Simple and pure ingredients in breads such as ciabatta can transform a chicken sandwich into something special for the lunch or dinner eating occasion.

In the frozen and par-baked arena, bakers are discovering new ways to give Oprah hundreds of reasons to shout out, “I love bread,” as well as rolls, buns and flatbreads — even sweet goods and more.

For the most part, “No” is not in bakers’ vocabularies. Neither are “reduced,” “low” or “free,” for that matter. If perception is reality, then the bakers who spar in this highly competitive segment of the baked goods market are using a language that speaks to their customers and ultimately communicates with consumers on multiple 

“Transparency, clean label and adventurous flavors are three top trends that we see across nearly all bakery categories but even more so within the breads and rolls segment,” noted Andrew Brimacombe, chief commercial services officer, ARYZTA, Los Angeles. “Innovating foods to meet these trends that are important to consumers is key.”

Specifically, suppliers to the foodservice, in-store bakery, c-store and multiple other channels are identifying trends as they continue to evolve and responding to those nuances that drive purchasing patterns and overall consumption of baked goods.

Take “healthy” — that often overused term. “The consumer’s perception of ‘healthy’ has transformed from focusing on what the food is missing — reduced fat, low calorie, sugar-free, etc. — to what the food itself is — non-GMO, clean label, simple, wholesome ingredients, etc.,” Mr. Brimacombe explained. “Consumers are embracing the slow food movement and appreciate brands that are making food the way it was meant to be made. At ARYZTA, we recognize the consumer’s need for transparency and are making foods to fit the demand within our leading sweet snacks brand, Otis Spunkmeyer, as well as our premier bread brand, La Brea Bakery.”

ARYZTA is not alone in jumping on the wholesome bandwagon where the lexicon on the label requires a shorter and simpler-to-pronounce list of ingredients that invoke an image of purity.

“Clean label initiatives are not going away,” stated Marc Essenfeld, CEO, Tribeca Oven, Carlstadt, NJ. “Although the landscape may be shifting in terms of consumer demands, the overarching theme is transparency and choice. Consumers want to know what is in their food and then have the choice to decide if they want to consume those ingredients or not. Tribeca Oven has always used simple and pure ingredients and is in the process of obtaining non-GMO certification and reviewing the use of organic ingredients in a selection of products.”

La Brea Bakery will also be non-GMO certified by the end of 2016. In May, the company rolled out a line of farm-to-table artisan bread. Made from non-GMO, single-origin heirloom grains, La Brea Bakery Reserve bread comes in three varieties: Fortuna Wheat Loaf, Pain de Campagne and Struan. The wheat comes from Wheat Montana Farms, a family-owned operation based in Three Forks, MT.

Moreover, ARYZTA reported La Brea Bakery will be transitioning to use of cage-free eggs this year. “While the majority of La Brea Bakery breads and other foods do not include eggs, those that do will use cage-free eggs as the ingredient in recipes which connects to simple ingredients and the farm-to-table and transparency trends that are so important in today’s market,” Mr. Brimacombe explained.

Made from Fortuna wheat, a non-GMO, single-origin heirloom grain, new artisan breads by La Brea Bakery target consumers looking for something more wholesome and natural.


The all-day breakfast club

Speaking of eggs, breakfast has undoubtedly become one of the biggest opportunities for bakers, according to Tom Vierhile, innovations insights director for Canadean, a market research firm that also tracks new products and consumer trends.

It’s easy to see why. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA) 2016 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 72% of adults want dining establishments to serve breakfast all day. Nearly 80% of consumers turn to quick-service restaurants when dining out in the morning, according to NPD Group data cited in the NRA forecast. Meanwhile, the American Egg Board — citing data from Technomic — reported 64% of consumers are likely to order eggs outside of traditional breakfast hours.

Not only can consumers eat breakfast throughout the day at quick-service restaurants like McDonald’s and White Castle, but a greater number of consumers also want casual dining and other establishments to put it on their menus in the afternoon and evening.

