There was a time when the Labor Department’s monthly employment report, even a weak employment report, was a matter nearly ignored by the U.S. baking industry. As producers of the largest single food staple in the American diet (as categorized by SymphonyIRI), bread bakers enjoyed great, if not total, insulation from the ups and downs of the economy. Such insulation is not thought to be present in the current environment.

Even before last week’s report indicating the nation’s employment rate holding stubbornly above 9%, bakers expressed concern over the impact of persistent economic softness. A more cautious attitude toward eating out and shopping in supermarkets has been noted for several months, but bakers’ worries have been heightened by a 3% decrease in bread unit sales over the past year.

“They’re eating the heels,” was one explanation among a number posed by bakers in conversations in recent days. Another baker, pointing to underlying complexity in baking, noted that in certain geographic markets premium and superpremium bread sales trends have been positive while private label and economy brands have struggled.

On a more positive note, employers added 103,000 workers in September, a figure 70% above some forecasts. The stronger-than-expected hiring figures generated optimism about the economic outlook, optimism one may only hope is solidly grounded and contagious.