Keeping it fresh

by Eric Schroeder
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A year ago at this time, Bimbo Bakeries USA and Flowers Foods, Inc. made headlines with the launch and promotion of thinly-sliced bagel products. The trend even carried over to food service, where Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Inc. introduced thinly-sliced bagel sandwiches for its customers. The products were seen as much needed innovation in a bagel category that had seen new product introductions dwindle and sales slide in recent years.

It appears the new items are doing their part — at least in terms of rejuvenating the fresh bagel category.

In the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2010, dollar sales in the fresh bagel category totaled $610,647,600, up 7% from the same period a year ago on a 12% gain in unit sales to 216,270,500, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

Most of the gain could be attributed to Horsham, Pa.-based Bimbo Bakeries USA and its Thomas Bagel Thins. Bimbo, which commands a nearly 60% share of the fresh bagel category with $362,958,400 in sales, experienced a 19% increase in dollar sales and a 24% gain in unit sales during the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, according to SymphonyIRI. While the company’s base (and category leading) Thomas Bagel brand sustained a 1% decline in dollar sales during the period, the Thomas Bagel Thins brand has generated $67,601,330 since its launch, making it the No. 2 fresh brand, according to SymphonyIRI.

After initially launching Thomas Bagel Thins in 100% whole wheat and plain varieties, Bimbo has added cinnamon raisin and Everything flavors. In mid-January, Bimbo brought more attention to the Thomas Bagel Thins line with the announcement it would be partnering with celebrity nutritionist Keri Glassman. Ms. Glassman has created “morning makeover tips” and four original recipes for each one of the Bagel Thins varieties.

“We’re excited to be working with Keri,” said Eileen Gonthier, brand manager for Thomas. “She shares Thomas’ attitude for an approachably wholesome lifestyle, and knows that taste can’t be sacrificed for nutrition. They need to go hand-in-hand to ensure long-lasting wellness.”

For Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., the addition of Nature’s Own Thin Sliced Bagels helped push unit sales up but failed to drive dollar sales, which fell nearly 10% in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2010, to $9,433,032.

While fresh bagel dollar sales at Sara Lee Corp. fell 9% to $74,063,140 during the period ended Dec. 26, 2010, unit sales advanced 7% to 27,121,200. The company’s staple Sara Lee brand suffered a 16% decline in dollar sales during the period despite a 2% increase in unit sales. But it was continued momentum in Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain Mini Bagels that helped propel unit sales. Introduced in the fall of 2009, dollar and unit sales of the brand rose 73% and 77%, respectively, in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2010, according to SymphonyIRI.

Success in the fresh bagel category aside, things have not gone as smoothly in the refrigerated and frozen segments.

In the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2010, dollar sales in the refrigerated bagels category totaled $63,245,060, down 2% from the same period a year ago, while dollar sales of frozen bagels fell 24% to $52,672,450.

Dollar and unit sales at Pinnacle Foods Corp., Mountain Lakes, N.J., were lower in the refrigerated bagel category, as consumers trended away from the company’s category leading Lender’s Bagel Shop Bagels and Lender’s 100 Calorie Bagels. But a bright spot could be found in the company’s Lender’s Little Bagels brand, where dollar sales soared 77% on a 96% jump in unit sales.

In the freezer aisle, both the No. 1 (Pinnacle Foods) and No. 2 (Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill.) players sustained sharp declines in dollar and unit sales.

In the case of Pinnacle, dollar sales fell 15% to $19,245,990 on a 17% drop in unit sales to 11,495,330. Meanwhile, dollar sales at Kraft slipped 39% to $18,159,180 while unit sales fell 44% to 6,963,626. Kraft’s Bagel-fuls, which make up the entire frozen bagel portfolio of Kraft, burst on the scene in the spring of 2008 to much fanfare, ringing up more than $25 million in sales and churning out approximately 10 million units during the first eight months on the market.

Spicing things up

Although the demand for bagels may be sluggish, one company believes interest in bagel seasoning is on the rise. Bagel Spice L.L.C., North Wales, Pa., recently added Zesty Jalapeño and Bagel Spice with Mediterranean Sea Salt Flakes to its line of seasonings that include Original Recipe.

The premise behind the company’s founding followed an encounter in which Bechara Jaoudeh, owner of Bagel Spice, watched as someone took the toppings that had fallen off his bagel and resprinkled them back onto the bagel. And while the seasonings may be used on bagels, they also have other uses, including as a topping for cream cheese, mashed potatoes, egg salad and as marinades.

“Ever since our launch last year, we’ve been flooded with requests from customers asking us to make a spicy version of Bagel Spice — Original Recipe,” Mr. Jaoudeh said. “Our answer is Bagel Spice — Zesty Jalapeño. With Mediterranean sea salt and green jalapeño flakes, it’s sure to satisfy those with a more adventurous palate.”

For more information on the bagel spices visit www.bagelspice.com.

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