Josh Sosland

As has prevailed for several consecutive years, commercial bread sales decreased in 2016, according to data from Information Resources, Inc. Dollar sales in the 52 weeks ended Jan. 22 were down 0.3%, and unit sales fell by 1.7%.

Commenting on recent financial results, baking executives have noted that a deep look into the numbers yields positives. Accounting for more than the entire reduction has been the plunge in sales of private label bread, with dollar sales down 6.3% and unit sales falling 7.4%. Indeed, looking at branded bread alone, sales last year were up about 1.5% over the previous year (both unit and dollar sales).

Ultimately, it is total bread sales that matter, and bakers must find ways to reverse the long-term slippage. Sensible guidance toward a positive path forward was offered at the recent American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2017. Ryan Smith, an executive with Kerry Americas, noted that bakers in recent years have been fixated on cleaner labels, reducing sodium and eliminating ingredients perceived contrary to the objective of “clean labels.” While complimenting bakers for their success, Mr. Smith warned, “Somewhere along the way, we forgot about taste.” Innovation in general has been lean in the bread category over the past year, and nothing would do more to build on recent sales progress than sustained innovation focused powerfully on taste.