America’s New Idols
By Dan Malovany

It’s one thing to be wanted. It’s another to be loved. In the baking industry, it’s even more than that. It’s all about becoming an “American Idol.”
“You have a collection of people who are strong competitors, and every week, consumers vote for their favorite breads,” notes Tim Zimmer, vice president of marketing for Sara Lee Brands, Sara Lee Food & Beverage. “I think it’s a perfect fit for the category and for our brand and for the products we have.”
For better or worse, loyal viewers of one of the nation’s top-rated TV shows remember such contestants as Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Jordin Sparks. In fact, some of these performers have become recognized names in the music industry.
Unfortunately, “American Idol” still is linked to names that viewers have forgotten … or would rather forget. Remember Scott Savol, Bo Bice and’s recent favorite, Sanjaya Malakar? Yeah, he’ll be remembered for his hair.
Likewise, the American bread aisle is loaded with legendary names such as Wonder, Arnold, Franz, Nature’s Own, Schwebel’s and Pepperidge Farm. Then again, if you’re on a diet, Healthy Choice entrees might not taste too bad, but try to find Healthy Choice bread. It’s not even listed on the brand’s Web site.
As on TV, in the bread aisle, the difference between the winners and the losers always come down to taste. Take the low-carb trend. “That was terrible. I mean just awful.” Thank you, Simon, and thank goodness that craze was just a one-season wonder.
This year’s newcomers hail from all parts of the country, according the Chicago-based Mintel’s Global New Products Data Base. Here are just a few: Guerrero Whole Wheat tortillas by Gruma Corp, Irving, Texas; Healthy Life Southern Country Style Whole Grain White bread by Lewis Bakeries, Evansville, Ind.; and Take and Bake Organic Ciabatta rolls by New French Bakery in Minneapolis.
To get to the next round, bakers are trying every which way to win votes. Many contestants are adding fiber and cutting calories.
For instance, Thomas’ Light English muffins by George Weston Bakeries, Horsham, Pa., contain one-third fewer calories than the company’s regular English muffins, while providing one-third of a person’s daily fiber needs.
Likewise, Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, also known as Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Perfection Bakeries, came out with Aunt Millie’s Fiber and Flavor potato bread. Using a resistant starch, the new and improved product has 10 fewer calories than the variety it replaces and is a good source of dietary fiber and calcium. It even might help prevent diabetes and heart disease while aiding in digestion, the company notes. Now that’s showing intestinal fortitude.
Fresh Bread — Top 20 Vendors
(For 52 weeks ending April 22, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share
1 Private Label $1,564.0 +2.0 26.1
2 Interstate Brands $662.5 -6.3 11.1
3 Sara Lee $602.6 +5.5 10.1
4 George Weston $568.6 +1.3 9.5
5 Flower Foods $503.2 +3.7 8.4
6 Bimbo Bakeries $480.6 +7.9 8.1
7 Pepperidge Farm $379.7 +9.5 6.3
8 Stroehmann Bakeries $138.3 +3.3 2.3
9 United States Bakeries $79.5 +11.9 1.3
10 La Brea $79.1 +15.9 1.3
11 Perfection Bakers $75.3 +2.6 1.3
12 Schwebel $51.2 +5.3 0.9
13 Lewis Bakeries $43.3 +9.8 0.7
14 Roush $41.6 +1.1 0.7
15 F R Lepage $35.9 +4.1 0.6
16 Martins Famous Pastry Shop $28.4 -0.2 0.5
17 Pan-0-Gold $25.5 +12.5 0.4
18 Toufayan $24.1 +2.7 0.4
19 Alfred Nickles $23.4 -0.7 0,4
20 Roman Meal $22.0 -14.6 0.4
Total, including brands not shown $5,984.2 +2.8 100.00
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
Others target smaller households and growing demographic groups, especially as Baby Boomers get older.
