Frozen dough may be best known for its utilitarian nature. Easy to use, frozen and parbaked dough remains a reliable cornerstone of consistency and convenience. Beyond the ubiquitous dough ball, frozen dough manufacturers are creating new specialized products. Smaller runs required for niche production have led a number of frozen dough manufacturers to eschew traditional R&D for partnerships with customers to produce customized frozen products with home-baked appeal.
In the case of Van Nuys, CA-based La Brea Bakery, its line of frozen take-and-bake bread provides consumers access to the bakery’s signature products nationwide. The company offered its first frozen parbaked item a decade ago, and demand for its frozen products continues to grow. Baked 80% and flash frozen, the bread is meeting consumer desire for upscale artisan products with the convenience of frozen dough, according to Katie Despard Kelsey, director of marketing, La Brea Bakery. The bakery discovered that its frozen line has not cut into its fresh bakery business because many consumers purchase in-store for immediate consumption and buy La Brea Bakery’s frozen parbaked items for later use. The frozen products feature all-natural and upscale ingredients in roll, demi baguette and petite loaf formats. In September, La Brea introduced an Italian 3-Cheese dinner roll and Chopped Garlic petite loaf.
“More retailers want to provide frozen items to their customers,” Ms. Despard Kelsey said. “There is an appeal to recreate a restaurant feel at home, and for retailers it’s an excellent way to cross-promote meal solutions that include frozen products.”
In 2007, Violet Packing, a producer of tomato and pizza sauces, acquired De Iorio’s, Utica, NY. Recognizing the importance of working with customers to create niche products, De Iorio’s markets its frozen and parbaked dough with Violet Packing’s Dom Pepino, Scalfani and private-label products. Flexibility with consumer requests has created opportunities to produce signature items such as a beer-based pizza dough and bread for a Pennsylvania microbrewery.
“I think this desire for differentiation began around the time of the Atkins diet with a desire for low-carb products, which progressed to a group of consumers who no longer wanted low-carb but wanted more flavor,” said Jim Viti, director of marketing, De Iorio’s. “Artisan breads soon followed, and I believe the offshoot of all of that evolution is that people desire differentiation. If they are going to have carbs, they want them to count in flavor and quality.”
Depending on the audience, making carbs “count” might include whole-grain, restaurant-inspired, glutenfree or flavored variety dough. But consumer demand doesn’t always mirror reality; therefore, follow through to the purchase of healthier items such as whole grains is not guaranteed. Mr. Viti observed that changes regarding health take considerable time, and he compared oncestrong consumer preferences for whole milk to greater acceptance of 2% and 1% milk and ultimately skim.
“Many people have the intention to look for a healthier version, but they don’t necessarily buy the healthier item,” Mr. Viti continued. “The creation of hybrid versions along with an influx of innovation has lead to the tipping point of consumers looking for something new.”
The market for gluten-free items has certainly reached a tipping point with major players such as General Mills entering the arena with the introduction of gluten-free cereal and baking mixes. De Iorio’s recently partnered with a company producing gluten-free bases to create a private-label glutenfree pizza shell. Introduced at the Pizza Expo in March and the National Restaurant Association show in May, the retail version of the product will be rolled out in a test market within the next six months.
Bridor USA, Vineland, NJ, is another company finding success with private-label specialization, a trend that mirrors a national and international rejection of brand names for lower-priced private-label products. In June, the company introduced a line of flavored breads — Fig & Apricot, Tumeric & Chive, Buckwheat & Pumpkin Seed and Green Tea & Peppermint — at the International Dairy Deli and Bakery Association show in Atlanta, GA. A recent survey by the Private Label Manufacturers Association found that 91% say they will continue to buy store brands after the recession ends.
“Bridor makes it a priority to pay attention to emerging trends and listen to our retailers,” said Ron Cardey, president, Bridor USA. “Retailers are closer to the ultimate consumer than the manufacturer, and it’s a good place to sit down and find out what they need.”
