Par-baked allows regional bakers go national

by Dan Malovany
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Hot and fresh. That’s what continues to drive impulse sales of bread and rolls in supermarket in-store bakeries. Despite the reported decline in the number of mainstream restaurants offering bread baskets, chefs at upscale establishments know there’s no better way to start a meal than with a basket of warm bread.

For in-store bakeries, par-baked products — as well as an increasing amount of frozen fully baked items that simply need to be slacked out — also provide an easy way to offer consumers fresh bread and rolls with little labor and in a matter of minutes. That is providing growth opportunities for wholesale baking companies.

“It’s difficult to find talented bakers at the hourly wages that supermarkets want to pay, so that’s making par-baked a viable format,” said Jerry Smiley, president and founder of Strategic Growth Partners, a Roselle, Ill.-based consultant firm to the baking industry.

These kinds of frozen products also allow niche, specialty and artisan bakeries such as Toronto-based ACE Bakery to spread their wings and serve customers regionally, nationally and even internationally.

“The marketplace has embraced ACE Bakery’s par-baked breads as they provide enhanced quality, inventory control and a better theater for their retail operations,” noted Lee Andrews, president of ACE Bakery. “There continues to be a demand for new and innovative varieties.”

For ACE Bakery, hot bread programs and the expansion of its “Breads of the World” platform lay the foundation for new growth opportunities.

“ACE Bakery continues to focus on execution at the store level and providing core varieties that highlight different, high-quality ingredients such as fresh herbs, Kalamata olives or sweet cocktail tomatoes,” Mr. Andrews explained.

During the past few years, however, several factors have been driving sales and changing the way specialty bakeries do business in this highly competitive segment of the bread category.

“In the retail sector, it’s about achieving price points and adjusting your product size to achieve your goals,” noted Marc Essenfeld, chief executive officer of Tribeca Oven, Carlstadt, N.J.

Tribeca Oven recently rolled out free-form versions of its classic artisan products. Unlike its labor-intensive, hand-formed artisan bread, the free-form bread is made on the company’s new high-speed artisan bread line. These loaves have the same all-natural ingredients, with a more rustic look that allows in-store bakeries to sell them at a more attractive price point. The company recently rolled out a line of the loaves at a 600-store supermarket in the Northeast, Mr. Essenfeld said.

Additionally, retailers are looking for seasonal and limited-time offerings such as a roasted garlic, pumpkin, apple spice, super-seeded or even chocolate varieties to lure consumers into the in-store bakery.

“For us, baguettes and ciabatta are always the big drivers,” Mr. Essenfeld observed. “However, whole grain products have become a higher percentage of our mix than they previously were, and that’s the way the new world is going. Retail customers are trying to roll out products that are high in particulates because they want their categories to remain innovative.”
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