Shoppers are concerned about healthy eating, but often don't follow through at the supermarket bakery.
Although bread sales are enjoying a surge, taste -- not health -- is frequently the most important criterion when shopping the bakery.
That is according to supermarket bakery executives interviewed by SN about the findings of a consumer poll conducted by the Gallup Organization, Princeton, N.J., for the Wheat Foods Council, Englewood, Colo., and the American Bakers Association, Washington (see related story, Page 15).
The poll found that Americans know they should eat more grains and breads as part of a healthy diet, but also found that they are not meeting the goals of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid, which calls for eating six to 11 servings daily.
Several retailers said they are actively trying to educate shoppers about the Food Guide Pyramid, while others indicated that touting nutrition in a department that makes its living by selling calorie and fat-laden treats is not the greatest marketing strategy.
The Food Guide Pyramid can be effectively used as an educational tool, said Fred DiQuattro, director of bakery, deli, seafood and food service at Riser Foods, Bedford Heights, Ohio.
DiQuattro said the pyramid is displayed throughout the 44 Rini-Rego stores he oversees, including posters in the bakery departments.
The pyramid also appears on some of the healthier bread packages, he said, and consumers appear to be taking notice. "We get inquiries about it," he said.
Katherine Lowe, director of public relations for West Point Market, a single-unit upscale independent in Akron, Ohio, said she tries to educate consumers about the Food Guide Pyramid every chance she gets. Lowe said she makes frequent references to the pyramid in West Point's flier and added that the pyramid is displayed on posters and other signs throughout the store. "The Food Pyramid Guide is much easier to follow than anything that's come before it," she said.
"We have a big emphasis on it now. Our customers are very interested in nutrition and exercise. People in the 1990s are much more tuned into their bodies," she said. "We feel we're also in the business to educate."
Jim Finnerty, bakery-deli director for 70-unit Abco Foods, Phoenix, said shoppers are concerned about fat and calories and are "at least conscious of trying to eat better." But, he added, it is difficult to gauge just how much their eating habits are changing. "It's really tough to tell in this business," he said. "People are buying doughnuts and drinking a diet pop and thinking that balances out, somehow."
John Cannistra, director of deli-bakery for 66-unit Farm Fresh, Norfolk, Va., said he has noticed a shift toward breads since the labeling laws stemming from the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act went into effect last year. "People know breads are high in fiber," he said. He said breads are a trendy item now, which also may account for some increased sales.
According to the Gallup poll, only 48% of Americans think white bread is healthy. However, white bread is among Farm Fresh's strongest sellers, said Cannistra. Riser Foods' DiQuattro agreed that French and Italian bread, both white, remain the backbone of bakery bread sales.
Abby Fox, bakery manager for West Point Market, said she has seen a shift toward healthier eating as well. "Our No. 1 selling bread is also our healthiest," she said. "We call it our 10-grain bread. It's made with whole-grain flour. There is no added fat, and no eggs." Ron Williams, director of bakery operations for eight-unit O'Malia Food Markets, Carmel, Ind., said that he is seeing growing sales in health-oriented breads, which now make up 35% of his sales.
"It's not something I hear a lot of people talking about, but every indication I have seems that people are more interested in their health," he said.
Despite increasing awareness among consumers, most retailers said that sales of less-than-healthy baked goods haven't declined.
"The labeling laws haven't affected sales of our other baked items," said Riser Foods' DiQuattro.
Fox of West Point Market agreed. West Point Market is not required to put a nutrition label on every baked good but does so on many, she said. Fox said West Point is soon going to label its fattening "killer brownies," but she said she does not anticipate a drop in sales once the labels appear.
"I don't think it will affect sales," she said. "People know the brownies aren't low in fat. I think they will trade off, and eat the brownie but give up something else that day."