Executives at Bimbo Bakeries USA (B.B.U.) recently made some astute observations during a conference call with analysts. They noted the overall bread category is trending down 2% to 3% — it varies on different geographic areas — and described the market as “a soft consumption category.” Specifically, private label and mainstream branded bread — often referred to as “commodity” items — are taking it on the chin while B.B.U.’s premium bread business — specifically its Arnold, Brownberry and Oroweat brands — remains solid.
Some pundits may blame the challenges in the bread aisle on gluten-free and other dietary headwinds, but if so, why do B.B.U.’s sweet baked goods continue to perform well? Perhaps it’s not so much the health-and-wellness movement as consumers’ perception of packaged sandwich bread against a backdrop of more fresh, relevant alternatives offered within in-store bakeries and throughout the perimeter of the store.
Likewise, packaged bread finds increased competition from food service establishments, where specialty bread and rolls are positioned as higher-end components of the overall convenient, on-the-go sandwich eating occasion. Look at how even quick-service restaurants now rely on brioche and pretzel rolls — just to name two popular trending sandwich carriers — to reposition, refresh and enhance their menu selections.
Maybe it’s a marketing issue. Sandwich bread producers need to steal a page from the food service industry and position their products as key components of a broader eating experience. They need to find a way to go beyond just selling a “loaf of bread” and engage consumers in a way that is more relevant to today’s consumption preferences and changing lifestyles.