It’s golf season, and that means it’s State of the Industry time. Have things changed much since last year? The sluggish economy is still bearish and has had an effect on bakers, though they continue to iron out new products and spin old favorites.

The rising cost of commodities and fuel, combined with a slow economy and tough competition have wholesale bakers spinning the ball in many directions. Things are improving in the market, but slowly.

According to SymphonyIRI, Chicago, data for the 52 weeks ending on April 15, 2012, sales of total fresh packaged breads (loaf bread, rolls, bagels and English muffins) were up 1.3%. Bread products categorized as “Soft Variety” were up 4.2% versus the previous year.

“Consumers continue to show interest in whole-grain breads, as well as in products offering portion-control, reduced calories and other healthy attributes, such as higher fiber,” states Keith Aldredge, vice president of marketing at Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga. “Flowers Foods’ response is to remain focused on continually improving the efficiency and performance of all areas of our business, so that we can continue to offer baked foods of high quality and value, while delivering a long-term return to our shareholders…We’ve recently introduced a new extension of the Nature’s Own line that we’re excited about: Nature’s Own Butter Buns,” he says. “So far, consumers are responding favorably to this new product.”

Nature’s Own soft variety bread and premium specialty breads and buns from Flowers Foods, the new parent of Tasty Baking, are rolling into Philadelphia supermarkets, along with Bunny brand white and wheat breads and buns at select supermarkets such as Giant, Redner’s Markets, Weis and Walmart. The products are shipped fresh daily from Flowers’ bakeries. “For the past few years, Nature’s Own breads have been available just south of Philadelphia, and we’ve been pleased with the response we’ve received,” says Dan Scott, president of Tasty Baking in Oxford, Pa. “Right now, our distribution is growing in the Philadelphia area.”

A handful of the items that Philly shoppers can find include (but are not limited to) 100% Whole Wheat Bread (with 14 g. of whole grain per slice), 100% Whole Grain Bread (with 12 g. of whole grain per slice), Honey Wheat Bread, Double Fiber Wheat Bread (with 5 g. of fiber per slice and Omega 3) and Whole Grain Sugar Free Bread (with 12 g. of whole grain per slice). A 12-grain specialty bread with 21 g. of whole grain per slice is also available, as are sandwich rolls, hot dog rolls and hamburger and hot dog buns.

One way Flowers Foods looks for ways to improve and increase efficiencies is by building new bakeries, adding new production lines or relocating or retiring lines, depending on the best way to serve the market, Aldredge says.

“Our goal is to put production where the people are,” he explains. “We also embrace new technology that allows us to be more efficient and gives us even more control over product quality and consistency. The drive to improve processes extends to every area of our business…from how we produce to how we get our products to market to how we conserve our resources.”

Last spring, the company announced a growth plan to expand its direct-store-delivery (DSD) territory. Currently, Flowers Foods’ fresh bakery foods are available to more than 60% of the U.S. population in 31 states and in the District of Columbia. By 2016, its goal is to expand the DSD territory so that at least 75% of the U.S. population has access to its fresh bakery foods.

In keeping with this growth plan, Flowers Foods announced in April that it will add 90,000 sq. ft. to its bakery in Oxford to house a high-speed bread line that will produce soft variety and specialty breads under the Nature’s Own and other company brands.

Aldredge also points out that Flowers Foods’ products with amounts of whole wheat or whole grain continue to enjoy success. “Nature’s Own offers a number of breads, buns, rounds and breakfast items made with whole grain,” he tells SF&WB. “Consumers also seem to have a better understanding of the health benefits of whole wheat and whole grains.” 

More information, please

More Americans want additional information on nutrition labels than two years ago, while confidence in the safety of U.S. food is unchanged, according to a survey released in May by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), an industry-backed research group. Respondents said they would prefer more information on labels, including nutrition, ingredients and potential allergens and their side effects. That’s up from 18% in the IFIC’s previous survey of consumer perceptions of food technology in 2010.

