Lies, Dang Lies and …

by Dan Malovany
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… statistics. At least, that’s how the saying goes, but when it comes to the collapse of Hostess Brands, the supermarket scanning data suggest a brutally honest tale about its effect on the bread aisle.

According to IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, the leading performers among the post-Hostess Top 10 vendors in the bread category included Flowers Foods, Lewis Bakeries, Aunt Millie’s Bakeries and Franz Bakery — all of which experienced double-digit growth for the 52 weeks ending May 19, 2013. That’s nearly six months to the day that Hostess shut down.

During that period, IRI noted that Hostess bread sales declined by more than 50%, meaning $350 million changed hands in the retail bread category. That’s not counting what Hostess sold into foodservice and other channels not monitored by IRI.

During the past six months, some adept, swift-moving companies seized this once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity. Some did it by taking shelf space. Others seem to be growing via market penetration and geographic expansion.

Certainly, you can debate whether the demise of Hostess was good or bad for the industry, but it’s clear that Christmas came early for many wholesalers after the longtime producer of Wonder bread closed last November.

That’s because overall sales of packaged bread continue to slump, falling slightly more than 1% to $8.7 billion, IRI reported. Likewise, buns tumbled 0.3% to $1.9

billion; bagels also dropped 0.3% to $820.9 million and other rolls, buns and croissants saw a 0.5% skid to $1.7 billion. If your sales are rockin’, maybe you didn’t mind that Hostess took a sockin’.

For the category leader, Bimbo Bakeries USA, Hostess’ departure had less of an effect on overall dollar sales. In the packaged bread category, for instance, BBU saw sales slip 1.0% to $2.5 billion, IRI noted.

That said, the dynamics of the historically diversified bread aisle have significantly changed, especially in traditional supermarkets and other outlets where IRI captures its scanning data. Together, IRI data suggested BBU and private label maintain a 90% share of English muffin sales, 85% of bagels, 67% of hamburger and hot dog buns and even account for more than 51% of packaged bread sales.

No doubt, there are large parts of the country where companies like Flowers, the No. 2 bakery in the nation, are clear leaders. And there are regions where Franz and others have strengthened their leading presence. Of course, don’t forget alternate channels such as foodservice outlets and dollar stores where other bakeries capture the lion’s share of the business. The entire market for baked goods is much larger than what IRI data captures.

The overall bread aisle is still struggling, but for many companies, it still looks robust and full. At least that’s what those dang statistics say to me.

But if I’m wrong, don’t call me a liar. I’m just calling it by the numbers.

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