For example, Interstate Bakeries Corp., Kansas City, Mo., Began offering a shrunk-down, 14-oz. version of its traditional 24-oz. Baker’s Inn loaves, while Bimbo Bakeries USA’s Oroweat brand came out with Mini Loaves in 100% Whole Wheat, Seven Grain, Oat Nut and Country Buttermilk varieties. The question is whether these bakeries can make a sale based on an issue such as stales.
Bimbo Bakeries reported in May that its Oroweat and Hispanic brands boosted sales and sparked volume gains, as well. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company recently launched Blanco Integral, a white bread made with whole grains that is tailored toward Hispanic families. Sold under the Bimbo brand — the most popular bread brand sold throughout Mexico, Latin America and South America — Blanco Integral contains 8.5 g. of whole grains, as well as folic acid, which is critical because Hispanic women are three times more likely to have a child with neural tube birth defects than non-Hispanic women, the company notes. Bimbo also brought out Colchones, an orange-flavored bread roll that has been popular in Mexico for decades. That’s “spot on,” right, Paula?
La Brea Bakery is betting that ‘tis the season for holiday breads. In August, Americans can check out its limited edition Season’s Signature Apple Raisin Spice Loaf. In September, the Los Angeles-based company will introduce its Season’s Signature Fruit & Nut Loaf. Will these artisan breads catch on in today’s pop culture? Goodness knows it worked for Blake Lewis, who took classic songs and gave them his own twist.
Going square can work, as well. Look at Clay Aiken, the solid performer whose popularity is being himself. He is the ultimate square peg that fits in a round hole.
Similarly, being square can be a point of differentiation, especially in the bagel category. Thomas’ followed up on its Square Bagelbread with Mini-Squares. The 100% Whole Wheat variety contains 150 calories per serving, but also a whopping 31 g. of whole grains and 7 g. of protein.
Square never looked so good … for you.
A Natural Performance
On “American Idol,” it pays to be a natural on stage, of course. In the bread aisle, add in whole grains for a winning combination.
Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., has known that for years with its successful line of natural breads.
Hard/Soft Tortillas — Top 5 Brands
(For 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1 Guerrero $208.8 +11.7 20.5 +1.1
2 Mission $178.5 +9.4 17.6 +0.6
3 Old El Paso $128.8 -0.2 12.7 -0.7
4 Private Label $85.0 +5.4 8.4 0.0
5 Tia Rosa $41.0 +0.1 4.0 -0.2
Total, including brands not shown $1,016.9 +5.7 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
To bolster its top-selling brand, Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers Foods rolled out Nature’s Own All Natural premium bread products last year, as well.
In April, Weston showed that going 100% all natural is one of the keys to surviving in the bread aisle-land. Its new line of Arnold Natural breads provides a good source of whole grains, dietary fiber, calcium, Vitamin D and folic acid. Better yet, their enhanced wellness profiles contain no corn syrup, trans fats, cholesterol or artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.
Unlike many variety breads, which are featured in a wide-panned loaf, the natural line comes in a smaller pan format that delivers a denser slice with fewer than 100 calories. Additionally, the breads provide 8 to 17 g. of whole grains per serving.
“These products are on the leading edge as far as their natural credentials,” says Jennifer Hartley, director of bread innovation for George Weston Bakeries. “They’ve got no high-fructose corn syrup, which is a big issue right now in the food industry. We have had a lot of inquiries on our consumer hotline.”
The Arnold Natural line is a re-launch for the Midwest, but new to consumers in Weston’s other territories, and comes in Natural 100% Whole Wheat, Natural Soft Wheat, Natural Health Nut and Natural Flax & Fiber varieties. In Northeast and Southeast markets, there also is a new softer and sweeter Natural Wheat offering.
However, in the Midwest, where Natural Wheat has been a staple for years under the Brownberry brand, Weston ran into consumer backlash after it introduced the new formula. In June, bowing to consumer pressure, the company brought back the original recipe that the legendary Catherine Clark inspired.
