Technology, evolving eating patterns and health-and-wellness trends — among myriad other drivers — have led to dynamic shifts in consumers’ path to purchase over the past three years. The baking industry is selling to a consumer base more generationally diverse than at any point in history. And the market isn’t going backward, so bakers, retailers and food service operators are adapting to change faster than ever.

From the rise of Amazon, including its 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods, to ride-sharing apps like Uber dabbling in food delivery, shoppers are impacting the bakery market, often from the comfort of home.

(From left) Robb MacKie, ABA; Matthew Riddleberger, Firehouse Subs; Sam Mayberry, Sam Mayberry Consulting; Rainer Glaubitz, SPAR Intl.; and Leslie Sarasin, FMI discuss issues facing bakery customers.
At its annual convention held earlier this year in Naples, Fla., the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.) unveiled results from “Power of Bakery 2019,” a study sponsored by Corbion and conducted in partnership with the Food Marketing Institute (F.M.I.). When paired with insight from an A.B.A. customer panel held at the convention, some of the research findings shed light on opportunities for growth when competing for dollars from fickle consumers.

The shifting ‘where’

Bakery customers of all types share some of the same challenges, and others are specific to each market. In food service, third-party delivery services are changing the game. Matthew Riddleberger, vice-president, supply chain services, Firehouse Restaurant Group, Jacksonville, Fla., who spoke on the A.B.A. panel, identified third-party delivery service as a new challenge in the food service space.

Vendors such as Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash have become major players for shifting destinations in this market. For example, three years ago, Firehouse Subs did not offer food for delivery, but today, it makes up about 6% of the company’s sales.

This presents a challenge from a business perspective, Mr. Riddleberger said, because these vendors can encroach on anywhere from 15% to 30% of the total ring.

“It’s very difficult to make that profitable,” he said. “We have found that we need to do that by not adding labor to the equation … that means we’re open to efficiencies.”

Fellow panelist Sam Mayberry, president, Sam Mayberry Consulting, noted that, in addition to mobile delivery apps, e-commerce has redefined where consumers make their food purchases. He suggested to bakers, as well as retailers and food service operators, that luring consumers to the company’s web site can expand the trade area without sacrificing the brick-and-mortar.

If a baking company can hit the right audience with the appropriate products targeted for the correct opportunity, Mr. Mayberry suggested that e-commerce can create a whole new market outside its traditional geography.

“There are no trade areas in e-commerce,” he said.

Outside, inside … and all around

Despite the rise in food delivery and online purchases, people are still visiting restaurants and brick-and-­mortar retail outlets. In fact, the modern path to purchase ­actually ­includes more stops than ever before.

Although consumers are brand loyal, they’re not necessarily store loyal. Last year, Hartman Group reported that 93% of consumers shopped between 2 and 10 retail channels for groceries in a 30-day period, and primary household shoppers visited an average of 4.4 channels in 30 days.

In a $277 billion dry grocery category, baked foods can use this stiff retail competition to partner with ­supermarket in-store bakeries and the center store aisle to create new opportunities and points of differentiation.

The “Power of Bakery 2019” research indicated that, excluding e-commerce outlets and big-box retailers such as Costco, the bread and baked foods category was a more than $60 billion business, and although the three-year CAGR was 0.8%, the in-store bakery department saw strong growth at 2.2% CAGR with $14 billion in sales, according to 2018 Nielsen data.

“That’s not atypical to what we’ve seen in the perimeter of the store,” observed Todd Hale, principal, Todd Hale L.L.C., who conducted and delivered an analysis of the “Power of Bakery 2019” report with Anne-Marie Roerink, principal, 21 Analytics, at A.B.A.’s convention.

Todd Hale, Todd Hale LLC, and Anne-Marie Roerink, 21 Analytics, discuss their findings from ABA’s “Power of Bakery” report.
Mr. Hale also noted that retailers are increasing efforts to set themselves apart from the competition coming from so many different types of outlets. That store-hopping the Hartman Group identified is creating direct competition to supermarket in-store bakeries; Ms. Roerink identified c-stores, farmers markets, online ordering, independent retail bakeries and at-home baking as some of the biggest threats.

Ten years ago, supermarkets ruled the roost. At that time, around 70% of consumers identified this to be their primary outlet for groceries, Ms. Roerink observed.

“But as years go by, we seem to be stalling out around 50% of shoppers saying they spend the majority of their grocery dollar in the supermarket channel,” she said.

While food-related mobile apps are disrupting the food service space, proximity-based social media groups like Nextdoor — where people can exchange questions and recommendations for any type of product or service in their immediate neighborhoods — are presenting challenges that could become opportunities for in-store bakeries.

Ms. Roerink advised that uniting the supply chain through collaboration will bring about new ways to educate and inform consumers. With neighborhood web sites, retailers who become known for their cupcakes, in turn, become top-of-mind when shoppers seek recommendations from their neighbors.

“Creativity and idea generation are key,” she said. “Don’t just wait for the bakery desire to hit. Generate it.”

A.B.A. customer panelist Ranier Glaubitz, international commercial and food services manager, SPAR International, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, agreed that new opportunities are hiding in the in-store bakery just waiting to be discovered.

“The bakery department can be a real profit driver toward overall store performance,” he said. “We as bakers need to drive people here.”

He cited three ways to accomplish that goal: collaboration, credibility and creating a hybrid experience.

“We need to bring the categories together, such as bringing the in-store bakery together with the aisle to create a combined shopping experience,” he added.

Shoppers get personal

In the age of social media, most people have developed a habit of “oversharing,” or disclosing a large amount of personal information to a wider social group. In turn, however, those who are willing to offer that much detail often expect highly personalized products and services in return.

“We want what we want when we want it,” Ms. Roerink said.

In the report, consumers identified things like price, nutritional information and convenience as benefits to the center store, but for the perimeter, the list was much longer and included benefits such as selection healthfulness, service, freshness, quality of ingredients and product consistency.

However, Ms. Roerink cautioned that it’s important to note the power of perception.

“This is not necessarily reality,” she said. “This is about consumer perception, and it’s an important list to use as a starting point. A lot of times, items in the aisle are just as fresh as the ones in the in-store bakery. But clearly, the consumer doesn’t know that. It’s an important perception to go after.”

Cross-merchandising throughout the store will not only create product and brand recognition but also communicate that these products — and the retailers — understand their specific needs and how they fit into their personal needs overall.

“Take the time to differentiate yourself,” Mr. Mayberry said. “When you do, you have products that resonate with consumers, and then you’re known for them. And that needs to happen across brick-and-mortar and e-commerce. When you do that, you win.”