If you visit your local grocery store throughout the past year or so and saw the bakery snack shelves half-empty, there’s a reason for that: Consumers have been buying doughnuts and other sweet bakery treats at a rapid pace during the pandemic. During an unfamiliar situation, it’s nice to have our favorite comfort foods on-hand.
According to data from IRI, Chicago, the bakery snacks category brought in $3.5 billion in sales for the 52 weeks ending December 27, 2020, up 1.4 percent from the previous year. McKee Foods Corp. saw strong growth at the top, with sales up 6.5 percent to $895.0 million. Hostess Brands LLC brought in $723.1 million in sales, with a 2.0 percent uptick. Grupo Bimbo garnered $303.7 million in sales, with 11.3 percent in growth. And Flowers Foods grew 9.1 percent to $299.0 million. Within the top five, only private label dipped, down 8.7 percent to $639.4 million in sales. Elsewhere in the top 10 for the category, snack pies showed strength, with JTM Foods Inc. (JJ’s Bakery) growing 14.6 percent to $47.8 million, and Table Talk Pies Inc. growing 17.6 percent to $42.6 million.
Pastry/doughnuts category sales grew 3.5 percent to $5.5 billion. Doughnuts grew 3.0 percent, with $2.1 billion in sales. Private label leads doughnuts, but also saw a decline here, dropping 9.0 percent to $516.8 million in sales. Hostess Brands brought in $438.7 million with a healthy 6.6 percent uptick in sales. Several companies saw double-digit doughnut growth, including:
Grupo Bimbo, $386.9 million, up 13.2 percent
JAB Holding (Krispy Kreme), $248.4 million, up 15.2 percent
Clyde’s Delicious Doughnuts, $26.5 million, up 22.3 percent
Bon Appetit Danish Inc., $23.2 million, up 23.6 percent
The category’s muffins segment brought in $1.32 billion in sales, up 5.5 percent, with good growth at the top. Bimbo leads muffins and brought in $528.9 million, a healthy 15.1 percent increase in sales. Private label muffins were up 4.4 percent, with $448.0 million in sales, and McKee Foods brought in $57.5 million in sales, with an 8.9 percent increase.
“Overall, consumers are snacking more. Whether it’s in addition to their regular meals or as a meal replacement, consumers are enjoying snacks more throughout the day,” says Greg Koehrsen, vice president and general manager, sweet baked goods, Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, PA. “And we’re seeing a ‘stretching’ of the snacking window: Doughnuts are popular throughout the morning. Cookies and snack cakes are being eaten all afternoon long. Even evening occasion snacks are being consumed during a longer nighttime window.”
Specifically in the sweet baked goods segment, consumers want convenient, portable, mess-free options, says Koehrsen. “They want options that are single-serve and easy to eat on-the-go. For Bimbo Bakeries, the themes of this past year have been making sure that production of sweet baked goods has kept up with demand and ensuring that we offer those snacks in packages that satisfy our consumers’ preferences.”
Tyronna Capers, director of marketing, Bunge Loders Croklaan, Chesterfield, MO, says that despite the growing trends in healthier eating and clean label, consumers still want indulgence, and this is especially true in bakery. “According to The Hartman Group, more than half of U.S. consumers say indulgence is a key attribute they seek when buying sweet baked goods. Furthermore, snacking and smaller portion sizes are becoming more common, making the indulgence factor of the smaller bites even more important. Indulgence can be delivered through flavor, texture, and appearance, and confectionery coatings are a great way to add indulgence to bakery products.”
Jen VanDewater, vice president, health, authenticity, and strategic insights, Rich Products Corp., Buffalo, NY, says that there’s no question that consumers are spending more time at home than ever before. “Accordingly, over the past 12 months we’ve witnessed the rise of a ‘homebody/food at-home’ economy where consumers are seeking more at-home solutions—both to create together and consume together.”
Consumers continue to seek fresh baked items and comfort foods from the bakery, like doughnuts, muffins, and snack pies—but what’s different today, and has been for almost the last 12 months, is the fact that consumers are now prioritizing health and safety driven by COVID-19. This affects their purchase behavior in a space traditionally known for self-service, VanDewater notes. Now the majority of consumers prefer packaged fresh baked goods.
Nostalgia is also trending forward, notes VanDewater, citing a recent Datassential trend update indicating 70 percent of consumers would be extremely or very likely to purchase a favorite nostalgic food or beverage in a grocery store or restaurant.