In addition, 69% were very or somewhat confident in U.S. food safety, the same as two years ago. “We see people wanting to know more about nutrition, and saw a big jump in the amount of people who want to know more about food safety,” says Lindsey Loving, a senior director for the Washington-based group.

Consolidations have been taking place within the industry. One example is the Dutch foods ingredients group CSM, Amsterdam, which announced on May 7 that it put its main bakery supplies business up for sale, citing a lack of financial resources to keep all its businesses. The company blamed weak consumer spending and high raw material prices for the decision.

And as evidenced by the recent show in Chicago hosted by the National Restaurant Association, the gluten-free part of the market is much more than a passing fad. Demand for these products is high.

Susannah Faulkner, university outreach specialist for Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, Boulder, Colo., compares the growing awareness of and the need for gluten-free products to a sudden prevalence of the peanut allergy 10 years ago. “Ninety-five percent of people who have Celiac disease don’t know that they have it yet,” says Faulkner, who has Celiac.

While most consumers who are drawn to gluten-free products do it because of dietary restrictions, some athletes have noted that they have increased stamina when they cut gluten out of their diet, she adds. Regardless of the reason consumers look to gluten-free breads, rolls, pizza crusts, et al, the increase in choices and the improved tastes are welcomed. “When I was four in the late ’80s, gluten-free didn’t taste this good,” Faulkner says.

Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Boulder, Colo., also continues to see increasing demand for gluten-free products that have the taste and texture of regular breads and baked goods. This demand allowed Rudi’s three Sandwich Breads, launched a few years ago, to expand not only to include other breads, but also a pizza crust, hamburger buns, hot dog rolls and tortillas.

As consumers continue to learn more about what’s in their food and get rid of the artificial ingredients in their diets, Rudi’s continues to grow. “We’re also seeing a trend toward more healthful ingredients, such as seeds and specialty grains,” says Doug Radi, vice president of marketing. The company’s Spelt and Ancient Grains breads are experiencing great demand. “We’ve recently launched Harvest Seeded Bread, Harvest Seeded Muffins and a line of Bagel and Sandwich Flatz for the consumer who is looking for options baked on the light side,” he says.

Introduced in November 2011, the Sandwich Flatz are baked on the lighter side, have 110 calories or less per serving, and contain 3-5 g. of fiber and 23-25 g. of whole grains (both Sandwich Flatz and Whole Wheat Bagel Flatz). Plus, Sandwich Flatz are available now at natural foods stores and select mainstream supermarkets. These new items include 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Flatz, which pair well with everything from organic turkey and cheese to tuna salad, hummus and veggies.

Multigrain Sandwich Flatz can be used to make a lighter lunch. They’re made with whole wheat, millet, spelt, corn, oats, flax seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. The 100% Whole Wheat Bagel Flatz serve as a healthy addition to breakfast any day of the week, and are made with whole grain wheat. Plain Bagel Flatz are baked on the lighter side but have the flavor of a Sunday morning bagel. The plain version goes as well with cream cheese and lox as it does with light touch of organic jam.

The organic bread displays the certified U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic logo, which means that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic and the remaining 5% or less are not commercially available as organic. “Organic ingredients are not only better for our health, but they’re better for the environment,” explains Radi. “They are produced by farmers who emphasize sustainable farming methods, use renewable resources and promote soil and water conservation. Our ingredients are not organic due to cost and availability, but we have strict all-natural standards for our breads. We use only the highest quality, wholesome non-genetically modified ingredients, and you won’t find any modified starches, gums, preservatives or other chemicals in Rudi’s gluten-free bread.”

Rudi’s is also going much greener these days. The company has changed some of its packaging. “We shrunk the size of 11 bread loaf bags to lower the amount of plastic used, while creating a better fitting bag,” says Radi.

