Unpackaged and unprocessed
At the heart of bakery purchases around the world is a move away from the processed and packaged to the unprocessed and unpackaged. Packaged leavened bread struggled throughout 2016 with declines in volume and sales, according to Euromonitor’s 2017 report on the U.S. bakery category.
“The decline of the category reflects the ongoing and growing consumer sentiment against processed foods in favor of more natural ones,” the report said.
This was also reflected in popular claims on new product launches, Ms. Nielsen said.
“Clean label continues to be something reflected in a lot of new product introductions,” she said. “We continue to see more products coming out with no additives, no preservative claims. We’re seeing more organic claims and even more handmade, traditional, artisan and authentic labels.”
Several bread products are filling in this gap — unpackaged leavened bread as well as ethnic breads. While packaged unleavened bread declined by 1% in volume and sales, its unpackaged counterparts grew by 1% in the U.S., according to Euromonitor. From a global perspective, the growth of unpackaged leavened bread finds its roots in people’s perception that less processing equals healthier and better quality, two attributes consumers are pursuing around the world.
The idea of what constitutes healthy food moves away from processing and toward ingredients.
“Consumers are increasingly selecting products with natural and short ingredient lists over artificial products, even if elements such as calorie and fat content are higher,” Euromonitor’s report said.
Less-processed, unpackaged bread also is linked in people’s minds to handmade, traditional baking. All of this in turn acts as a signal that an unprocessed, unpackaged loaf of bread is high-end. Bakerly noticed this growing demand for premium artisan bakery products and responded accordingly. Ms. Grossman said the bakery’s products are free from preservatives, artificial coloring and flavoring and high-fructose corn syrup and also contain zero trans fat.
Health and clean label may be top motivators for buying bread, but in a seemingly contradictory turn, consumers are also gravitating toward indulgent baked goods.
“It seems like every time I open a magazine, there’s an article on donuts,” Ms. Nielsen said.
And it’s true that the donut trend is still going strong. Sales are up 3%, according to IRI sales data from the 52 weeks ending July 9, 2017, in the U.S. Fresh rolls/bun/croissants are up 2.7%; muffins are up 8.5%; and pies and cakes as a category are up 3.2% while fresh bread sales were flat.
“Indulgence will always be on trend,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “We’ve seen increased interest in European-quality pastries around the world. We ship croissants to Korea and Australia. We see a lot of growth in croissants and Danish.”
The same drivers of increased demand for high-quality, unprocessed bread are also driving the trend toward indulgence. As people travel to Europe and return home, they bring with them a taste for Old World pastries. Wanting to enjoy the same quality at home is only natural.
In a global food market driven by a concern for health, the growth of indulgent foods may seem counterintuitive. But consumers seem capable of holding both the demand for healthy bread and the urge to indulge at the same time. It’s all about finding moderation. Mr. Kolinski attributed this to the very human impulse to cheat.
“People try to do good throughout the week,” he said. “During the work week, they try to be good and healthy, and on the weekend they think, ‘I deserve to do something that isn’t so good for me.’”
As people cross borders and break bread together, their ideas about what makes good bread and how best to eat it will travel with them and continue to evolve. In the U.S., that means a demand for higher quality, fewer ingredients and a wider variety to bring the world to their kitchen tables.