No longer is the center of the store the most sought-after bull’s-eye for hunting down today’s on-the-go consumers. Although the mainstay bread, cookie, cracker and snack aisles garner the bulk of sales in their respective categories, the fresh perimeter of the store — in-store bakeries, delis and even produce or meat counters — has emerged as a favorite target for specialty bakers and niche snack manufacturers seeking another avenue to bolster their sales.

Over the years, study after study have indicated shoppers who buy from the perimeter of the store spend an increasingly larger amount of money in retailers across the nation, and those food producers who positioned and sold their products accordingly were often richly rewarded. Just look at the number of coveted end-cap displays featuring new products or items on promotion.

A new study by The Hartman Group, Bellevue, WA, showed that the fresh perimeter is more important than ever. The quality of the in-store bakery/deli and prepared food offerings can also drive retail store preferences and even prompt consumers to change where they shop for groceries. In fact, a quarter to half of shoppers will look beyond their local supermarkets to seek out new or high-quality food products, noted Laurie Demeritt, CEO, The Hartman Group, during the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA)’s 50th Annual Seminar and Expo held in Denver last month.

That’s big news for retailers and the burgeoning segment of the baking and snack industries that supply them.

Commissioned by IDDBA, the online survey of more than 850 adult shoppers indicated that the millennials — who are now much more sought after by many food manufacturers than aging baby boomers — are more likely to shop away from their primary supermarkets for better quality and unique specialties that include prepared foods and baked goods. In fact, 46% of millennials will leave their primary store for a preferred store when it comes to fresh prepared foods vs. 35% of baby boomers, according to the survey called “Engaging the Evolving Shopper: Serving the New American Appetite.”

With the heads of 57% of households both working, many people decide what they’re going to eat within one hour of making or buying a meal, according to The Hartman Group’s survey. Ms. Demeritt urged retailers and their suppliers to provide higher quality, more convenient meal alternatives that rival restaurants and other foodservice establishments in quality and convenience.

Pushing the hot buttons

On the IDDBA exhibition floor, dozens of wholesale bakers and snack producers offered new ways for retailers — ranging from conventional supermarkets, mass merchandisers and big-box club stores to c-stores and natural food outlets — to step up their game.

Several companies featured filled croissants. Lantmannen Unibake USA, St. Petersburg, FL, highlighted its Double Delight Croissants under its Schulstad Bakery Solutions brand. The line, imported from Europe, includes Raspberry & White Chocolate, White & Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate & Cherry and Strawberry & Vanilla.

Some companies such as BelPastry, Omaha, NE, are taking grab-and-go gourmet snacking to a new level with its 3.5-oz Gouda-cheese-filled croissant with 22% butter. CEO Ron Cardey described the ready-to-bake product as providing a threefold eating experience with the consumer initially biting into a flakey outer crust, then into a soft, fluffy pastry and finally into a gooey, savory Gouda cheese center.

“At a macro level, people are consuming fewer servings of grain-based foods, but when they do consume them, they’re looking for an experience as well,” Mr. Cardey explained. “They’re looking for unique flavor profiles and unique foods.”

At the better-for-you end of the spectrum, Partners, A Tasteful Choice Company, Kent, WA, offered a new line of gluten-free crackers that exemplified evolving health-and-wellness trends. Not only are the crackers gluten-free, but also the non-GMO snacks feature a clean-label and include such ancient grains as quinoa, amaranth, teff, cassava root and millet flour.

In fact, Partners’ aptly-branded Free for All Kitchen crackers are free of trans fats, additives and added sugar and list key ingredients such as buttermilk on the front of the package. According to Cara Figgins, executive vice-president of sales, Partners is not betting the farm on gluten-free. Rather, it’s bundling many hot buttons from the health arena to give the new product line greater relevancy and extra staying power.

This is also evident in the company’s Brownie Thins, which offer a high-quality alternative to not only regular brownies but also gluten-containing products. “It can’t be just a ‘me too’ option; that will get diminished,” Ms. Figgins noted. “When you have a nice, clean ingredient deck, the gluten-free aspect becomes a bonus,” she added.

 “Thin” versions of cookies, brownies and more are taking portion control in a new direction. Products such as cookie thins from Mrs. Thinsters, a brand from That’s How We Roll LLC, Fairfield, NJ, offer a serving of five cookies for 130 Cal. The brand touts non-GMO ingredients. Fancypants Bakery, East Walpole, MA, launched Crunch! Cookies, which tout 50 to 60 Cal per cookie and come with all-natural and nut-free claims. The company is currently awaiting Non-GMO Project Verified certification.