“We tweaked the colors to enhance flavor differentiation and have made an effort to make key nutrition facts and product claims easier to find and read. For instance, our packages feature a ‘Know What’s in Your Dough,’ callout that lists when a product is soy-free, dairy-free, organic and vegan, and has no non-genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Additionally, on certain breads, we have a clear mention of the number of grams of whole grains per slice. For instance, our 100% Whole Wheat Bread clearly states, ‘24 Grams of Whole Grains Per Slice.’ The company also went to the lowest gauge film weight possible for the bread bags and uses the lightest weight corrugated for its shipping containers, which are also made from 40-60% post-consumer-recycled material.”

Ingredients are sourced locally, when possible, to reduce transportation. “For instance, we source millions of pounds of organic wheat per year from farmers in Colorado and neighboring states,” Radi continues, “and the wheat is milled into flour not far from our bakery.”

Organic foods are produced without the use of synthetic ingredients, including chemical pesticides or fertilizers, which can contaminate nearby soil and water. “When you purchase organic foods, you are supporting sustainable farming practices that protect our natural resources and ensuring a healthy planet for future generations,” Radi points out.

Gluten-free mixes, etc.

Pamela’s Products, Ukiah, Calif., which produces natural gluten-free Baking & Pancake Mix, has created a product that once again takes the guesswork out of gluten-free eating and baking at home. Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend is developed for home bakers to use in most recipes calling for all-purpose flour, Pamela’s new Artisan Flour Blend is 100% free of wheat, gluten and dairy, and made without leavening or sugar. The flour blend is also vegan and can be used to make everything from cookies, cakes and pie crusts to muffins and gravy.

A third-generation baker committed to making delicious foods for gluten-free dieters and others, Pamela’s Products founder Pamela Giusto-Sorrells has been baking gluten-free foods since 1988. Because the only treatment for Celiac disease is a gluten-free diet, she continues to personally develop more of these products each year, all bearing her name. Guisto-Sorrells often bases the products on customers’ desires and needs.

Pamela’s says it has created some of the best-selling gluten-free products on the market, including Traditional, Organic and Simplebites Cookies, Biscotti, Baking Mixes and ready-to-eat cakes. Pamela’s Products can be found in natural food and grocery stores throughout North America, as well as online.

On a roll

Klosterman Baking Co., Cincinnati, produces a variety of fresh and frozen baked products, such as an assortment of bread, buns, hoagies and rolls. Recently, it rolled out a line of flatbread, thins and pita bread, a slim wheat bagel and a rustic wheat pita. Amy Ott, director of marketing, says consumers want whole grains in their bread, and there is particular attention needed regarding the amount of dietary fiber per serving. “According to the Hartman Group, consumers are asking for certain ingredients to meet specific dietary needs,” Ott says. “Fiber tops the list at 71%, in a Hartman Group study, followed by calcium at 66% and whole grains at 62%.”

Ott adds that supermarket sales of products promoting fiber in United States have been up for a few years. “Products that promote fiber have reached $4.2 billion for the 52 weeks ending May 2011, which is a 2.5% increase from $4.1 billion in the previous 52 weeks, according to reports in Food Business News for June 2011,” she says.

A lot of attention has been paid to obesity in the U.S., particularly in children and adolescents, she observes. “The rate of childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years in the United States,” she says. “We and other food manufacturers across all categories have had to respond to meet the new dietary guidelines in schools. There is a demand for more whole-grain products available for schools as well as a demand for access to dietary information,” Ott continues. “Including whole grains in products is not difficult; the challenge lies with making it appealing to children. The school lunch program has really evolved and really centers on nutritionally dense foods for students. It’s key to stay current and relevant and be able to evolve with the demands of the consumers.”

Other trends Ott has noticed include the surge in lower-calorie products and existing products being packaged differently for a reduced-calorie portion. “There are an increasing number of portion-friendly products appearing more frequently in new product launches in different categories,” she states. “Since the introduction of 100-calorie packs, food and beverage manufacturers have been redeveloping formulations and packaging to include single portions.”