Chris Prociv, senior vice president, marketing, innovation, and R&D, ARYZTA, Chicago, says that consumers are searching for single-serve snacks. “Right now, we’re seeing a huge increase in demand for single-serve, individually-packaged foods. Snacks and treats like snack cakes, snack pies, and muffins have always been popular amongst consumers, but individually packaged offerings continue to perform especially well.” Although most people are remaining close to home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, she notes, they seek the convenience and portability of individually wrapped snacks.
“Many consumers are embracing their indulgences,” says Prociv. “During this stressful time period, people are turning to comfort foods now more than ever and are looking for rich foods like doughnuts and sweets to satisfy cravings.”
Anne Marie Halfmann, senior manager, channel marketing, Dawn Foods, Jackson, MI, says more consumers are looking to relax and unwind with food. “We refer to this trend as ‘Blissful Indulgence,’ meaning consumers are looking for momentary escape from reality with an indulgent sweet.” She cites opportunities with gourmet doughnuts richer, dark, and fudgier chocolate snack cakes. “Overall, snack cakes and pies continue to be on the rise, with COVID-19 leading to smaller celebrations and people making more time for ‘small indulgences.’ Bakers will continue to focus on snack cakes and pies as opposed to larger sheet cakes or pies to meet consumer demand.”
Nick Magistrelli, vice president of sales, Rademaker USA, Hudson, OH, notes numerous recent advancements for equipment that produces snack pies. “The sheeting/laminating section of these lines can handle a variety of doughs. The varieties include flour types, fat content, and the number of layers in the dough. These factors are critical in creating the exact flakiness properties that many snack pies require.”
Magistrelli says that on the make-up table after the final dough sheet is produced, there is tremendous flexibility in the individual size and shape of the dough piece that is manipulated. Specific decorations and crimping patterns can also provide bakers with tools to make their baked goods unique.
Moline Machinery, Duluth, MN, has a new LIBRA Thermal Series Donut Fryer, which is a high-capacity doughnut fryer available in lengths of 30 to over 40 feet, notes David Moline, vice president, sales and marketing. “The precision thermal fluid heating system provides extremely gentle, high-efficiency temperature control, and continuous sediment removal and oil filtration system are included, intended for 24-hours/day operation.”
Moline Machinery has also upgraded its doughnut finishing systems with Moline Half Icing Solutions, which applies icing evenly to doughnuts. A fully integrated icing temperature control system ensures a consistent application temperature, and a bypass system is included when running a non-iced product.
Rick Hoskins, president, Colborne Foodbotics, Lake Forest, IL, says he is seeing a resurgence in the muffin market, and particularly bulk pack and clamshell packaging configurations of injected snack cakes and muffins. He notes the approach toward packaging the products is unique. “Traditional robotic depanning technology as designed was not able to effectively pick and pack these products because of their filled centers with cream or jelly. We have been able to redesign these tools to accommodate a filled center with our proprietary fork technology, ensuring products are not damaged and tools are not affected by the center filling. With this new technology, bakers can now effectively depan these products and reconfigure the centers to align with bulk pack or clamshell-style packaging.”
For snack pies, Colborne Foodbotics offers the updated T-28000 Turnover machine, the “tried and true method” for producing fried or baked fruit snack pies, Hoskins says. “This technology has been around since the 1960s. We are seeing many new products being launched on these lines because of the upgrades we have made to the sheeting system. The existing lines use fixed-ratio sheeters to sheet the dough. However, this limits the types of dough you can run on the machine,” he notes. “Today, we can upgrade the lines to have variable-speed rollers, which allows you to run a wider variety of dough types. In addition, we have created a new method of designing and machining our trimmer dies that allow bakers to create more-unique crimp patters, with logos, letters, and other unique shapes that differentiate from standard crimp styles.”
“Many of the current trends we see in bakery and snack relate to creating healthier or better-for-you foods. Food makers are meeting these trends with clean-label ingredients and high-protein formulations,” says Brook Carson, VP research and development, Manildra Group USA, Leawood, KS. Bakery products such doughnuts, muffins, snack cakes, and snack pies are indulgent and convenient, making them ideal for many eating occasions. However, making formula changes to meet today’s trends can prove to be challenging when considering the preferred product attributes and eating qualities, she notes.
“Clean-label ingredients, such as our GemPro wheat protein isolates, can be used to improve texture, enhance softness, or increase processing efficiencies. One key benefit to wheat proteins is that they are synergistic with bakery and snack products. Our range of GemPro proteins has been designed to meet a range of textural requirements,” Carson notes.
Different textural goals requires a range of clean-label protein with different attributes, Carson says. “For example, GemPro Plus would provide resilience in snack cakes. If an issue arises that a snack cakes requires a bit more structure too hold a filling, without becoming too firm, GemPro Plus will provide the right amount of resilience.”
