As consumers’ feet lead them back into restaurants, foodservice providers are in a flurry to offer a product to ensure it is their door that customers will be opening. This has led to a necessity for product innovation that bakers must rise to meet the demand of to provide customers with the differentiation that could mean their comeback.

“As through any adverse conditions, you must assess, experiment and make changes to remain competitive and provide the best product to your end consumer,” said George Caparos, chief development officer, Crown Bakeries. “All major QSR customers are focusing on innovation to differentiate from competition and win back consumers. From the Chicken Sandwich Wars to non-GMO and cleaner labels, our R&D is busy collaborating with customers to quickly develop new and innovative products.”

Though new product activity was put on the backburner during the pandemic due to restrictions, Mark Marcucci Jr., national director frozen, Alpha Baking Co., Chicago, said he believes menu offerings will quickly become more robust as the labor market and supply chain recover and restaurants begin fighting for share.

“That will drive the need for differentiation, driving the need for product development,” he said.

For Crown Bakeries, differentiated products means an R&D team working around the clock to develop unique and new flavor options in buns, biscuits, English muffins and a variety of croissant offerings, said Cordia Harrington, chief executive officer, Crown Bakeries, Nashville, Tenn..

While at-home baking has been the trend for the past year, now customers are ready to be reminded what eating out is worth.

“Throughout the pandemic, consumers were rediscovering their love for cooking and baking at home, putting a focus on familiar recipes that brought them feelings of comfort and joy,” said Luc Mongeau, president, Weston Foods, Toronto. “As restrictions ease, they’re eager to dine out again and they’re seeking over-the-top, elevated food experiences. They crave foods they couldn’t dream up on their own, let alone make in their home kitchens, including elevated versions of familiar favorites.”

This could mean anything from exciting twists on core menu items as consumers fall back in love with classic options, he said, to products featuring new flavor exploration, such as a recently launched line of dual-filled donuts with decadent fillings.

“We’re seeing this trend come to life in foodservice through burgers and sandwiches, such as the Chicken Sandwich Wars, with new and interesting builds that are highly craveable,” Mr. Mongeau said. “Meanwhile, continued growth in consumer snacking occasions is driving growth in elevated snack-sized burger and sandwich options.”

Whether innovation comes in the form of a chicken sandwich with jalapeño sauce or a donut filled with both cookie dough and brownie batter, bakers will have to remember that they are not fighting to just differentiate from other foodservice bakers, but from the capabilities of consumers to cook at home, as well.

This article is an excerpt from the August 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Food Service, click here.