Billy Roberts, senior analyst for food and drink for Mintel Group, Ltd., said the biggest concern for I.S.B.s should be the competition from prepackaged bread available elsewhere in the supermarket. According to Mintel research, only a quarter of parents said they prefer to buy freshly prepared cakes and/or pies over frozen ones.
“Some of this may well stem from lingering economic concerns, as disposable income levels have yet to regain much of ground lost during the recession,” Mr. Roberts wrote in “What’s in Store 2017.” “But it also suggests that consumers who may have ‘traded’ down to retail brands of cakes and pies because of reduced disposable income during the recession have found the quality of those products to be sufficiently comparable to freshly prepared options.”
This could be worrisome for I.S.B.s producing artisan bread as artisan is among the sectors seeking to cut into the share of the traditional bread baking industry.
However, bread baking companies have started offering product lines targeting in-store bakeries and food service. Companies with European origins sometimes need to adjust their formulations to better align their product portfolios with American taste preferences, said Olivier Morel, senior vice-president of U.S. sales and marketing at Bridor, Vineland, N.J.
“Consumer expectations are quite different in the United States,” Mr. Morel said. “In the U.S., everyone is looking for quality products, but many American consumers prefer a thinner bread crust, while European consumers prefer thicker crust.”
While launched in Quebec in 1956, Bridor imports some of its products from Europe, where the company established operations in the late 1980s.
A new bread line, Soft Artisan, was introduced in 2016 in the United States. Mr. Morel said Bridor developed the all-natural new line with an eye toward clean label.
“It looks like a real artisan product, with natural ingredients and natural enzyme,” he said. “To answer market expectations, we added grains in the recipe.
“These products are doing very well. They come pre-sliced for ease of application for the end user. The bread has at least two-day shelf life, when baked.”
The line features four varieties — white, 12 grain, sesame/semolina and sprouted grains.
More recently, the company installed a new bread production line in Montreal with European technology to help meet growing demand for its products.
Mr. Morel said North American sales are expected to reach $250 million in 2017, of which 40% is bread and the balance is pastry (including croissants). Roughly 10% of U.S. volume is imported from Europe. With a recent expansion completed at Vineland in 2016, the company currently has 270 employees in New Jersey.
Most of the company’s North American growth in recent years has come from food service, which accounts for 70% of sales. Without citing names, Mr. Morel said Bridor supplies nearly all the leading bakery cafe chains in the United States.
“Most of them carry at least one of our products,” he said. “Our focus is shifting toward retail. We see retail customers looking for healthier products. They know what we were able to do in food service. We see more and more interest in premium retailers, seeking high quality products. With more capacity we will be able to supply bigger players, customers for in-store bakeries or the deli section.”
To grow its food service business, the company has offered a broadening array of products from its European market in an effort to meet the needs of restaurateurs looking for something distinctive.
For instance, Bridor has launched a mini-baguette with olives and thyme, for fine dining restaurants.
“For the premium market, we are launching a new range of products called the bagnet,” Mr. Morel said.
Popular in French Riviera in Nice, bagnets are crusty on the outside, soft on the inside.
“The flat oval shape of the bagnet makes them very good to carry around and very good for making sandwiches,” he said. “We think it’s a good fit for the American market, and we will be pushing it for 2017. It’s a very traditional bread from the south of France, but it will be baked in the United States. We have a plain one, but we also will have one with rye and grains (cracked wheat, sunflower, flax, chia, oats...).
“We try to stay ahead of the game. The European market is very traditional. The U.S. market is very much based on innovation. We launched a baguette, not made just with white flour but a blend of buckwheat and white flour. It has a sour flavor and is especially doing well on the West coast. The buckwheat brings some coloring to the dough. Buckweat grows well in Brittany, acidic land.”
Bridor has grown in the United States through expanded distribution, not just new products, Mr. Morel said. Two years ago Bridor’s products were sold more narrowly, but the company has doubled its number of distributors. The nation’s two largest food service distributors handle the company’s products. Still, sales remain heaviest east of the Mississippi river, he said.