 3 p.m. slump is very real and snacking can provide consumers with a boost of energy — provided they’re reaching for healthy snacks. Bread with peanut butter, anyone?”
Men are more likely to never snack. In fact, the survey found that 15% of male consumers never eat between meals, versus 9% of women who never do.
Are men the stronger sex … or are they just fibbing?
“Men are liars,” says Jerry Smiley, baking industry consultant and partner with Strategic Growth Partners in Roselle, Ill. “When I want to lose a few pounds, I don’t say I’m on a diet. Most men don’t use that term.”