Baking has a well earned reputation for hard-nosed realism, and bakers could hardly be blamed for taking a dim view of bread demand. Flat to weak quarterly volume figures from the largest baking companies followed the release a few weeks earlier of very soft 52-week bread sales figures from SymphonyIRI. The case certainly may be made that the trends are a continuation, perhaps worsening, of what has been going on with sliced bread for years, even decades. Still any temptation to think of bread as destined for the same fate as buggy whips 100 years ago should be tempered by many contrary indications in the food service sector.

Whether it is the sales jolt cited by Dunkin' Brands from its new breakfast sandwich, enthusiasm for grilled cheese demonstrated by entrepreneurs rolling out The Melt chain or the continuing amazing success of Subway and Panera, the consumer has not turned away from bread.

To the contrary, these stories and others are nothing short of thrilling. The challenge for bakers, and it is a real challenge, is finding ways to compete with increasingly appealing food service choices in order to reignite consumer enthusiasm for what is offered on supermarket shelves. It is difficult to imagine a pathway to industry prosperity through food service alone.