Adding excitement to the traditional packaged bread aisle has never been so urgent, especially after the pandemic hit and drove consumers to supermarkets and other retailers in unprecedented numbers.

In March, packaged bread sales shot up nearly 40% while fresh bread sold at in-store bakeries jumped 27% from the same four-week period a year ago, according to IRI data supplied by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA).

More recently, monthly data from IDDBA’s reports show that supermarket bread sales remain significantly higher than the same period in 2019. For the four weeks ending July 26, for instance, fresh bread sold at in-store bakeries rose 8.3% over the same period in 2019. Packaged bread and roll sales jumped 9.7% over the same period a year ago.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some wholesale bakeries to differentiate themselves from the competition, reintroduce their brands to millions of consumers and extend their presence in their markets.

Specialty breads like brioche have certainly taken the market by storm over the past few years. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the bread aisle, an in-store bakery or even at a quick-service restaurant, the classic French bread has soared in popularity.

“Let’s speak about one product that we French know, for it is part of our tradition,” said Marion Montillot, application product manager, Mecatherm. “Brioche loaves are sweet. They contain eggs — both inside the dough and as a topping by using an egg wash before baking that gives the product its typical golden, shiny crust. They also contain more sugar, butter and milk than a standard panned bread.”

After mixing, Ms. Montillot said, the first challenge involves dividing and making up the brioche dough so that it adapts to a panned bread format. A second one involves panning.

“One great challenge is to choose the appropriate coating for the baking pans so as to ensure products will be baked and depanned properly without sticking and becoming damaged,” she explained.

Hans Besems, executive product manager for AMF Tromp, an AMF Bakery Systems brand, noted a brioche’s rich formula will require a dedicated divider and rounder to create a loaf with the appropriate texture.

“The challenge is obviously to find the most optimal equipment to be able to handle the dough and still get the right volume and appearance of the desired product,” he said.

Because brioche contains real butter, formula considerations often require using vital wheat gluten and adding the butter at the late stage of mixing, noted Jay Fernandez, manager of Middleby’s Bakery Innovation Center. As a result, brioche often requires additional mix time and strict control of dough temperature.

“These doughs run very well in our Wave extrusion system, which have sine pumps with a suction side so the dough temperature rise is minimal, which is important in delivering the crumb structure that customers expect,” Mr. Fernandez said.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on specialty pan bread, click here.