In sweet goods, such as doughnuts, Carson notes, GemPro Prime-W can contribute a fine cell structure and a softness throughout its shelf life.
“Because wheat protein can support a light, airy texture, it is the ideal protein source for doughnuts, muffins, and snack cakes,” says Carson. “GemPro wheat proteins are 90 percent protein. Our formulations have been able to include wheat protein at up to 20 percent. By selecting the wheat protein with optimal texture attributes, you can reach your protein target while maintaining your product quality goals.”
Wheat protein can also provide a clean-label solution to process efficiency. “GemPro Prime-E is ideal for sheeted applications such as snack pies,” says Carson, noting it can provide extensibility for processing without diminishing the integrity of the dough.
Kevin Binns, global technical lead, sweet bakery, AB Mauri North America, St. Louis, says that when it comes to sweet baked and fried goods, many consumers are willing to accept a higher number of calories, as long as the eating experience is pleasurable. “At the same time, many consumers are seeking health benefits alongside a bit of indulgence. The challenge here is to reduce the fat and sugar content without impacting familiar taste. AB Mauri North America is able to reduce and replace high calorie ingredients like sugar with exclusive stevia-based sweeteners that feature no detriment to product quality.”
Consumers are also reducing frequency of shopping occasions, notes Binns, creating an opportunity to extend product shelf life. “Through the use of baking powders, enzymes, and proteins, AB Mauri North America enhances and extends the freshness characteristics of doughnuts and snack cakes, adding to the eating experience for the consumer.” Vegan options are also available. “As demand for vegan and egg- and dairy-free sweet goods continues to rise, we have found enzyme and plant protein ingredient solutions to meet this need,” he says.
Jill Stang, bakery sales manager, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, New Century, KS, says that when considering ingredient options for extending shelf life of sweet goods, and in particular doughnuts, there are three key factors to keep in mind for extending shelf life: softness/moisture control, antimicrobials, and antioxidants. “All three of these key factors are necessary to maintain a quality product that is safe for consumers. If any of the key factors is not present in the finished product, the product quality will diminish quickly, and the product will not be safe through the shelf life.”
“There are three ways of improving a product’s eating quality performance over shelf life: enzymes, emulsifiers, and hydrocolloids. All three have a significant impact on maintaining softness and moisture control,” says Stang. Doughnuts and other sweet goods need softening enzymes designed specifically for those applications, as sugar concentrations in those formulas will inhibit the softening power of certain amylase enzymes, she adds. DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences has found some emulsifiers will enhance the softening effects of the amylase enzymes. This lowers the firming curve while lengthening softness over time. Certain monoglycerides provide this effect, extending shelf life softness without decreasing the resilience of the doughnuts or other sweet goods, she says.
“Antimicrobials are necessary to extend the shelf life of doughnuts and sweet goods beyond four days,” Stang comments. These include antimicrobial inhibitors and/or antimicrobial static products (fungistatics or bacteriostatics). Antimicrobial inhibitors are more common, she notes, and can be synthetic (i.e., calcium propionate or potassium sorbate), or a more-natural fermentate. Antimicrobial static products such as natamycin will essentially kill yeast and mold, thus protecting the doughnuts and sweet goods during shelf life. “Natamycin can be used for any range of shelf life time but has a profound effect for antimicrobial protection for hyper-extended shelf life, which goes beyond 30 days, and out past 65 days. Doughnut manufacturers who are currently using natamycin in doughnut coatings are seeing 65 days and beyond of mold-free shelf life.”
As doughnuts and other sweet goods cool in the production area, oxidation sets in and increases over shelf life, says Stang. “Lipid oxidation continues to ramp up, and as the oxidized lipid denatures, the byproduct produced causes the rancidity effect. Rancidity continues to worsen over the shelf life time. Antioxidants will inhibit the rate of oxidation, thus allowing longer shelf life with less lipid oxidation and rancidity detected.”
When working with antioxidant suppliers, make sure to specify how the product will be stored, if it has a higher fat level, how the product is processed and packaged, and the intended shelf life, suggests Stang.
New product introductions
Lewis Muldrow, vice president foodservice, Vandemoortele USA, New York, says that among the company’s many product releases in the last 18 months, one standout is its Mini Donuts.
Raoul Dexters, general manager, Vandemoortele USA, says the miniature yeast doughnut assortment comes in a case with three varieties, which allows retailers to create a colorful, assorted six-pack.