She says Klosterman’s has also noticed that buns and bagels have taken on reduced-calorie challenges by thinning out. “Thin sandwich buns and thin bagels have taken the bun category to a whole new level,” she says. “Thin sandwich buns are not only great for replacing higher calorie buns, they are proving to be more versatile than traditional buns.” 

Klosterman’s diverse customer portfolio of retail and foodservice needs for breads has kept the company somewhat unaffected by the slow economy. “Bread in general is a staple in American diets, and is perishable with the combination of both of those components,” Ott says. “The demand for fresh bread holds tried and true. If consumers are cutting back because of the state of the economy, there are other food items that will be sacrificed. But bread goes right up there with milk and eggs and will remain on the grocery list.”

Ott admits that the retail side of the bread category is extremely challenging. “It’s extremely high-maintenance,” she reports. “As they say, ‘the devil is in the details.’ From strategizing and planning to coordinating, budgeting and timing, several things play a key role to create buzz about a brand. The bread category is also challenging because it’s a low loyal category. Klosterman created a product that consumers didn’t even know they would want when we created the Half Loaf.”

The Half Loaf come in five varieties: 100% Whole Wheat, Split-top Wheat, Whole-Grain White, Honey Wheat and Traditional White. It’s for people who don’t use an entire loaf of bread right away and saves them from wasting bread. “Great for small households, college students and even larger families that enjoy different types of bread, the Half Loaf has become a signature item at Klosterman, and has really allowed us to create a niche in the bread category,” Ott says.  

Tied up in knots

Traditional flavors with a few new twists, er, knots, have also come onto the market this year. One example is New York Brand’s Hand-Tied Garlic Knots, from T. Marzetti Co., Columbus, Ohio. The frozen garlic roll won a 2012 Product of the Year award in the specialty foods category by Product of the Year USA. The par-baked roll combines the flavor of casual Italian dining with the convenience of cooking at home. Loaded with savory garlic flavor and made with ingredients that contain no trans-fat, the Hand-Tied Garlic Knots can serve as a quick snack or as part of a family feast. They’re ready-to-eat in 4-5 minutes and help bring a wholesome taste to the table.

“We’ve received rave reviews from consumers who have enjoyed the new Hand-Tied Garlic Knots. And this award solidifies that this flavorful addition to any meal is truly a winner at the dinner table,” says Schrade Radtke, senior marketing manager for the New York Brand. “We are proud to offer consumers another delicious option to our already popular New York Brand product line.”

The line also includes frozen Texas Toast, breadsticks, Ciabatta rolls, loaves and croutons. The brand originated in a small family bakery in Cleveland, more than 90 years ago with the Penn family, which specialized in baking crusty, chewy, textured, hearth-baked breads preferred in Europe. Over time, the family developed a delicious frozen garlic bread as well as Texas Garlic Toast.

The Garlic knots are available in a six-count carton at grocery stores and supercenters nationwide for $2.79.

As consumers look to healthier food options both at home and on the road, restaurants are also finding ways to provide nutritious alternatives that still deliver exceptional taste and value. Multigrain rolls, buns and breadsticks are being added to entrees as a result. One example is at Roy Rogers Restaurants, Frederick, Md. Owned by the Plamondon Companies, which operate 20 of the restaurants and oversee 29 franchise locations in the Mid-Atlantic region, Roy Rogers announced in May that its restaurants are offering a multigrain roll option to guests for any of their sandwiches at no extra cost. Following product testing at three locations, the multigrain roll was made available at all locations on May 21, according to

Roy Rogers’ new multigrain roll contains 11% fewer calories, 20% less fat, 19% fewer carbohydrates and 21% percent lower sodium than the restaurant’s Kaiser rolls. “This new multigrain roll option is consistent with Roy Rogers’ message of choice, and the versatile nature of a brand that offers burgers, chicken and roast beef,” states Jeff Mulliken, Roy Rogers’ director of procurement. “That, combined with the healthful quality of the multigrain product, is a home run for Roy Rogers, and more importantly, for our guests.”

