A sure-fire way to capture my attention is through doughnuts. When made well, this quintessentially American bakery product is a tough act to beat. In my home, when we’re seeking to mark a special occasion with a special morning treat, the request is—without fail—doughnuts.

Clearly my fellow Americans can identify with my ardent adoration of the beloved doughnut. As noted in our upcoming annual “State of the Industry: Bakery” issue’s analysis of the category, we cite IRI data noting the strong performance of doughnuts to date. For the 52 weeks ending April 18, 2021, the retail doughnuts segment of the pastry and doughnuts, per IRI, Chicago, grew 3.5 percent to $2.2 billion, with many branded retail products seeing nice growth:

  • Hostess Brands grew 7.6 percent to $451.8 million
  • Bimbo Bakeries USA grew 9.4 percent to $389.0 million
  • JAB Holding (which owns Krispy Kreme) grew 14.2 percent to $245.3 million
  • Clyde’s Delicious Doughnuts grew 34.5 percent to $29.5 million
  • Bon Appetit Danish grew 15.9 percent to $24.2 million

Overall, indulgent products have tracked well through the COVID-19 pandemic era. At times of crisis, it’s a natural response to seek comfort (and there are those of us who seek comfort in all instances … even when all is right with the world…). But a prevailing trend that has seen considerable traction over the past few years is the notion of “permissible indulgence.” This can come through nutritional improvements or portion control, as well as via other avenues like sustainability and an organic pedigree. If people are going to indulge, they want something in the mix to feel good about.

So when Puratos recently sent me a box highlighting its advancements in developing better-for-you baked goods like doughnuts, muffins, and brownies—complete with product samples to witness the goodness firsthand—I was immediately pulled in. The exterior of the box featured a stack of beautiful doughnuts with the message, “Indulgence you can feel good about.” Strategies the supplier is incorporating into its campaign include a doughnut premix for steaming doughnuts vs. frying, sustainable cocoa sourcing and easy traceability, simplifying the ingredient statement, plant-based emphasis, cutting sugar, and boosting levels of beneficial ingredients like fruit and grains (see “Puratos releases new ingredients that that challenge ‘traditional notions of indulgence’” for more details). As you might expect, the Puratos products were amazing, with none of the apparent indulgence lost in the re-imagining of these treats.

Strategic category diversity is the name of the game, and better-for-you options will definitely factor into the mix as we emerge from the pandemic, with some demographic segments taking a decidedly nutritionally and environmentally improved path moving forward.