As bakers and industry experts reflect on the upheaval of the wholesale industry since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, they see opportunities for future growth.

“We learned a lot, and we learned it fast,” said Bohn Popp, executive vice president of quality and brand strategy at Aunt Millie’s. “We had to make dramatic changes a year ago. We were making fewer items and making long baking runs, and our bakeries were running very well. Really the epitome of a good model. I think we’re going to learn more from that. There probably will be SKU reduction in our industry and our business.”

Jeff Sobotta, vice president of sales at Schmidt Baking Co., which is a division of the H&S Family of Bakeries, Baltimore, predicted some consumer behaviors will stick with the new normal.

“People are going to cook at home more because they realize it wasn’t so hard; maybe they liked it,” he said. “There’s going to be more people working from home permanently, so they’re going to have to have more food in the house.”

He also suggested that consumers will continue to find comfort in high-end products.

“You’re going to see more and more brioche offerings,” Mr. Sobotta said. “That indulgent category, that artisan, more premium-looking category. Those products were all more in-store bakery, and they’re starting to creep into the bread aisle, and I think you’re going to see that more.”

And with the younger generations driving demand for healthy breads, bakers can bank on seeing that category continue to expand.

“Health is still very, very important,” Mr. Popp said. “Protein, fiber, I think you’re going to see more with immunity building.”

High-quality breads, and better planning and innovation by bakers will be vital parts of the wholesale baking industry moving forward. Also, the continued acceleration of online grocery shopping and its impact on sales.

“One of the key trends that we saw as an industry in 2020 was the accelerated acceptance of online grocery shopping for consumers,” said Chad Donvito, chief marketing officer, King’s Hawaiian, Torrance, Calif., adding that King’s Hawaiian saw significant growth here. “We believe this trend is here to stay and will impact all areas of online grocery buying.”

Consumers are expected to continue experimenting with new breads and brands, and the industry can expect some of the experimentation will lead to loyal customers. This creates a real opportunity for bakers to build on the bonanza in retail bread sales that was 2020.

“I think these categories have opportunities to maximize and extend their resurgence, in their importance to the family meal and their ability to keep new buyers enticed over the last year in their franchises,” said Dawn Aho, client insights principal, IRI.