BUFFALO, NY. — As the ripple effects of the pandemic have played out over the past two and a half years, Rich Products has been tracking consumer sentiment through a series of surveys, beginning in mid-2020. The company asked consumers what they were looking for in the fresh bakery department and what they bought.

While the study focused on fresh bakery purchasing behaviors, the findings provide valuable insight for the baking industry. The data revealed changes in consumer preferences driven by the increase in meals and snacks being eating at home.

The study found shoppers were looking for ways to elevate more frequent at-home meals with healthy options, a greater variety of baked foods and smaller, more affordable portion sizes. For these shoppers, fresh bakery ranked in the top three departments storewide.

Starting with breakfast, shoppers reported buying fewer meals at restaurants.

“With inflation at historically high levels, consumers are looking to save on food,” Rich Products said. “Almost half (46%) report they are purchasing fewer breakfasts from restaurants, creating an opportunity for more breakfast items from the in-store bakery.” 

Bread and rolls were seen as a solution for cost-conscious shoppers.

“Among shoppers who have increased their planned fresh bakery purchases, 66% plan more bread and roll purchases to save money — another way fresh bakery items can elevate everyday occasions,” according to the survey.

Everyday purchases of fresh baked foods were growing, Rich Products said.

“While shoppers are still more likely to purchase fresh bakery for special occasions (67%) than everyday (52%), anytime treats and comfort purchases are on the rise,” the company said. “In fact, 31% of respondents claimed they have purchased more anytime treats in the last two years than they did pre-pandemic.”

Premium bakery items emerged as primarily an at-home indulgence. Respondents reported buying premium bakery products most often as a treat for themselves and their families (68%), followed by special celebrations (62%) and gatherings (42%).

When asked what connoted “premium” in a bakery purchase, respondents were most likely to name fresh fruit (46%), visible inclusions (42%) and unique flavors (42%), Rich Products said.

The fresh bakery department influenced where consumers shopped, with 28% of respondents reporting they, “choose where to buy their groceries based on the in-store bakery’s options.” Shoppers said they were satisfied with their fresh bakery options, with 88% of respondents ranking their in-store bakery experience as “excellent or very good.”

Consumers were searching for healthier treats, according to the data.

“When asked what new food and beverage products they would be excited to see in retail stores, 42% of respondents indicated an interest in more healthy items in the fresh bakery,” the company said. “Clean labels, healthier positioning and high-quality ingredients all become more important as people consume bakery products more frequently.”

Smaller portion items in fresh bakery tracked growth at a faster rate than traditional-sized portions.

“Mini and smaller-sized, affordable indulgences like cookies, cake slices and morning sweets, can lower purchase barriers and encourage trial, personal indulgence, sharing and exploration,” the company said.

As a complement to the sentiment tracking surveys, Rich Products conducted a shopper segmentation study in 2022 to identify different types of shoppers who provide the greatest opportunity for future fresh bakery growth. The analysis revealed three key categories of consumers.

“Engaged explorers,” who made up 20% of the shoppers surveyed, spent more on fresh bakery items than any other segment, at $116.43 per buyer, according to Rich Products. These consumers prioritized the ability to personalize their choices and appreciated a wide variety of flavors.

“Special treat seekers,” representing 29% of fresh-bakery consumers, were looking for value and appreciated the “special” feel of items from the fresh bakery, the surveys found. This segment showed interest in smaller-size baked foods options with an emphasis on value.

“Health Balancers” represented 15% of total fresh bakery buyers surveyed. This segment was drawn to premium bakery products, clean ingredient labels and smaller portion sizes to moderate sugar/carbohydrate intake, according to Rich Products.

Rich Products said it launched its ongoing consumer sentiment tracking study in 2020 to monitor changes in shopper preferences and fresh bakery purchasing behaviors across retail, foodservice and e-commerce channels. To date, the company has run 12 stages of the survey with 300 participants each. In addition, the company conducted several shopper studies focused on the future of fresh bakery over the past 18 months.