Quality, value count

Brad Sterl, president and CEO of Rustic Crust, Pittsfield, N.H., emphasizes that consumers are much more sophisticated and becoming more demanding in terms of quality. “They’re looking for items that are ‘clean,’ not overprocessed, without GMOs, preservatives and artificial ingredients. In other words, ‘rustic,’ hand-crafted items. They’re also looking for health benefits, such as high protein and fiber.”

Sterl sees rustic products as a hot trend. “Consumers view them as authentic, and made with care and quality ingredients,” he says. “We emphasize that our [pizza] crusts [and flatbreads] and are hand-formed by people, not an automated assembly line.”

Though Sterl notes that the biggest challenges his firm currently faces are getting space on store shelves and convincing buyers to change with the times, he does say the company’s sales of organic products are up. “Double digit in terms of sales, as consumers demand food that’s not over-processed, but something they can serve their family without fear of GMOs, artificial flavors or colors.”

Rustic Crust has a gluten-free, all-natural flatbread pizza crust that Sterl says continues to grow in sales. “There’s more of a demand for high-quality, gluten-free products, and others are stepping up to meet demand and provide more variety and choice in the marketplace,” he adds. “The trends seem to point toward a need for more quality. With rising food prices and consumers unwilling to spend their hard-earned dollars, they want to know what they do buy is a value in terms of quality. The things consumers want go back to the trend of artisan, hand-crafted, rustic breads with taste and quality, which stand the test of time.”

An organic niche?

Giancarlo Turano II, national sales manager for Turano Baking Co., Berwyn, Ill., says that Turano has also noticed an increasing emphasis on premium products. “We are supporting efforts to produce premium offerings and the customization of our products,” he says. “Consumers desire greater value, in the form of higher quality offerings, better, bolder flavors and foods they feel good about eating. Unique breads can be the featured attraction of a new menu item. Customized breads offer new flavors to help set foodservice operators apart from the pack without the need to discount.”

Adds Joe Turano, operations manager, “Our greatest opportunity for growth is with our premium, value-added Turano brand breads and rolls in new distribution markets that haven’t yet experienced Turano breads and rolls.”

Breads such as (Mexican) telera for torta sandwiches are a trend the bakery sees as an alternative to tortilla and burritos. Turano has introduced several varieties of European-style flatbreads and telera/torta sandwich breads and rolls to the national marketplace. “These breads are in extremely high demand,” says Giancarlo Turano II. “Also trendy is the evolution of food trucks, which has increased the awareness of common street foods into the mainstream. The torta also seems to be the most approachable to the national marketplace.”

Giancarlo Turano II adds that organic products continue to grow in popularity, but because of the challenges in commercializing organic breads in large facilities and the subsequent cost impact, this trend seems to be slowing to more of a niche product. “Natural [breads] seem to be more feasible and a trend that has legs to grow more rapidly than organic,” he says. “Gluten-free products will always have a market for those with health and dietary restrictions, but much like the Atkins craze, the lack of variety and delectable gluten-free breads seem to be inhibiting mass appeal.”

“Increasingly consumers are shopping the store perimeter,” notices Mario Turano, marketing director. “In today’s environment, we truly need to provide consumers with value-added breads in order to earn their business and continued loyalty,” he says. “Shoppers expect value in everything that they purchase in today’s grocery environment.”

Mario Turano says that his bakery is also constantly reviewing sustainability initiatives to challenge itself. “We have searched for sustainability opportunities in all areas of our operation. Energy usage and recycling are our primary goals today,” he says. “We also continue to invest in our operations to increase productivity and efficiency, while expanding our capability and flexibility for the future,” notes Giancarlo Turano II. “The modifications we have made recently have been focused on efficiency and cost savings.”

But summing up, Joe Turano feels that the baking industry needs to continue educating the world. “We need to explain the value of a grain-based nutritional diet and heavily promote the value of breads in a well-balanced, healthy diet.”

