The Ultimate Survivors
By Jeanette Hurt

For years, there was no contest. The Plain tribe trounced its competitors, Whole Grain and Flavored, leaving them in the wake of its pure white flour dust as it went on to become the ultimate survivor in the grocery store jungle.
But in battling its competitors in the arenas of taste; health and nutrition; rising oil prices; and increasing commodity prices, Plain’s status on the shelves has grown more precarious. Whole Grain and Flavored are bolstering their respective tribes, undermining Plain’s strategy, voting more and more of its loaves off the island. These new “Survivors” have not only attracted the attention of consumers, but interest in their competitive prowess ensures a captivated viewing audience that continues to grow.
“Better-for-you grains is a trend, not a fad,” says Ray O’Brien, vice president of Lender’s Bagels, of St. Louis. “If you walk down the bread aisle today, you’d see much less white bread than you would have seen even five years ago. There are so many categories moving toward whole grains. They’re becoming a bigger piece of consumers’ diets. Even my wife tries to buy more whole grain products for us and for our children.”
Consumers see the competitive advantage of whole grains over plain white flour products when it comes to health and nutritional value, and they’re actively responding with their purchasing power. To cater to consumer interest, Lender’s Bagels introduced a 100% whole wheat bagel and a whole grain bagel in their line of fresh bagels.
“We had a whole wheat bagel, and when we changed to a 100% whole wheat bagel, sales went up 30%,” O’Brien says. “And we didn’t spend a lot of advertising or promoting it.”
The increased sales also allowed Lender’s to competitively combat price increases resulting from increased oil and commodities prices.
“We were able to keep prices the same,” O’Brien says. “It’s a little bit more expensive for us, but we’re selling a bunch more.”
Interest in the whole grains tribe is so strong that Lender’s Bagels is introducing a 100% whole wheat and a whole grain bagel to their frozen and refrigerated lines later this year. The next possible strategy to out-surviving competitors might be to add another tribal influence — that of Flavors — to their 100% whole wheat and whole grain bagels.
“That next chapter of the book has yet to be written,” O’Brien says.
Other companies battling in the bread aisle have responded to the charms of the Whole Grain tribe and reacted to its survival instincts. Interstate Bakeries Corp., Kansas City. Mo., makers of the No. 1 survivor Wonder bread, even introduced two high-performing competitors last year: the Wonder 100% Whole Grain for White Bread Fans, and Wonder Made with Whole Grain White.
“There is a continuing shift in consumer demand from white bread to wheat bread, specifically to whole grains,” says Stan Osman, Interstate’s vice president of marketing. “Over the past year and a half, IBC has introduced a number of bread products to meet the demand from a growing number of consumers who want to add nutrition to their diets. We have worked very hard to create whole grain breads that have the texture and taste similar to regular white bread. Wonder Made with Whole Grain White is for people who love everything about white bread but want some whole grain nutrition in their diet.”
By also adding some nutritionally enhanced buns and rolls, which contain whole grains, Wonder increased bun sales over the previous year, Osman adds. Whole grain goodness can tip the balance in survival for the fittest.
“Notably, it wasn’t until Wonder Made with Whole Grain White hit the market nationally that the white bread category reversed its decline and dollar sales began to trend up,” Osman points out.
Surviving with Intelligence
Whole grains and whole wheat as a category have become more of a contender for Survivor, in part, because consumers are becoming better educated. More and more news stories have been published about the benefits of and fiber in whole grains.
“As we get more educated, it truly enhances our choices,” explains Mike Gemmet, co-owner of Portland French Bakery. “Those choices make all the producers like us better as we have to respond to that. Not to mention that we should be respecting the intelligence of our customers anyway.”
The more educated consumer has put the Portland, Ore.-based company into a strategic position, as this bakery has never used any trans fats in its breads, and almost 99% of its lineup has zero fat and hardly any sugar. That’s allowed Portland French Bakery to continue to expand and grow. Since it was founded in 1985, the bakery has expanded from 4,000 to 54,000 sq. ft.
“The whole bottom line is that the consumer has always been intelligent, but they’re getting smarter, and the consumer always drives our business,” Gemmet says. “Hopefully, we can be giving them the products they want. It makes us better, and it makes them happier.”
