The annual Bread Product Perspective to be published in the Feb. 24 issue of Milling & Baking News highlights a wide and varied range of baking industry initiatives seeking to bolster the bread market in 2009 and beyond. That said, standing out in the survey is the absence of a single major (versus niche) new product line innovation in 2008 or early 2009 by any of the large companies featured in the article. This void stands in marked contrast to the unprecedented levels of innovation in bread over the previous several years.

A story on Page 1 of the same issue details a decrease in flour production in 2008. While it would be overly simplistic to link too closely the hiatus in product innovation with the diminution in flour output, good reasons exist to encourage a resumption of new product ferment.

Financial updates from grain-based foods companies in recent days affirm the expanding tendency of consumers to choose at-home rather than away-from-home eating. While this trend would seem to favor the baking industry, the sector is unlikely to benefit fully from this shift simply by standing still. Competition for these dollars will intensify in different ways, and not only from the increasing appeal of private label or value brand products in a weakening economic environment.

If wholesale bakers don’t use new products to capture the attention of consumers, others will. For example, Panera Bread Co. said this month it is testing bulk baked goods as an add-on purchase at its bakery cafes, specifically targeting in-home eating. Whether Panera’s initiative works remains to be seen, but wholesale baking companies will not enjoy a free ride if they want to grow in the current environment.