A full slice

Laura Kuykendall, director of marketing for Glutino Food Group, Laval, Quebec, says the gluten-free bread category has been an interesting one as the gluten-free space overall has developed. “Retailers have begun to give gluten-free foods a more prominent space in their stores,” she says. “It’s now easier to find gluten-free products at grocery stores nationwide. With many consumers living gluten-free for a variety of different reasons, mainstream supermarkets have recognized the need to provide convenient and great-tasting gluten-free solutions to consumers.”

Grocers are also devoting dedicated sections to gluten-free foods and display signage for gluten-free sections in stores. “Many gluten-free breads have not met the needs of consumers, and increasingly consumers have looked for better options,” Kuykendall adds. “But today, those eating gluten-free want a bread for a variety of uses, from toast and bread pudding to French toast and sandwiches, and it has to taste great.”

Glutino partnered with the U.K.’s Genius Gluten-Free bread brand and launched Genius by Glutino bread last year. “We were thrilled with the feedback we received as consumers found a product that met their need,” Kuykendall says. “Genius by Glutino is delicious, gluten-free bread offered in White and Multigrain, which are light in texture and offered in full-size slices at an appealing price.”

Kuykendall observes that one of the biggest consumer needs emerging is the need for a full slice of gluten-free bread. “In the past, most gluten-free bread has had some challenges with regard to taste and texture, and additionally, the slices were smaller than traditional loaves made with gluten,” she explains. “Consumers have told us over and over that they want to enjoy a full-size sandwich.”

Genius by Glutino is available in two varieties: White; and Multigrain Sandwich bread. “The bread is good enough to enjoy without toasting. Traditionally, gluten-free breads have been smaller and not adequate for sandwich making and almost always require toasting. Genius by Glutino finally gives gluten-free consumers the full-sized bread slices they have been looking for, and is one of the most convenient and great-tasting bread options on the market today, toasted and untoasted.”

The new bread is available for $5.49 per loaf. “We are also excited to introduce two new SKUs of Genius by Glutino bread later this year: Seeded and Cinnamon Raisin,” she adds. “Gluten-free customers are very loyal to brands that they trust. Their well-being depends on products they can rely on to be gluten-free, so they value the relationship and community that gluten-free brands provide.”

Kuykendall says expect more growth in the options and choices that fit more consumer lifestyles. “Consumers are becoming much more sophisticated. People want options that are both truly delicious and made with the best ingredients available,” she says. “At Glutino, we welcome that challenge and believe that it fosters innovation for better-tasting and better-for-you products that happen to be gluten-free.”

Currently, the gluten-free space has no defined labeling established. “We look forward to new Food and Drug Administration labeling standards that are expected later this year,” she points out. “With no gluten-free labeling standards in the U.S., consumers are turning to brands that have longevity in the space and that are trusted sources of delicious gluten-free products. Clearly defined regulations are critical across the category to ensure transparency and safety for all people living a gluten-free lifestyle. As a leader in the gluten-free space for more than 27 years, Glutino is proud to support finalization of these standards.”

Private-label issues

Some private-label brands have a new emphasis on quality and taste, Rustic Crust’s Sterl says. We think the greatest opportunities for growth in the bread aisle are with clean-label items (in other words, if you can pronounce the ingredients, it’s clean), as well as with hearty breads and better nutritional benefits.”

Adds Flowers Foods’ Aldredge, “Store brands continue to be an important category to our retail customers and to a segment of consumers. Overall, however, store brand breads, buns and rolls are flat as a category, according to recent industry data.”

He also says the baking industry must continue to educate the general public on the beneficial role grain-based foods play in a healthy diet.

No matter how you slice them, breads that deliver what they claim pass the test of time. “It’s simple, really,” Aldredge sums up. “Brands and products should deliver on what they promise. When it comes to food, those promises usually involve freshness, consistent quality, great taste and a fair price. Between them, taste always takes precedence.”