Hamburger/Hot Dog Buns — Top 5
(For 52 weeks ending April 22, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1 Private Label $553.9 +4.4 38.8 -0.6
2 Sara Lee $98.3 +26.9 6.9 +1.1
3 Martins $95.9 +11.4 6.7 +0.3
4 Wonder $64.5 +23.4 4.5 +0.6
5 Pepperidge Farm $46.3 +5.7 3.2 0.0
Total, including brands not shown $1,428.1 +6.1 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
Hartley notes that the Flax & Fiber variety is the No. 1 seller in the Northeast.
“It’s really unique,” she says. “It’s a real health bread, but it has terrific moisture versus some of the hard, health store-type breads that you might associate with that. It’s just chockfull of grains, and we were able to leverage the awareness of flax, which is both in the bread and on the crust.”
The rollout is being supported by radio commercials outlining that the bakers of Brownberry produce Arnold Natural breads. Such media exposure is needed in the Midwest, where the Arnold brand is relatively new compared with other markets in the eastern half of the nation where Weston’s products are sold. The company also is using back to school and other event marketing strategies to promote the line.
Bakers of all sizes are getting into the action. In March, Alpha Baking Co.’s purchase of Natural Ovens Bakery, Manitowoc, Wis., took it in a new direction … in more ways than one.
First, as its name indicates, the Natural Ovens brand is synonymous with natural products, an area in which Chicago-based Alpha Baking had a void in its portfolio.
Second, Natural Ovens has a strong regional presence in the retail channel, especially in upscale specialty stores that sell healthful or high-end baked goods. Alpha Baking’s primary strength has been in the foodservice channel, which it serves locally with fresh-baked goods and nationally with frozen breads and rolls.
Third, the acquisition allows Alpha Baking to leverage its direct-store-delivery distribution system and strengthen Natural Ovens’ presence in conventional supermarkets in the Chicagoland area. Moreover, Alpha Baking has expanded its DSD system and begun selling its bread and rolls under the S. Rosen’s and Mary Ann labels throughout northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, where Natural Ovens has been sold for some time now.
Look for Alpha Baking to drive Natural Ovens to the next great place, namely into the organic bread arena. Larry Marcucci, president of Alpha Baking, believes it’s the perfect location for the well-regarded brand with a loyal, if not enthusiastic, consumer base.
“Organics for us is like taking it to the next level beyond natural,” he says. “If we’re already there with natural products, how much harder is it to bring some organic products along the way?”
The products will be 100% pure organic, not just made with organic flour.
“Not only are they going to be organic, but they will have Omega-3 and other healthy ingredients in them that will be a bit more of an enhancement on organic offerings out there,” Marcucci explains.
Surging in Popularity
Overall, the Natural Ovens Bakery acquisition comes at a time when business continues to be “extremely strong” for Alpha Baking, according to Marcucci. Following up on strong performances over the past two years, sales this year are continuing to expand at a double-digit rate, he says.
That’s not the case for white bread, which has taken its knocks. However, the segment’s still big, especially for regional names such as Weston’s Freihofer and Stroehmann brands.
“One out of every five loaves sold is white bread,” Hartley notes. “While it’s not growing like whole grains, it’s still a significant business for us, and there is an opportunity to leverage some of the health trends in a white bread format, whether it’s enhanced nutritional benefits of white bread or a white/wheat type of breads. Our Stroehmann Soft & Tasty has been quite successful. It brings some of the benefits of whole grains into a white bread that kids will eat.”
Certainly, white bread “made with whole grains” has become all the rage. In January, Pepperidge Farm became one of the latest to venture into this arena with its Simply Delicious family of whole grain breads. They come in Soft Whole Grain White, Soft 100% Whole Wheat and Soft Honey Wheat.
“Pepperidge Farm continues to find success in responding to the consumer mega-trends of wellness, convenience and indulgence,” notes Pat Callaghan, president of the company. “When we combine those benefits with the distinctive quality and taste Pepperidge Farm is known for, we tend to do very well.”
In general, Sara Lee’s Zimmer notes, the bread category is healthy. Total sales are growing consistently between a 5% to 6% rate on a dollar basis.
