Retailers are catering to shoppers with innovative bread that is tasty and nutritious
The three most important qualities to bread shoppers are “made from whole grains,” “texture of the bread” and “bread is on sale,” according to research from Mintel, Chicago.
So as consumers participate in economy-inspired trends like brown-bagging lunches and preparing meals that incorporate the staple, marketers are buttering their bread with innovations that incorporate all three.
They're hitting the mark with bread that provides the benefits of whole grains with the soft texture, mild flavor and light color of white bread, observers note.
Take for instance the best-selling bread in food, drug and mass channels (excluding Wal-Mart) during the 52 weeks that ended June 14, according to Information Resources Inc.: Sara Lee's Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White Bread, which boasts the nutrition of whole grains, with the taste and texture of white bread.
Store brands are also getting in on the act.
Wegmans Food Markets' 100% Whole Wheat bread is the Rochester, N.Y.-based chain's top seller.
It's made from 100% whole wheat flour that's lighter in color than the conventional type and milder in taste so it produces a flavor that resembles refined flour bread.
The retailer has been so pleased with sales results, it introduced Wegmans White Hot Dog and Hamburger Rolls made with Whole Grains, last week.
“These newer products are made with a special wheat that has naturally light-colored kernels and is milder in flavor; it's often called white whole wheat,” said Mary Ellen Burris, senior vice president of consumer affairs for Wegmans, in an ad circular column. “The challenge for our bakers is finding just the right balance between what you need (three whole grain servings a day) and what many of you like (familiar white bread taste).”
Innovations like these come after a year when packaged bread lived up to its recession-proof status.
The category experienced an 8% increase in dollar sales in 2008, according to Mintel. Although higher commodity costs contributed to the growth, Mintel forecasts continued increases. It projects the bread market will exceed $21.5 billion in 2009, growing steadily from 4.5% to 5.3% annually through 2013.
Shoppers at Big Y, Springfield, Conn., are asking more about white loaves that boast the health benefits of whole grains, said Carrie Taylor, Big Y's corporate dietitian.
“Most people are unaware an albino wheat grain exists, so seeing a white bread that has ‘whole grain’ listed on the packaging can create a few questions,” she said.
Big Y shoppers aren't the only ones who are confused.
More than half of bread consumers polled by Mintel agreed that “there are too many nutritional claims for me to keep up with these days.”
Taylor endeavored to eliminate some of the uncertainty with tips published in a recent edition of Big Y's Eating Well Living Smart newsletter.
It suggests choosing breads that list whole wheat or another whole grain as their first ingredient, since they are the source of heart-healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Offering this type of advice is essential since more than half of consumers agreed that many bread products “appear to be much healthier than they really are.”
Taylor noted that there's good reason for their skepticism since shoppers can be easily misled.
“The terms ‘multigrain,’ ‘100% stone ground’ and ‘honey wheat’ do not mean a product is necessarily whole grain,” Taylor said. “These words simply indicate that the food is made with multiple types of grains, the grain is stone ground and that honey is added.”
Marketers who clearly label their products to educate consumers about nutritional claims will stand out in a sea of healthy breads that include those fortified with omega-3s, flax seed, plant sterols and extra protein.
Earlier this year, Sara Lee introduced the Nutritional Spotlight system with its Soft & Smooth bread line. The side-of-pack graphic highlights calories, total fat, sodium and sugars per serving, percentage of fiber per serving, as well as grams of whole grain per serving.
Other efforts like private-label introductions that reach beyond white bread basics are contributing to the accessibility of healthy bread. Retailers are adding natural, organic and other nutritious varieties to the national brand mix.
These products aren't just appealing to shoppers seeking health benefits, but those who are pinching pennies.
Mintel reports that price is still an issue with 60% of bread consumers who say they'd “eat healthier bread more often if it weren't so expensive.”
When the cost of an average 24-ounce store-brand loaf at $1.79 is compared with the national-brand equivalent for $2.64, the choice is simple.
“That's exactly where Target and Wal-Mart are jumping,” said Bill Patterson, a Mintel senior market analyst. The chains, along with H.E. Butt Grocery and Kroger Co., are among four of the top 10 bread market innovators when it comes to new products, according to Mintel.
“Wal-Mart's making a huge effort to get into more upscale ranges like multigrain, organic and artisan-type bread,” said Patterson. “It's taking a two-pronged approach hitting upper scale and also at the lower end of the price point.”
Sara Lee Corp., a producer of store-brand bread for Wal-Mart, seems to be a part of its plans. It recently signed a deal to supply a couple hundred more Wal-Mart stores, according to a Bloomberg News report. It's unknown how many locations Sara Lee currently supplies.
Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., helped incite trial with its store-brand breads with recession-related promotions.
In January, Publix Sliced White Bread was featured in its Essentials campaign that placed extended price reductions on staple products. It also frequently features that variety in its buy-one, get-one-free promotions, according to spokeswoman Maria Brous.
Efforts like these have helped private labels gain the share leader position in the food channel. Store-brand breads comprise 26.2% of that market.
Brous said that although Publix shoppers are most frequently sticking with Publix-brand white bread, store-brand organic, whole wheat and whole grain breads also have a following.
“We've seen a more price-conscious, savvy consumer turn to our offerings like organic and grain breads since they're still looking for health benefits, but at a more affordable price,” she said.
Despite consumer loyalty to supermarkets' store brands, shoppers are also buying bread in other channels.
“In some areas, bread is moving very quickly from dollar store shelves,” said Patterson.
The trend may have contributed to a bread volume decline in supermarkets during the 52 weeks that ended May 17. Although the food channel experienced a 4.1% dollar sale increase, there was a 3.3% drop in volume sales, according to IRI.
Members of the small-format value channel have increased their consumable selection in the last year with the hopes of catching shoppers looking to make fill-in trips. With bread positioned beside other staples like milk near the front of the store, Family Dollar seems to be attracting bread shoppers.
“Food is a big driver of quick fill-in trips, and bread could definitely fall into that category,” said Josh Braverman, spokesman for the chain.
Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group, sees consumers turning to an entirely different type of food retailer for their bread needs.
“Bread is one of the top categories we consume in the home, make no mistake about that,” he said. “But I don't see people using more of their shelf-stable bread at home. I think we're having restaurants provide us with bread through the growing proliferation of sandwich restaurants.”
Subway has attracted shoppers on a budget with its $5 Footlong promotion, while Quiznos promoted its toasted sandwiches by giving away 1 million subs earlier this year.
Rather than tracking buying habits with sales data collected in-store, the NPD Group tracks consumption habits by asking 5,000 individuals from 2,000 households to keep food and beverage journals for 14 days.
of American bread consumers say price is still an issue.