While eating out has received a lot of publicity, a majority of Americans still eat breakfast at home.

In a Canadean survey conducted in late 2015, 55% of respondents indicated they do not eat breakfast outside of the home, compared with 35% and 44% for lunch and dinner, respectively.

Moreover, a 2014 survey by Canadean noted 58% consume breakfast at home because it’s cheaper while 47% suggested it’s also healthier than eating out.

“Bread and rolls can be formulated in such a way to address health concerns or at least compensate somewhat for whatever the sandwich may be filled with, so this could be an opportunity,” Mr. Vierhile observed.

Perhaps a bigger opportunity involves finding ways to make breakfast more portable with premium carriers, such as artisan-style breads and rolls, instead of the traditional tortilla, biscuit or English muffin.

All too often, time-crunched people don’t have time for breakfast as they’re rushing to work or school. In fact, NPD recently noted two-thirds of restaurant morning meals are eaten off-premise. As a result, it’s not surprising that specialty bakeries like Tribeca Oven are creating new forms of grab-and-go sandwich carriers and upscale breakfast alternatives to meet the demands of this evolving market.

“Breakfast continues to be the fastest-growing segment within foodservice and retail channels,” Mr. Essenfeld said. “From protein beverages to snack bars, food manufacturers are looking for ways to provide consumers with innovation, flavor and convenience. Tribeca Oven has expanded in this category by partnering with retailers and restaurants to speak to their specific needs. Whether we are providing bread to create French toast or your next breakfast sandwich, it’s important to us to learn more about each customer base and create a targeted approach.”

In the in-store bakery channel, Mr. Brimacombe suggested providing convenient, healthy, fresh morning options will also allow bakers to “over-deliver” in this segment. ARYZTA’s Otis Spunkmeyer Supreme thaw-and-serve line offers Tripleberry Whole Grain muffins as well as Lemon, Strawberry or Regular Angel Food muffins to deliver to this market. The brand uses the “No Funky Stuff” claim to describe how the snack cake does not contain high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors or colors. 

Going for four or more

While breakfast remains hot, Scott Kolinski, president of Lantmännen Unibake USA, Lisle, IL, focused on targeting all three main eating occasions and everything in between. The company produces artisan, ciabatta and other specialty breads under the Euro-Bake brand and provides a variety of pre-proofed pastries from its European parent sold under the Schulstad name.

“As a supplier of imported pastry products to marry with our artisan breads, we see growth opportunities across all four day-parts,” Mr. Kolinski explained. “Yes — all four day-parts. There is a growing snacking daypart in the mid-afternoon where a nice pastry accompanies a great cup of coffee. As McDonald’s has proved, traditional foods are blurring from one daypart to another. Customers are demanding breakfast items for lunch and dinner, and Europeans have been eating ‘lunch items’ for breakfast for years. It’s just a matter of time before it becomes commonplace here in the States.”

For lunch and dinner occasions, portion-sizing as well as providing a variety of flavors beyond the traditional offerings can turn into avenues for growth. Mr. Brimacombe pointed out that La Brea Bakery offers Telera sliders, flatbreads and naans for lunch and late-night snacking.

In general, smaller portion sizes — including breads and rolls — continue to be a trend in the in-store bakery category. “It speaks to smaller-sized households, convenience and sustainability through the reduction of waste,” Mr. Essenfeld explained. “Tribeca Oven works with retailers to examine product sizes and adjust for the needs of consumers.”

One example would be Tribeca Oven’s line of pull-apart dinner rolls. “These smaller-sized portions come in a variety of flavors, which allow consumers to try something different for dinner without feeling like they are committing to an entire loaf of bread,” Mr. Essenfeld said.

Bakers are ramping up the quality of all-day breakfast sandwiches with such ethnic varieties as a Cuban-inspired egg menu option.

