FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- The growth of fresh-bakery sections in supermarkets has not hurt the packaged-bread category, which had sales of $5.6 billion last year, an increase of 2.1% over the previous period, according to ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill.
SN recently visited supermarkets here to compare the bread category in Shaw's and Stop & Shop units. Shaw's Supermarkets is based in East Bridgewater, Mass., while Stop & Shop, a division of Ahold USA, is headquartered in Quincy, Mass. Also visited were a Trader Joe's store and a local natural-food supermarket.
What SN found was that the large supermarkets had an extensive selection of private-label packaged bread in a category that already has a lot of brand variety. The private-label choices were, for the most part, priced lower than the brands. At the same time, the retailers offered special deals on brand items.
ACNielsen scan data includes a surprising diversity of packaged items -- some 3,300 stockkeeping units of bread. Dollar statistics are tracked in 12 categories, with the largest being N/A, at $3.7 billion. Of 11 identifiable categories, bran/grain garnered the most sales, at $433 million. Italian and French breads were next, with sales of $406 million and $358 million, respectively.
At Shaw's on Black Rock Road, the bread section was about 42 feet long and seven shelves high. Premium bread was placed at the front of the aisle, as was a 4-foot endcap of Thomas' English muffins in assorted varieties and some pita breads. Also on endcaps were Hostess variety snack cakes, Drake's assorted cakes and Entenmann's assorted cakes, doughnuts and cookies.
Pepperidge Farm brand bread dominated the premium section, with more than 20 SKUs. Some breads are in the original packaging, but the company now has a line of "Natural," "Light Style" and "Deli" breads.
Not surprisingly, the premium breads were considerably higher priced than the everyday items. For example, Pepperidge Farm's 1-pound Cinnamon Swirl was $2.79 during SN's visit, while a Natural White Grain (1 pound, 5 ounces) was $2.69.
Some of the other varieties included Deli Pumpernickel and Deli Rye, Light Style Wheat, Natural Hearty, White Hearty, Golden Potato, 9 Grains, Very Thin White, Oatmeal White and so forth.
Shaw's also had premium items, styled as "country" breads. The packaging said "Shaw's Made in Vermont." During SN's visit, four items -- potato, white, honey bran and oat -- were on sale, at two for $3.
In the everyday section, Shaw's breads were much more dominant, and SN counted almost 20 SKUs of breads and rolls.
Shaw's selections were considerably lower priced. For example, Wonder's Big Loaf of white bread (1 pound, 6 ounces) was priced at $1.99, while Shaw's Giant White at the same weight was priced at 89 cents. Shaw's carried about eight SKUs of Wonder bread and about 18 SKUs of Freihofer's bread, in addition to a few selections from Home Pride, 'Taliano, Cape Cod, Mama Mia!, J.J. Nissen and Country Kitchen.
The bagel section included selections from Shaw's (eight SKUs) and Lender's (three SKUs). English muffins other than Thomas' were merchandised next to the bagels.
At the Stop & Shop, also on Black Rock Road, bread was merchandised in a 40-foot section. Adjacent was a section of cakes and muffins about 20 feet long. In addition, a three-sided endcap was used as a Little Debbie Snack Center.
Italian bread, rolls, tortillas and pita breads were merchandised at the front of the bread section. Brands included J.J. Casone, Sunbeam, Cape Cod, 'Taliano, Freihofer's, and J.J. Nissen.
Brand items of bread at Stop & Shop included Home Pride (four SKUs), Wonder (seven SKUs), Pepperidge Farm (22 SKUs), Arnold (22 SKUs), J.J. Nissen, Gold Medal, Nature's Grain and Martin's. Stop & Shop items included breads and rolls -- more than 20 SKUs in all. As at Shaw's, the Stop & Shop items were priced more competitively. For example, Stop & Shop's White Value Pack (three loaves) was priced at $1.99, as was Shaw's. Premium-style breads were priced slightly higher, similar to Shaw's. For example, a 16-ounce loaf of cinnamon bread was $1.69, while a 20-ounce loaf of split-top wheat sold for $1.39 during SN's visit.
Stop & Shop had special prices on some items. Some were red stickered, while others were priced lower with the retailer's shopping card. For example, Pepperidge Farm Hearty Breads and Natural breads were on sale for $1.99 with the shopper' s card, as were Stop & Shop's New York Rye, Big Loaf White and Big Daisy White. These last three were on sale for 89 cents. J.J. Nissen brand Canadian bread was on sale for $1.69 with the card. Stop & Shop had a larger selection of Entenmann's than did Shaw's, devoting about 8 feet to cakes, cookies, "Little Bites" and cereal bars. Freihofer's cakes and doughnuts and Stop & Shop items were also merchandised in the cake section. Stop & Shop regular English Muffins were on sale, three packs for $2, while Thomas' English Muffins were priced similarly to what they were at Shaw's.
Trader Joe's, a small-sized specialty grocery store with a corporate office in Needham, Mass., devotes about 12 feet, nine shelves high, to the bread category in its store in Fairfield, also on Black Rock Road. About 85% of products in Trader Joe stores are private label and, in the bread category, only one SKU is not private label.
"We want a nice mix of delicious bread that is a real value," explained Kimberly Greenfeld, product manager. The store's most popular items include multigrain bread, British crumpets, Shepherd's bread, challah bread, soft 10-grain bread and flour tortillas, according to Greenfeld, who also noted that people on the East Coast look for "softer" breads -- "whole wheat, but soft " -- while the West Coast prefers a "denser product."
The unit that SN visited carried a variety of items, including bread, rolls, tortillas, pita bread, muffins and crumpets and pastry breads and biscotti. The store even carried a few organic items, such as spelt bread ($1.99), whole wheat ($1.69), oat ($1.99) and multigrain wheat.
Trader Joe's relies on local sources for bread, unlike some other categories. Currently all the bread in Trader Joe stores on the East Coast, including Maryland and Virginia, is manufactured in New England, Greenfeld told SN.
The last stop on SN's tour of Fairfield was a local natural-food grocery store called Sprouts. Here most of the bread was kept in the three freezer doors. Not surprisingly, there were, in addition to whole-grain breads, unleavened breads, sprouted breads, organic choices, and wheatless choices made out of kamut, rye, rice flour, millet and spelt.
But, according to a store-level source, the most popular breads were Baker breads and rolls, merchandised at the front of the store on a wood fixture. Items such as honey whole-wheat sandwich bread and seven-grain sourdough were brought in every day and sold out.