Snacks on attack

Many snack manufacturers had a busy month, having just exhibited at the 2014 Sweets & Snacks in Chicago in May, and IDDBA, too, saw an invasion into the snacking occasion. That’s not surprising, given how snacking has become so popular. Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and vice-president at The NPD Group, reported that 59% of consumers eat snacks while 41% regularly eat them with a meal. In fact, consumers now eat more chips than salads because chips are more convenient and now accompany more meals, according to NPD’s annual report on “Eating Patterns in America.” “We’re not snacking more,” he said. “We’re snacking more frequently.”

Maybe The Better Chip is trying to get consumers to do a little bit of both. The Los Angeles-based company offered new chips made with fresh Beets & Sea Salt as well as new roasted Chipotles & Sea Salt. All of its products, including its popular Spinach & Kale, are certified gluten-free, vegan friendly and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Jumping on the “new age” snack phenomenon, TH Foods, Love’s Park, IL, featured its Crunchmaster Popped Edamame Chips in a Wasabi Soy flavor. However, the big news was its Harvest Stone Crispy Mixes, which make their debut in July. The certified gluten-free snacks come in Original, Bold and Cheese flavors. Each package contains five components such as corn chips with flax, roasted vegetable multigrain minis, roasted garlic, popped sesame chips or asiago flatbread mini rounds, depending on the variety.

At Bodacious Food, Jaspar, GA, Jackson (Jaxn) Hays, key account manager, promoted himself as “a half-baked kid [who] becomes a twice-baked guy.” The company featured its upscale Geraldine’s gluten-free potato sticks, which come in Sea Salt & Pepper, Cheddar and the ever-trendy Sweet Potato varieties. The more value-priced Jaxn’s Twice-Baked Potato Stix comes in Cheddar Bacon flavor. “You’re getting the best of both worlds — a healthy snack and great taste,” Mr. Hays said.

For people who believe that fine cheese — and liverwurst, for that matter — go better with a brew, Daelia’s Food Co., Cincinnati, rolled out Beer Flats Crackers. Noticing the increase in sales of craft beers, founder Maria Walley thought crackers made with actual pilsner or porter beer might provide a suitable alternative for tastings. “Some things just taste better with beer,” Ms. Walley said.

Indulging themselves

While the good old apple pie will always have a place at the American table, the sense of global community pervades the baking industry as more ethnic flavors pop up in every category, including pies.

After a rise in customer requests for more “South of the border” pies, Gardner Pie Co., West Newbury, MA, looked into traditional Hispanic markets. “What we discovered is, there aren’t really traditional ‘Hispanic’ pies. So instead, we applied flavors that are often found in Hispanic cuisine, like mango, pineapple and jalapeño, and created Hispanic-inspired pies,” said Tim Cavanaugh, vice-president, sales and marketing, retail bakery division.

Pie has traditionally been a seasonal item — and one that hasn’t been a huge draw for millennials, the generation with the most purchasing power. But the good news is that flavor fusions provide pies a new opportunity for exposure with this demographic.

“The younger generation is a harder sell because they eat pies at their grandma’s house; they don’t go out and purchase them,” Mr. Cavanaugh said.

The company is breaking through the barrier with the Hispanic-inspired line. Younger consumers tend to be more adventurous eaters, so interesting pie varieties like Gardner’s Apple Jalapeño or Peach Habanero do well in college foodservice markets, Mr. Cavanaugh said. “These flavors help us capitalize on the adventurous trend while introducing the pie category to the millennials,” he added.

Hill Country Bakery, San Antonio, introduced its Coffee House Cafe brand to the trade and a line of ­single-serve slices of its loaf cake, including original, marble, banana walnut and chocolate cinnamon varieties.

The individually wrapped products have a 21-day shelf life, according to Steve O’Donnell, managing partner for Hill Country Bakery, which like a lot of IDDBA exhibitors targets not only in-store bakeries but also c-stores and foodservice chains with a large variety of product formats and packaging sizes.

And chip-ifying a product doesn’t necessarily mean making it healthier; sometimes it just extends the product line. Such was the case for Chelsea, MA-based Golden Cannoli that created a cannoli chip version of its traditional cannoli shell. The company packages cannoli chips either as a chip-and-dip combo with the cannoli filling as the dip, or it sells the chips on their own garnished with powdered sugar.

In the world of bakery, healthy, indulgent, clean — or value, for that matter — are all in the eye of the beholder. From mashing up to thinning down, bakers and snack makers are twisting the mainstays to meet nearly every demand that customers are throwing at them.