Keeping carb avoidance in perspective

by Josh Sosland
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Avoidance of bread and carbs ranks low among the preferred strategies of losing weight.

ORLANDO, FLA. — While gluten avoidance and low-carbohydrate dieting remain a concern for the baking industry, data show avoidance of bread and other carbohydrates ranks low among the preferred strategies of most consumers seeking to lose weight, said Todd Hale, principal, Todd Hale L.L.C.

In a presentation March 30 at the annual meeting of the American Bakers Association, Mr. Hale discussed the current environment for the baked foods industry. His presentation, largely based on data from Nielsen Answers, was delivered during the general session of the meeting, held at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando.

Among dieters in North America, eating more natural and fresh foods has become the most popular approach toward losing weight, identified by 60% of consumers, Mr. Hale said. Cutting fat intake and reducing chocolate/sugar consumption are tied for second, at 59%; reducing processed food intake, 46%; low-carbohydrate diet, 23%.

“People don’t always do what they say,” Mr. Hale cautioned. “They might tell us they are reducing chocolate and sugar intake, well look at the No. 1 snacking item. It’s chocolate. Cookies are on the list, too.”

The data Mr. Hale presented showed 64% of consumers said they had consumed chocolate as a snack over the past month; 51% consumed cookies as a snack; and 50% said bread.

“Look at bread,” he said. “Sandwiches as a snack. That kind of surprised me. Think about creating snacking occasions for your bread items. Maybe there is a chance to turn that into an opportunity.”

Contending a consumer focus on health and wellness is not a passing fad, Mr. Hale cited as an indicator a list of baseball stadiums offering selections that fit this descriptor, including a black bean burger in Phoenix, a vegetarian cheese steak in Philadelphia and “infield greens,” build-your-own salad in Colorado.

At the supermarket level, Nielsen data show that while overall unit growth in all categories was flat (-0.1% over the past year), organic claims have enjoyed 11% compounded annual growth over the last four years and the five fastest growing wellness claims (gluten free, G.M.O. free, low glycemic, natural and organic) have climbed 13% over the past year.

“This is growth you really don’t see anywhere else in the store,” he said. “You need to take advantage.”

Perhaps the most upbeat findings from Mr. Hale related to the top categories that motivate shoppers to make a supermarket trip. Dividing shopping trips into four categories — immediate, fill-in, routine and stock-up — he said bread ranks first in each case.

“You have a category that really drives a lot of interest,” he said. “It’s No. 1 across the store. Are you giving enough support to the category?”

This elevated ranking reflects the category’s near leading size — $15 billion per year for fresh bread, Mr. Hale said. But this figure understates the power of bread, he added.

“A quick calculation — think about all the things that go with fresh bread,” he continued. “Peanut butter, cheese, lunch meat, condiments — it’s another $53 billion in the store that’s linked to your category. So when you think about secondary locations, are we putting things together that consumers buy for meals they regularly have?”
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