Fresh Bagels/Bialys — 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 $234.2 +12.7 48.2 +2.4
2 Sara Lee $73.0 +12.8 15.0 +0.8
3 Private Label $59.3 +2.5 12.2 -0.6
4 Pepperidge Farm Mini Bagels $18.9 +8.5 3.9 +0.1
5 Pepperidge Farm $15.7 +12.4 3.2 +0.2
Total, including brands not shown $486.2 +7.2 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
Consumers also are happier to have choices, and that’s where the Flavored tribe wins out. Last year, King’s Hawaiian West introduced a savory butter roll, which shot up to become the company’s second-best seller, right behind the Plain tribe’s Original recipe.
“It has a little sweetness, and the butter blend is just amazing,” says Shelby Weeda, president of the Torrance, Calif.-based company.
Not only is it important to offer different varieties, but also to offer different sizes. Savory butter rolls were introduced first as a 12-pack, but just a couple months ago, King’s Hawaiian rolled out those rolls as a four-pack. Later this year, the company will introduce a new artisan sandwich roll, as well.
Tribal Cooperation
Diversity of different offerings is important, but so is diversity in store placement. One opportunity to knock out competitors is in the grocery store deli department. King’s Hawaiian has discovered a winning strategy in teaming up with other store promotions. For example, last year, the company paired up with Hormel’s pork tenderloin and Fresh Express salad mix for a great grab-and-go meal in the deli.
“I think grocery store operators have realized that they were losing a lot of money to fast foods and fast casual restaurants, and they realized that home meal replacements are a way that they can really compete at a great price point against them,” Weeda says. “Our goal is really to be a solution provider to service delis, and the biggest thing we want to accomplish is to create programs that drive consumers into the deli departments.”
What also is driving consumers — and prices — is the cost of fuel, which has soared past $3 per gallon. There aren’t any signs that it will dip lower. That means that in the effort to stay alive, several companies have had to increase costs. Many more will likely continue to increase costs across the board, as companies that make the ingredients increase their prices, too.
“I think price increases are definitely in the future,” Gemmet says.
But fuel efficiency is a strategy that some companies are beginning to employ in their arsenal for attack. For example, Portland French Bakery has replaced all its gasoline trucks with diesel trucks, but it’s looking into biodiesel as a fuel source, too.
Fueling the overall category is a general resurgence in the interest in bread — good bread.
“The biggest trend is that there’s more interest in bread than there ever has been,” says Henry Haer, vice president of sales and marketing for Gerard’s Bakery in Denver. “In past years, bread used to be just a carrier for meats, cheese and produce. Now, it’s something people are looking for.”
Every year, Gerard’s Bakery does a research project called “The Bread Report.” This year’s study reports that bread is the number two element in any sandwich, and it’s the number one element that consumers say could be improved. This is an area where the Flavor tribe tends to dominate the competition.
“What we’re seeing is that consumers like spice in their bread,” Haer says. “People are looking for flavor.”
For restaurants, the strategy that seems to work best is customization.
“People are willing to pay more for a better piece of bread or for a bread that is a little bit more unique,” Haer says. “What we’ve also found in our study is that people will pick out a restaurant just based on the bread served. They also like their bread served warm. The best example of this is Olive Garden and their bread sticks. Bread can no longer be an afterthought.”
What could pull ahead of the Flavor tribe, Haer says, is the whole grains.
“People want to eat more whole grains, but right now, many of them just aren’t very good,” Haer says. “If the product can be good and unique, that will drive sales.”
Will Whole Grains outlast Flavored? Will Flavored beat Plain? Tune in for further episodes to see who the ultimate Bread Survivor will be. SOI
Contestants Go Hawaiian
To thank its long-term customers and entice new ones, King’s Hawaiian West is sponsoring a “Grill Hawaiian Style” national sweepstakes, its largest contest in the company’s 50-year history.
The winner of this four-month promotion will get to take his or her family to the Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaii’s Big Island for six nights. The prize also includes a special shore-side feast with new King’s Hawaiian recipes developed and prepared by Kenny Omiya, Hilton Waikoloa Village’s executive chef. Consumers also get the chance to win grilling accessories.
“We really want to get a lot of families participating,” says Shelby Weeda, president of King’s Hawaiian West. “It’s also a great way for us to get people to send us their information, via the Internet, so then we can apprise them of new products and promotions later on.”
An 80-year-old Survivor
Lender’s Bagels has been around the block a time or two. In fact, the company will celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, having been founded in 1927. A series of advertisements will alert consumers to this company milestone. Lender’s also is celebrating its 100% whole wheat bagel’s being named the “best” by Health magazine.