Everyone now wants items they can take away safely and eat on the go or at home—meaning items that are either prepackaged or easily packaged, says Muldrow. “For instance, many grocery stores are creating their own four- and six-packs of doughnuts. These packs are then put into the cases for customers to pick up, where normally customers would pick out their own.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, customer needs changed and the demand for individually packaged products skyrocketed, says Prociv. In response, ARYZTA recently launched an individually wrapped, muffin hybrid—a muffin in the shape of a loaf. “The two flavors, Wild Blueberry and Chocolate Chocolate Chip, are available to purchase as an individually wrapped snack or bulked packed with eight individually wrapped snacks. In Canada, we also just began offering individually wrapped bran muffins for our foodservice business to ensure the snacks are safely handled and make it easy for customers on the go,” she says.
Koehrsen says Bimbo Bakeries has released several new, seasonal products in its sweet baked goods portfolio. “One example is Entenmann’s Little Bites Cookies and Cream, which was introduced in the fourth quarter and has enjoyed robust sales. We have also introduced products that are produced by Grupo Bimbo in Mexico to U.S. consumers, including Bimbo Rosca de Reyes, a Spanish sweet bread traditionally served on Three King’s Day (January 6th). Not only are we leveraging production synergies, but also providing our Latinx consumers with flavors they know and love.” He notes Bimbo has started to package several of its existing products into single-serve packaging and snack packs, including Entenmann’s and Marinela cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts, and more.
Baker Boy, Dickinson, ND, has launched a line of individually wrapped doughnuts in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, says Dustin Monke, marketing manager. “The idea came after our team reached out to customers and asked what their needs were at the onset of the pandemic. We worked with distributor partners, longtime school and healthcare foodservice customers, and our partners in the c-store industry. We asked what they saw as an immediate need. The overwhelming majority of those we spoke with said they needed more touchpoint-free foodservice solutions. In response, we launched a line of seven individually wrapped doughnuts and saw immediate success in the school, healthcare, c-store, and supermarket categories.”
In early spring 2021, these same doughnuts will transition from being sold in unprinted packaging to branded packaging better suited for retail, says Monke. The doughnuts will be merchandised under Baker Boy’s The Donut Hole brand.
The best-selling doughnut of the individually wrapped line, which has eight unique doughnuts, has been Baker Boy’s Apple Filled Magic Ring Donut made with whole grain. “These doughnuts became a hit as the school foodservice segment began looking for more touchpoint-free options for students, as well as foods they could put inside to-go packages for students learning from home, but still picking up their breakfast and lunch.” Baker Boy also offers Cake and Blueberry Cake doughnuts made with whole grain.
“Also, because of our fully finished thaw-and-serve and individually wrapped doughnut lines, our business with the c-store category has never been better and continues to grow,” says Monke.
Halfmann says that in January 2020, Dawn Foods released a sourdough doughnut mix. “The mix is a mashup of sourdough bread and a yeast-raised doughnut to create a sweet-and-savory doughnut that is versatile enough to create anything from a jelly-filled sourdough doughnut to a bun for a fried chicken sandwich.”
In 2020, Dawn Foods also released a birthday cake doughnut that has colorful sprinkles as inclusions, notes Halfmann. “Another trend we are seeing is increased demand for old-fashioned doughnuts. In response to this demand, we launched a new old-fashioned doughnut flavor: salted caramel.”
Dawn Foods also worked with its innovation team to launch a new Vegan Creme Cake mix in early 2020, the latest addition to its Balance line of better-for-you muffins, which includes cleaner-label, sugar-free, and gluten-free products. The Vegan Creme Cake mix is available in vanilla and chocolate.
Rich Products recently launched a lineup of filled dessert doughnuts that include flavors like Apple Pie, Fudge Brownie, Neapolitan, and Banana Cream Pie, along with jumbo filled doughnut bites that include flavors like French Toast and Birthday Cake, notes Megan Grinstead, vice president, value added bakery. Rich’s has also developed kits for consumers to engage with at home, including doughnut kits.
Koehrsen says that it became clear to Bimbo Bakeries early on in the pandemic that demand for sweet baked goods was going to be high, and the company committed to responding to that demand. “The biggest changes we saw from the pandemic centered on where people consumed their meals and how they purchased them. We not only saw a trend for more eating at home, but quarantine and lockdowns provided Americans with more opportunities to eat together as a family. During moments of uncertainty, we saw consumers indulging in the familiar.” He notes Bimbo’s sweet baked goods portfolio offered consumers those moments of connection, familiarity, togetherness, and comfort that they were craving.
“As we look ahead to life after COVID-19, we are confident that many of these newer behaviors—more online shopping, a preference for shared meals and snacks, and increased interest in food safety and quality—will continue in a post-COVID world,” he says.