As consumers indulge in great-tasting and healthy breads, they are showing loyalty to branded products rather than store brands and are willing to pay a higher price for them. It’s a change from the economic downturn 13 years ago when the economic pain was more widespread.

“During the Great Recession, better-for-you label claims sort of took a dive as better-for-you didn’t matter as much as value and low prices did,” said Todd Hale, retail insights thought leader and principal of Todd Hale LLC. “This is kind of a different time. We have consumers who have been feeling the pain at different degrees. … There are people not affected at all by the pandemic, and obviously their behaviors are quite different than those who’ve lost their jobs and continue to suffer.”

It’s a trend bakers noticed as well.

“People who were working, who didn’t lose their jobs but were working from home had more money to spend,” said Jeff Sobotta, vice president of sales at Schmidt Baking Co., which is a division of the H&S Family of Bakeries, Baltimore. “They were buying branded product over private label because they weren’t spending money on fuel, weren’t stopping at Starbucks or convenience stores and McDonald’s. Branded sales really took off.”

Consumers found comfort in the familiar, which benefited premium name brands.

“I think consumers are gravitating to brands, and they’re looking for health and they’re looking at something they trust and are more familiar with,” said Bohn Popp, executive vice president of quality and brand strategy at Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Brands that are able to form a bond with consumers, provide transparency on bakery practices and show that they care about the issues that matter to consumers are going to benefit, said JR Paterakis, co-principal and senior vice-president of sales and marketing at H&S Bakery.

“Today’s consumers want to connect with the brands and the companies they do business with, including looking for ingredients, products and the brands that tell a story,” he said. “And the companies must be prepared to answer questions regarding where a product is growing and how it supports an individual’s health goals and sustainability of products, ingredients and packaging.”