As recession proof as sliced bread

by Allison Sebolt
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It has been several years since the common slice of bread was just plain and white with butter on top. Driven by health-conscious consumers looking for more, bread has evolved as an important source of fiber, whole grains and even omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, the fact bread may be a central component of an inexpensive meal has helped boost its popularity recently.

"The bread industry … is less impacted by the economy than other businesses," said Janice Anderson, vice-president of marketing for Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga. "We are lucky that people continue to eat bread no matter what’s going on with the economy."

Ms. Anderson said the recession is causing people to eat more meals at home and take more brown-bag lunches to work. In addition, she said bakers are looking to provide specific health benefits to consumers through the use of omega-3 fatty acids and other added nutrients. She said bakers also are looking to provide consumers with a product that has less sugar, sodium and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Earlier this year Flowers removed all HFCS from its Nature’s Own and Whitewheat bread, and last year the company made efforts to further reduce sodium.

Flowers Foods recently introduced a Healthy Multi Grain variety and a Grains & Granola variety to its Nature’s Own line. The options extend the Nature’s Own specialty premium line.

"If you eat a lot of sandwiches during the week, buying a bread with a different taste or texture is an easy way to make a change and keep the meal interesting," Ms. Anderson said. "That’s why we recently rolled out Nature’s Own Healthy Multi Grain and Grains & Granola breads. Multi Grain is made with a blend of honey and different grains, including oats and buckwheat, giving it a unique taste … our new Grains & Granola bread has a slightly different texture thanks to the addition of flax and sesame and sunflower seeds."

Nature’s Own also recently introduced 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Rolls that contain 25 grams of whole grain and 4 grams of fiber and 100% Whole Wheat Hot Dog Rolls that contain 20 grams of whole grain and 3 grams of fiber.

"I expect the bread market to continue its steady growth," Ms. Anderson said. "Whether the economy improves or not, people will continue to demand healthy, great-tasting convenience foods that are a good value. The fact bread delivers on all counts should help ensure its role as a household staple and important part of every meal."

Other recently introduced bread products include 7-grain whole grains bread from Arnold Foods and 100% Natural Country Butter Milk Sliced Bread from Nature’s Pride, according to Mintel International, Chicago.

Mintel said there were 447 new bread products launched in 2008, up from 428 in 2007. The pace of innovation slowed slightly in early 2009 with only 75 new bread products being introduced in the first quarter compared with 163 during the same quarter of the previous year. Mintel said sales in the bread category — including fresh loaf bread, fresh rolls, buns and croissants, tortillas, bagels and English muffins, and frozen and refrigerated bread products — rose nearly 8% to $20.5 billion in 2008 driven principally by higher selling prices but also shored up by the recession and an increased desire to eat meals at home and to take brown bag lunches to work and school. Sales were up partly due to price increases from rising ingredient and fuel costs, Mintel noted.

According to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based research firm, fresh bread sales in the grocery category totaled $6,646 million for the year ended July 12, up 3% from the previous year. Unit sales for the year were down 2.5%, which goes to show some of the category sales increases have been due to pricing.

Mintel said the most popular types of bread in terms of household usage are whole wheat, white and multi-grain. Mintel said the most significant trends have been whole grain, high-fiber organic and natural offerings.

Overall, the bread industry is consolidating. According to Mintel, George Weston Bakeries led the market with a 13% share in 2008, but since then the company sold its U.S. fresh bread and baked goods division to Grupo Bimbo, which is now the leader in the bread market. Flowers Foods’ acquisition of ButterKrust Bakery and Holsum Bakery will continue to boost it as the No. 3 player in the bread market.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, August 4, 2009, starting on Page 33. Click here to search that archive.

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