As bakers begin developing new products again, their sources of inspiration have remained largely the same, even as they have grown in importance. This was revealed in Baking & Snack’s Trends in Industrial Baking Industry Innovation & Development study, conducted by Cypress Research. When survey respondents were asked to name the most important sources of inspiration for new product ideas, internal R&D teams, consumers and bakery customers all remained the top three and only grew in importance over the course of the pandemic. 

Interestingly, though restaurants — long considered the test kitchen for future product ideas — was only No. 5 on the list, both during the height of the pandemic and currently. In fact, as restaurants have recovered, they only gained 10 points. The No. 4 source, on the other hand, was ingredient supplier research/ideas, and this source grew in importance by 20 percentage points. Equipment supplier research/ideas also grew from 27% to 38% during the past three years. 

“This is a huge opportunity for ongoing partnerships with suppliers,” said Marjorie Hellmer, president of Cypress Research. “It’s related to the workforce gap and the lack of knowledge in the bakery. Bakers are working so hard just to fulfill orders, so they are turning to the supplier base asking them how to use new ingredient technology and ramp up as soon as possible.”  

In fact, survey respondents were asked to rank how helpful different types of ingredient supplier support would be, and the seven areas listed remained within 10 points of each other. Edging out in front of the pack were supplier supports in helping “identify new solutions via collaborations between ingredient suppliers” and “R&D/innovation troubleshooting” with 65% each and “supplier R&D support for reformulation or prototype development” with 62%. 

“These data represent bakeries saying it would be helpful if ingredient suppliers provided these supports for us,” Ms. Hellmer explained. “I’m sure many of them are already doing these things, but these insights serve as a signal that bakers are looking to their ingredient suppliers to support their R&D efforts. This will only grow in importance given the workforce gap, the pace of business and the lack of available talent.” 

This was also reflected in the narrative responses from bakers, both as a positive and an area for improvement. Bakers looking for suppliers to improve noted that they needed technical support for reformulation and more agile product launches. They also wanted consumer insight from suppliers. On the positive side, one baker noted how their company leans on suppliers for product development assistance. 

“We continue to utilize their skills and knowledge to improve our products, develop new products and assist in training our future bakers,” the respondent wrote. 

Clean label dominated in terms of specific formulating priorities for the next 12 to 18 months. Seventy-three percent listed it as their top priorities. The next highest priority was health and nutrition improvements at 45%. Seventy-nine percent of respondents said their companies are focused on cleaning up current products, whether that’s making them natural, organic or removing negatively perceived ingredients. 

Taken as a whole, more and more baking companies are paddling out to ride the wave of product development again. R&D is seeing an optimistic recovery, but they’re choosing smaller waves to ride, taking fewer risks and letting the market challenges guide them to cost savings and better supplier partnerships.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Special Report: Innovations & Ingredients, click here.