SECAUCUS, N.J. -- In-store bakeries have never been in a stronger position to make the most of fresh bread sales, a panel of speakers at the Eastern Perishable Products Association's exhibition here agreed.
Consumer interest in specialty breads -- from European-style whole grains to crusty baguettes -- continues to grow. A large and expanding variety of those breads are available in both frozen dough and par-baked form.
Furthermore, the quality of frozen dough and par-baked breads has improved immensely over the last few years, panelists said. On top of that, it looks like the interest in low-carb dieting has moderated, one speaker pointed out.
Given the interest in specialty breads, what's the best way for supermarket ISBs to give consumers what they want? The benefits of frozen dough vs. par-baked, ready-to-bake loaves were outlined by a panel that included Abe Littenberg, president, Guttenplan's, Middletown, N.J.; Jim Thomas, area sales manager, bakery-deli division, Rich Products Corp., York, Pa.; Paul Hunter, Northeast regional sales manager, Ecce Panis, East Brunswick, N.J.; and Robert Wallace, president and chief operating officer, Bridor, Boucherville, Quebec.
"From frozen, you get theater," Littenberg said. "You can take that dough and twist it, do whatever you want with it. If you want theater, you want to make the product in front of customers. It makes for a livelier bakery when people are working with the dough, and doing the proofing and baking. And you use less freezer space."
For theater, using frozen dough is fine, if the bakery has trained staff. On the other hand, the benefits of par-baked product, ranging from control over the product to labor usage, can be tempting, other panelists said.
Bridor's Wallace pointed out research shows 80% of customers in the store do not go to the bakery, and 65% of people shop between 1 and 7 p.m.
"So, if you set up and bake, do all of it at 7:30 in the morning, by 1 o'clock, there's no [fresh-baked] aroma left in the store and your bread is [several] hours old by 1 o'clock. With par-baked loaves, it takes just 13 minutes from freezer to shelf. With that [cycle baking], you could have fresh bread all day long, and your sales would go up 50%," Wallace said.
Beyond strategy and demographics, which product to use depends somewhat on how success is measured in the bakery, panelists stated. If top management bases it on cost, frozen dough may be the choice, but sales can be grown with par-baked.
"While the price of par-baked can be almost double that of frozen dough in many cases, the profit potential is there. You have control of the product, of production and of shrink," said Hunter.
"Par-baked also takes up twice the space in the freezers and the cost of shipping is an issue, but we do all agree that freshness is important," Thomas said.
Panelists agreed retailers should give consumers what they want.
"Research I've seen shows consumers don't see a difference between par-baked and frozen," Wallace said. "Customers simply want their expectations met. Those expectations are high quality and consistency. We make both frozen and par-baked, so I don't have a bias."