While executives of publicly traded companies in the U.S. fresh bread business have rightly identified significant headwinds impeding their efforts to achieve profitable growth in the past year, the overall picture for baking’s health is anything but distressing.

A review of recently released financial results shows each of the companies — Grupo Bimbo in the United States, Flowers Foods, Pepperidge Farm and Sara Lee — was solidly in the black from an operating income perspective. It was the first time in several years, perhaps since the 1990s, that all publicly traded baking companies could be characterized in that way.

Standing out is Grupo Bimbo with U.S. operating income of $334 million in 2009. That figure compares with the combined earnings of Bimbo and Weston Foods (with Weston’s fresh baking operations acquired by Bimbo in 2008) totaling less than $200 million a year earlier. Of course, no longer part of these data are the financial results of Hostess Brands (formerly Interstate Bakeries), which emerged from a 4½ year bankruptcy in February 2009 as a privately-held business.

Still, Hostess is no longer the dominant player in baking it was before filing for bankruptcy protection. While it is likely that top executives of the nation’s leading baking companies are not fully satisfied with 2009 and aspire toward improved profit margins and earnings growth in the years ahead, the across-the-board profitability in the industry represents a solid starting point toward those objectives.