SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — For years, people have waved the flag high for health and wellness, seeking out better-for-you options in many food categories. But the truth is, they still want to indulge, said Todd Hale, principal at Todd Hale, L.L.C., who sat down with an expert panel during the American Bakers Association’s annual convention, held April 14-18 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Panelists included Rick Stein, vice-president of fresh foods for Food Marketing Institute (F.M.I.); Brian Dwyer, vice-president of manufacturing and operations for The Kroger Co.; Andy Muller, executive vice-president of bio-based ingredients for Corbion; and Carrie Jones-Barber, chief executive officer of Dawn Foods.

“Health and wellness matters, but so does indulgence,” Mr. Hale said. “There are a lot of indulgent categories that are really doing quite well in terms of driving growth in this age of people trying to lead healthier lifestyles.”

(From left) Todd Hale, Carrie Jones-Barber, Andy Muller, Brian Dwyer and Rick Stein

Items such as pies and specialty desserts have experienced growth, as opposed to items such as rolls and bagels, which have come up flat, according to Nielsen data. 

When it comes to the popularity of indulgent products, the retail perimeter is where it’s at, Mr. Hale said. This is due in part to the perception of freshness, which puts a bit of a halo on sweet goods as opposed to center-store offerings.

“It’s interesting to see how consumers are taking advantage of the perception of fresher products and how it’s helping retailers to drive growth,” he said.

Mr. Hale called it “walking the gauntlet of sweet goods” when consumers enter a supermarket, thanks to all the sights and fresh smells.

“There’s really nice-looking packaging around cookies, cakes, donuts; you don’t have to go to center store to buy these categories anymore,” he said. “You can get them on your trip around the store.”

He also pointed out retailers such as Hy-Vee, which uses technology such as big screen televisions to visually showcase indulgent products. 

Kroger is meeting demand for fresh indulgent items by offering single-serving cake slices and six-count donut packages, Mr. Dwyer said, both of which are experiencing growth. 

Kroger single-serving cake slices and six-count donut packagesIt’s important to note that the consumers who are not afraid to indulge are very likely the same ones who gravitate toward healthier items. It all depends on the time of day and even day of the week, Ms. Jones-Barber said.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re innovating around indulgence and health and wellness and delivering great products that provide indulgence when consumers are looking for it and also providing healthier offerings,” she said. “They’re both important.”

Dawn’s Bakers Truth line of mixes and bases gives sweet goods producers the ability to create indulgent items with cleaner labels, Ms. Jones-Barber said.

And with the consumer demand for transparency, “truth” is the name of the game, Mr. Dwyer said. Kroger’s Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic brands are some of the fastest growing launches the company has experienced.

“It gives our consumers a healthier alternative with cleaner labels and organic ingredients,” he said.

The concept of “having your cake and eating it, too” is often hard to grasp in a literal sense, but the reality is that modern consumers want their healthy foods and indulge in them, too.  

Corbion is seeing growth in indulgence and health and wellness, Mr. Muller said, and the company is investing in innovation on both sides.

“The challenge is creating something healthy that can indulge you at the same time,” he said. “It’s an area where we’re working hard to make that happen.”

Slice of apple pieHealth-and-wellness-related needs often look like a “moving target,” Mr. Muller said, because health and wellness can mean different things to different consumers, depending on their personal context.

“You need to define what your customers and consumers feel about health and wellness,” Mr. Muller said. “Then as ingredient suppliers, we need to be flexible and nimble; we need to have all the right tools in our portfolio to address those needs.”

Enzyme blends for sugar reduction, trans-fat-free solutions or organic and clean label ingredients are just a few of the specific scenarios bakers should consider when either creating health and wellness products as an alternative to indulgent ones or marrying the two together, Mr. Muller said.

Ms. Jones-Barber also emphasized the importance of customized solutions and working with bakers one-on-one. 

As F.M.I. tracks trends, Mr. Stein said he has seen an uptick in heath and wellness as a concern for consumers in their overall purchasing habits and noted that science is the place from where trends will emerge.

Muffin bites“I believe we’re going to see that, as science evolves, more innovation will come from it,” he said. “You can’t walk down a store aisle without ‘protein’ being blasted at you; that’s because science has stated that protein is more filling and has the healthy calories. And look at the information we have on fiber — how it’s fueling energy — the baking industry can parlay that into a message and use the science as a basis for innovation.”

Sometimes, getting ahead of what consumers will clamor for next might be as simple as turning on the television.

“It really can be a moving target,” Mr. Dwyer reiterated. “It can move quickly depending on who shows up on Dr. Oz. Then, all of a sudden, you have a whole new craze, and that’s a real challenge.”