The Future of Food Retailing, a webinar presented by Willard Bishop and The Food Institute, highlighted the growing importance of private labels. As a result of increased interest in private-label products, The Food Institute predicted a narrowing opportunity for premium products within dominant industries. In turn, retailers will continue to weed out products not delivering a substantial and unique incremental value.
With shelf space at a premium, the right product for the right customer has become more critical than ever. In response to continued demand for better-for-you foods, Crawford’s Wholesale, Indianapolis, IN, rolled out its thaw-and-sell Sweet Results 100 Bakery line at IDDBA. An offshoot of its original “full calorie” Sweet Results line, Sweet Results 100 was created for the way people want to eat, according to Rick Crawford, a certified master baker and owner of Crawford’s Wholesale.
“The consensus for a cookie such as Sweet Results 100 came from people who eat healthy foods, and the percentage of people wanting healthy products continues to grow,” Mr. Crawford said.
He observed a commonality between customers doing something greater than themselves, such as volunteering, that reflects a concern for the greater community good and ultimately influences the kind of food choices they make. “I believe that this idea crosses socioeconomic backgrounds, and when we present these attributes to merchandisers in stores, they understand. We are both looking for smart customers.”
More than ever, consumers are making manufacturers hyperaware of their expectations. For companies such as Ecce Panis, a producer of parbaked artisan breads, consumer testing and feedback are instrumental. Its Eat Well line features hand-crafted, small-batch breads made with all-natural ingredients. The company was recently acquired by Campbell Soup Company, Camden, NJ.
“Artisan bread consumers are very passionate about their bread, and Ecce Panis is always committed to deliver high quality and indulgence in our products,” said Ann Rowe, vice-president of sales, Ecce Panis, East Brunswick, NJ.
Using consumer insights and research from Mintel, a Chicago, IL-based research organization, the company revamped its label to callout the better-for-you qualities of its all-natural, low-fat, zero trans, good source of fiber and cholesterol-free breads.
For consumers who like indulgence but are not yet on the healthy bandwagon, the company tempers its betterfor-you products with the use of rolled oats to “lighten” the darkness of a whole-grain roll or includes add-ins such as chunks of whole garlic.
Packaging features nutritional callouts as well as recipes designed to increase consumption times throughout the day. Ecce Panis also plans to cross-promote with Pepperidge Farm and Campbell’s.
“We always look to maintain a balance between creating consumer excitement for our breads and being conscious of in-store operators and how they can keep up with demand,” Ms. Rowe said.
Cost vs. effort is just one of many concerns as the economy continues to make demands on manufacturers and consumers alike.Mr. Crawford has witnessed a progression toward thaw-and-sell products as the demand to reduce labor in stores increases. For the past five years, Mr. Viti of De Iorio’s saw a demand for frozen dough but is now seeing a reverse trend of proof-and-bake raw dough to provide premium “fresh” product that demands a premium price.
“Consistency is important, especially as the food service segment grows,” Mr. Viti said. “As food becomes a profit center, proof-and-bake provides an option for those who can’t bake from scratch, and parbaked provides for those who just need to keep up in this area.”
Reduced labor typically means better organization and planning are required on the backend of operations. In the arena of thaw-and-sell products, Mr. Crawford commented on the ever-increasing desire to improve food safety through lot code tracking on individual packages.
“Tracking for food safety has become more important than the label, and food safety probably gets more attention that anything else,” Mr. Crawford said.
“The bigger suppliers have to go with British Retail Consortium safety standards because large retailers are driving food-safety initiatives,” he continued. “These aren’t government-driven programs; they are marketdriven programs.”
TREND OR FAD?
It’s hard to say where the next opportunity for manufacturers might lie, but undeniably, customer-driven requests will continue to influence new products. Food safety, a perception of freshness and nutritional qualities might just be the beginning. As the old adage goes, listen to your customers and they’ll tell you exactly what they want.