Sara Lee, however, has been the dog in many consumers’ minds. In all, Zimmer notes, Sara Lee Bakery Group’s sales are rising at an 8% clip, while Sara Lee branded products are expanding at a faster rate, roughly around 18%, in the bread aisle. In all, Sara Lee is about a $700 million brand, according to Chicago-based Information Resources, Inc., making it one of the largest brands in the nation. That includes sales of breads, rolls, buns, bagels and English muffins, Zimmer reports.
He adds that the growth has come primarily from the company’s core markets. In addition to executing from a direct-store delivery perspective, Sara Lee has relied on new product innovation, promotion and advertising to connect with consumers.
At the end of December, for instance, the Downers Grove, Ill.-based company rolled out Sara Lee Soft & Smooth 100% Whole Wheat bread, which has enhanced the brand’s position in the bread aisle.
“From a consumer insight standpoint, we know that families want more nutrition in their products, but they want it without compromise,” Zimmer says. “They want a balance of great taste and nutrition. Obviously, the Sara Lee brand stands for great taste, and we bundled that with 100% wheat to give families what they want and need.”
Of the 650 million traditional loaves of wheat bread sold in grocery stores in the United States last year, 73% were enriched wheat breads with a nutritional make up similar to conventional white breads, Sara Lee notes. Yet, according to a company survey, 73% of people who buy enriched wheat breads believe they are 100% whole wheat.
Sara Lee Soft & Smooth, Zimmer adds, “was the first 100% wheat product that delivered against its attributes. It was soft, light in color from a 100% wheat standpoint. It had a very smooth texture. It had very little aftertaste to it.
“If you think about the 100% wheat breads in the marketplace, the reason they become polarizing for the whole family to enjoy is their bitter aftertaste,” he adds. “This is a universally accepted product.”
Over the years, Zimmer says, Sara Lee has conducted research to understand different consumers from a product perspective and has leveraged these insights to extend its portfolio to target various consumer “need states” in the market.
Sara Lee Heart Healthy breads, for instance, are more functionally driven.
“It delivers against consumers who are looking for specific benefits,” Zimmer explains. “It’s not only heart health, but overall nutrition and wellness. You know the saying — it’s sort of ‘the promise for tomorrow.’ Those are the type of consumers who are picking up those products. It’s not necessarily the benefits of today. It’s the promise for the benefits of tomorrow for healthy living.”
On the other hand, Sara Lee Hearty and Delicious breads speak to the sandwich occasion. Meanwhile, Sara Lee Classic White is made with the real butter that white bread purists want.
English Muffins — Top 5 Brands
(For 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1 Thomas’ $257.2 +11.3 54.7 +1.6
2 Thomas Hearty Grains $63.3 -3.1 13.5 -1.6
3 Private Label $57.3 +0.2 12.2 -1.0
4 Oroweat $38.0 +27.0 8.1 +1.2
5 Weight Watcher’s $9.6 +24.8 2.1 +0.3
Total, including brands not shown $470.6 +8.2 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
At the same time that it’s adding innovation to the category, Sara Lee is reducing the number of brands and stock-keeping units it produces. Five years ago, the bakery group had 118 brands under its umbrella, including dozens of regional brands. Now, it has fewer than 50, as it has replaced weaker or regional brands with the Sara Lee mega-brand.
Moreover, Sara Lee plans to continue its stock-keeping unit rationalization program, eliminating a percentage of its items over the next 18 months. Earlier this year, for instance, the company reformulated a number of its EarthGrains products, repositioned the brand on an all-natural platform and reduced the number of SKUs from nine to three.
“When you look at the macro trend, what consumers are looking for and where this brand can stand over time, ‘natural’ was a much better fit,” Zimmer notes. “It also gave us a real point of differentiation from the Sara Lee brand and extended our reach to the consumer.”
When it comes to new product development, Sara Lee prefers to keep it simple.
“Don’t complicate the idea,” Zimmer says. “Consumers can absorb only so much.”
Keep it simple and focused on taste. Yes, that’s the trick to getting back on stage, week after week, and, hopefully, to end up as one of this season’s American Idols. SOI