Bakers look beyond mainstay bread categories in their pursuit of growth.

KANSAS CITY — With sales volume still under pressure in the commercial bread market, bakers increasingly are looking beyond mainstay bread categories in their pursuit of growth. Over the past year, innovation in the bread market has been characterized by products that offer a new twist on established bread categories. The targeted niche may offer bakers an opportunity to gain and hold precious additional retailer shelf space.

Like what?

How about a swirl bread that isn’t sweet? Or offering fall seasonal bread varieties at a different time of year? A white bread with a richer flavor than typical loaves? A gluten-free bread that isn’t in the supermarket freezer? Or an organic white bread specially targeting children?

Each of these ideas and several others became a reality in the bread market over the past year, and baking executives interviewed by Milling & Baking News said there are plenty more in the innovation pipeline.

Explaining new products offered by Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Boulder, Colo., Sam Garfinkel, senior brand manager at Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Rudi’s parent company), offered a simple rationale that seemed to capture the thinking of many baking executives in 2015.

“We have expanded our product lineup to include products that don’t exist anywhere else on a national level,” he said.

B.B.U. organic-style bread

In introducing its new line of Extra Grainy bread, Bimbo Bakeries USA is targeting consumers attracted to richly textured, super premium bread but deterred by prices charged for popular organic varieties, said Jim Morris, director, premium bread, Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Bimbo Bakeries USA is targeting consumers attracted to richly textured, super premium bread with its new line of Extra Grainy bread.

“We have been monitoring trends across the country looking for innovation ideas, healthier whole grain products are trending up as people try to eat healthier,” he said. “A lot of that started on the West coast and moved east. Some has been with organic. Some has been with premium type breads.”

Against this varied backdrop, B.B.U. is set to launch in April Extra Grainy to its premium whole grain bread portfolio. To be sold under the Arnold, Brownberry and Oroweat brands, the line will feature three varieties: 17 Grains & Seeds, Cracked Wheat & Oats, and Flax & Sesame Seeds.

“Extra Grainy gives consumers richly textured, very heavily grained bread with seeds and particulates on the outside of the loaf and inside each slice,” Mr. Morris said. “It’s crunchy, grainy bread that does well for sandwiches and toast.”

In developing Extra Grainy, Mr. Morris suggested B.B.U. had its eye on the organic market more than the whole wheat market.

“The organic trend in bread has moved from the Pacific Northwest to California and across to the East coast, almost bypassing the Midwest,” he said. “We see that in the sales data — it is moving east and to the Southeast. Extra Grainy is similar to a couple organic varieties in their texture and use of seeds.”

Extra Grainy will complement new B.B.U.’s Eureka! line of organic bread, which initially was available in the West and has moved east. Both Eureka! and Extra Grainy have been launched in test markets over the past year or so, and both will be available nationally by the end of April, available at Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger and other major chains.

Rich texture, high whole grain content and fiber content are among the particular qualities B.B.U. is emphasizing as it introduces Extra Grainy. The bread is baked without high-fructose corn syrup. 

Mr. Morris described Extra Grainy as a unique entry into the wide pan category.

“It’s a type of bread that doesn’t really exist in the competitive set right now among our East coast or West coast competitors,” he said. “There has been a trend toward commoditization in the bread category, and we are creating differentiation with a richer, grainier experience.”

The “graininess” of the new line varies from one variety to the next. The 17 Grains contains 19 grams of whole grains per slice, versus 13 grams for the cracked wheat and 11 for the flax.

That B.B.U. was inspired by organic products more than whole wheat is understandable given recent trends, Mr. Morris said.

“The whole wheat market has been flat and very competitive,” he said. “In the last 12 to 18 months, there has been a general swing back to white bread, especially our premium lines. White bread had not been where the trends have been going. Now consumers want the taste and experience of white bread. It is more of an indulgence.

“Our target with Grainy is not the organic bread consumer, whose primary benefit they are seeking is organic. With this, we are looking at people who don’t want to pay the price for organic or see ‘organic’ as among the primary characteristics that attract them. But they are looking for the taste experience you can find in a number of organic varieties currently on the market.”

Suggested retail price for Extra Grainy is $3.99 in most markets, versus $4.99 to $5.99 for Eureka! Organic bread.

Robust launch plans for Extra Grainy have been put together, premised on test market data showing high repeat purchases, Mr. Morris said.

“The challenge is to get consumers to try it, with its heavier texture,” he said. “We are determined to get as much trial as we can — through media (print and digital — on-line banners), coupon and sampling events with customers.”

B.B.U. also is looking to position the company more favorably in the whole wheat bread market. Late in 2015, the company introduced a new and improved 100% whole wheat variety.

“We conducted consumer research and blind taste tests,” Mr. Morris said. “They preferred our new version to the previous variety and to the competitive set of whole wheat bread. It’s slightly sweeter. A little more richly textured. Nowhere near the graininess of Extra Grainy or Eureka! but more than in previous versions.

“It has been well received. 100% whole wheat also had been a commoditized category. We had seen declines, but this has helped us stem those declines.”

The move away from whole wheat bread across the category has been significant, Mr. Morris said.

“Arnold, Brownberry Oroweat — premium breads have been a little challenged on the whole grain side. We have been trying to launch differentiated varieties, but the category has been trending downward 6% to 8% per year,” he said.

Against this backdrop, white bread demand has been strong. He said the company’s premium white varieties, potato bread and buttermilk have been experiencing gains of 6% to 8% per year.

Steps the company has taken to capitalize on this shift include the introduction last year of Artesano.

“It’s a heavy, richly textured white bread,” Mr. Morris said. It has been doing very well and taps into the white bread resurgence. The bag is unique — almost a steamed look of a freshly baked loaf. It has thicker slices and make incredible French toast.”

The product originated in Grupo Bimbo’s baking business in Colombia and, with encouragement from corporate management, found its way into the B.B.U. innovation pipeline.

“A new white bread that has the soft texture and rich flavor your family will love,” is how B.B.U. describes Artesano on the packaging.

Still another way in which B.B.U. has been trying to build its U.S. bread business has been in the breakfast bread category.

“Breakfast breads are doing really well,” Mr. Morris said. “We recently introduced a new line of swirl bread under the Thomas' banner. We’ve had our toe in the breakfast category in swirl for many years. Now, we’ve relaunched and improved the quality to be more competitive against others.”