It’s a sign of the times. Dot, dot, dot … dash, dash, dash … dot, dot, dot. That’s Morse code for SOS, the universal call for help that has temporarily replaced innovation and the “Wow Factor” when it comes to serving the in-store bakery arena.

Certainly, commercial bakeries featured plenty of new products at the recent International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) annual trade show, ranging from the latest in artisan breads to caffeinated sweet goods.

With unpredictable operational issues and persistent economic challenges, however, the bakery perimeter’s signal for SOS often translates to “send our supplies” even if it means the “same old stuff.” 

“You need to take care of your existing business today before you can venture out with new products,” said Yianny Caparos, president, Crown Bakeries, Brentwood, Tenn. “There’s a big demand to meet orders and fulfill existing opportunities of core items, so it puts new items on the back burner because of the complete circle of supply chain, labor and distribution issues — just getting products to the store shelves. COVID brought everyone back to basics. That’s where we’re at now. We’re back to square one of delivering quality on a consistent basis.”

Wholesale bakeries that have the production capacity and can deliver easy-to-merchandise baked goods will find abundant opportunities that enable in-store bakeries to navigate through the current turbulence.

“Everybody really honed in on thaw-and-serve items because bakeries are struggling with labor at the store level,” Mr. Caparos added. “A lot of manufacturers are struggling to fulfill orders, whether they’re cupcakes, croissants, bagels or other bakery products. Everyone is feeling the shortness of supply in the market because some manufacturers can’t produce enough or are going out of business, or their existing suppliers are having trouble fulfilling products for their shelves.”

As a result, bakers at IDDBA 2022 indicated they are taking a multifaceted approach to the market. The first involves providing those items that solve in-store bakeries’ short-term challenges. The second focuses on developing baked goods that appeal to consumers’ insatiable appetite for adventure when retailers are ready to start stocking more new products again. 

“Innovation is in my soul, and I know how important it is and how long it takes to develop something really new,” said Chris Prociv, senior vice president of marketing, innovation and R&D at Aspire Bakeries, Los Angeles. “So even though some customers are saying ‘not now’ behind the scenes, you should still be working on innovation.”

Many bakers also talked about the pent-up consumer demand for new products, especially items for all-day snacks that provide a value-added meal solution and fit into consumers’ budgets. Even in mature categories like cookies and muffins, retailers are looking for something new that’s unique and will appeal to their shoppers, noted Liz Rayo, senior vice president, marketing and innovation, CraftMark Bakery, Indianapolis.

“There’s just this energy now,” she observed. “As the pandemic winds down, consumers want new products, and they’re still seeking convenience and portable snacks. They’re not eating three main meals a day. They’re eating several smaller meals throughout the day, perhaps. They want products that are good quality and convenient. These products may be partially prepared but require just a little finishing at home. Those products are top of mind with consumers.”

For Rocky Mountain Pies, taking care of business means branding the tried-and-true in the red, white and blue.

Par Grandinetti, president of the Salt Lake City-based company, pointed out that retailers want to employ Rocky Mountain Pies’ Pride of America marketing initiatives year-round, not just during national holidays with its top-selling, lattice-topped apple and pumpkin varieties.

“The key with labor is how to make the pies easier to bake and provide retailers with margins,” he said. “They’re par-baked with 15 minutes needed to brown in the oven. We just must remind the baker to turn off the air on convection ovens so they bake properly.”

Ms. Rayo emphasized that the point of difference for in-store bakeries is their fresh-baked positioning or the perception of fresh-baked, but with less or little labor.

CraftMark Bakery offers a wide range of labor-saving bakery products that still provide a fresh-baked experience, including everything from pre-deposited muffin batters and pre-portioned cookie dough to new thaw-and-sell cookies with a fresh-baked flavor profile.

“Our cookie dough formulas are designed to create a cookie that stays fresh, moist and soft for several days after bake,” she said. “We’re private label, which allows retailers to put their own labels on products so they can give that fresh-baked experience to their shoppers.”

Aspire Bakeries, which offers a variety of cookies in various formats, introduced its New Decadent Classics cookies. The treats come in chocolate chunk, double dark chocolate, chocolate chunk oat pecan and white chocolate macadamia nut.

“They are super indulgent, 3-oz, thick cookies baked crisp on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside,” Ms. Prociv said. “The name says ‘classic’ because we chose the classic flavors in the category, and we made them the best that we possibly could. It’s all about comfort and indulgence and treating yourself. I would rather have half of the best cookie than have a handful of good ones, and this truly is the best chocolate chunk cookie.” 

The concept of a simple indulgence at an affordable price is one of the bakery trends outlined during a recent IDDBA monthly webinar. In the center aisle, bakery sales rose 10.2% in May 2022 compared with the same month a year ago while units slipped 1.0%, according to IRI.

 Every category in the bakery perimeter saw sales rise along with units in celebratory items like cookies and morning bakery items such as muffins and donuts. Jonna Parker, team lead for fresh foods at IRI, indicated inflation is fueling bakery dollar sales numbers while unit sales, in many categories, are still holding their own.

“Yes, inflation is here, but remember, certain foods are still a value for time- and cash-strapped consumers,” she said.

That’s not necessarily the case in many fresh food categories, where dollar sales may be increasing, often by double digits, but unit sales are now lagging behind their pre-pandemic 2019 levels, noted Anne-Marie Roerink, president, 210 Analytics.

“Volume has taken a nosedive the last couple of months, and that’s across every single category,” she said.

Consumers, Ms. Roerink added, have been aware of inflation since last fall. Back then, however, people were flush with cash with the highest savings in decades. Now, that’s not the case, and it’s impacting shopping behaviors ranging from trading down or cutting back on purchases to shopping at multiple stores to seek out the best deals.

Today’s in-store bakeries are sending clear signals that they need problem-solvers to get through these tough times while looking at innovation to position themselves for growth heading forward.

This article is an excerpt from the August 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on In-Store Bakery, click here.