Ripe for the picking

During the past few years, several c-store chains like Sheetz have upgraded their breakfast menu with everything from a Dreamy Bacon Croissant and Schmonster Breakfast Burrito to sourdough breads or pretzels or ciabatta rolls. For lunch, the Altoona, PA-based chain that serves the mid-Atlantic and East Coast with about 500 locations  now offers po’ boys, flatbreads and The Big Philly for hearty eaters and even provides seating in many of its stores.

“As c-stores grow their foodservice offerings, par-baked breads can play a bigger role,” noted Jerry Smiley, partner, Strategic Growth Partners, and consultant to the baking industry.

From his perspective, Mr. Kolinski noted that both c-stores and in-store bakery/delis have upped their game in providing premium sandwiches that compete with sub shops, QSR chains and even casual dining establishments.

“The c-store industry is really making a push for very good quality sandwiches similar to what the European c-store trade has been doing for years,” he said. “I am very glad to see this because it means those customers will be looking for higher quality artisan-style breads and sandwich carriers.”

Mr. Brimacombe described the potential to bakers of c-stores as an “emerging business, but one ripe with opportunity.”

He cited a recent Technomic study in which 87% of c-store operators feel that foodservice has become a strategic priority for their businesses. “Given the volume of sandwiches and snacks sold through c-stores, quality fresh-baked breads can deliver a premium experience with little labor and infrastructure change,” he observed.

Identifying the latest hot product in the fickle frozen and par-baked bread market can be a tricky proposition, especially with foodservice chefs often seeking customized signature breads to delineate their menu from the competition. “Pretzel rolls seem to have cooled off as many of the QSR burger chains have opted for newer items like brioche,” Mr. Smiley noted. “That said, brioche also seems to have plateaued.”

Meanwhile, sales of ciabatta breads and rolls, which had dipped in recent years, seem to be making a comeback, according to Mr. Kolinski. The company’s cheese breads remain extremely popular as do products containing an assortment of seeds, spices and grains. Euro-Bake’s multigrain Farmhouse Country Loaf, for instance, contains a multitude of ingredients, including flaxseed, banana chips, apple pieces and toasted soy grits.

“Customers continue to look for something that differentiates their ‘artisan bread offerings’ from the competitor down the street,” Mr. Kolinski said. “We see this as an opportunity to be creative by adding inclusions in the bread loaf category. As far as rolls are concerned, we also like to offer rolls with inclusions but to give different shapes whenever possible — especially in our assortments, which is one of the categories that we do very well in.”

Mr. Vierhile pointed out seasonal flavors have gained a larger footprint in packaged breads and rolls. “Pumpkin spice has been huge the past two fall seasons, and it seems like there is more potential for seasonal flavors and/or limited-time flavors like red velvet, which add an element of indulgence to bread,” he said.

The seasonal trend also extends to the in-store bakery channel as well as in special displays throughout the store designed to increase impulse sales during holiday periods. “We are always at the forefront of developing exciting recipes and flavor profiles from La Brea Bakery such as the limited-time-offering bread we will be selling this holiday season to creations like our naan or award-winning gluten-free line,” Mr. Brimacombe observed.

For bakers looking to push the envelope, Mr. Vierhile suggested keeping an eye on breads and rolls that avoid the use of wheat or any other grains. “It sounds really difficult to pull off, but we are seeing a few innovations like a coconut wrap product,” he explained. “Almond flour is another ingredient to watch with breads made from it instead of wheat flour. It is really a niche right now, but it may be starting to break out a little bit, based on the strength of the gluten-free and paleo trends.”

For par-baked and frozen baked goods, the bottom line — in more ways than one — involves leveraging emerging trends by providing bakery customers with new products relevant to today’s consumers who are looking for new ways to live a good life.

As Mr. Brimacombe explained, “Retailers recognize that the consumer is savvier than ever and understands that good food is healthy food versus counting calories on every food label.”