CHICAGO — The supply chain crisis has challenged the baking industry in many ways, whether it’s increased lead times for ingredients and equipment or widespread shortages of products on grocery shelves as bakers try to keep up with consumer demand within supply chain restraints.
“It’s been a huge disruption,” said Tim Lotesto, senior director, national retail key accounts at Alpha Baking Co., Chicago. “There is no item we make that it doesn’t impact.”
Despite this, Alpha Baking subsidiary S. Rosen's Baking Co. expanded production of its popular cocktail rye bread this year as well as its foothold in the market nationwide.
The 113-year-old company has made the popular holiday bread for years but was never a national player, Mr. Lotesto said.
This began to change in recent years, however, as major bakeries stopped producing the bread, due in large part to supply chain issues forcing them to eliminate SKUs, Mr. Lotesto said. S. Rosen's took advantage by ramping up production of the bread this year months before the holiday season.
“We’re kind of the last man standing,” he said. “We’ve been the beneficiaries of making this good product, and now find ourselves in high demand as everyone who’s bought it in the past is still looking for it.”
S. Rosen’s' preparation paid off, as it’s now the only brand offering traditional cocktail rye bread nationwide via both grocery store shelves and online ordering. The bakery recently announced the bread is now available on Amazon as well.
Mr. Lotesto described the bakery’s decision to increase production of the bread this year as a leap of faith.
“We knew it was a strong item,” he said. “We knew that when the holiday comes, tradition really hits in for people. And if they have cocktail rye bread every year, they don’t care that nobody’s making it anymore; they want the bread again.”
The decision has been a huge success, Mr. Lotesto said, and the bakery continues to find more demand for the product.
Of course, producing the bread at such a larger scale than usual had its challenges, he noted, including long lead times for packaging and ingredients as well as difficulty finding labor.
“The easy part was making the decision to do it, and the hard part was making it happen,” he said.
S. Rosen's was able to succeed nonetheless, demonstrating the need for bakeries to accept a wide number of possible solutions to their supply chain struggles, Mr. Lotesto emphasized.
“If trucks can’t possibly get there, can we send it by rail?” he said as an example. “Can we group orders that normally wouldn’t make any sense? We’ll do whatever we can to get there, and I think that’s helped us thrive and survive in the past couple years.”
While S. Rosen's has sold plenty of its cocktail rye bread to retailers this holiday season, Mr. Lotesto said consumer sales will determine the bakery’s future plans. But he is confident the demand is there.
“We’d love to be the cocktail rye guys that people come to every year, if the market is where we think it is,” he said. “We filled the void this year as best we could, but not everyone knew we were out there. Next year they will know we’re out there, and what do we do to ramp up even further.”