Bread has proven to be a dependable, versatile and cost-effective baked good for consumers amid the throes of inflation, bringing growth to much of the category.

“Packaged bread is simple and reliable, providing stability during volatile times,” noted Kelsey Olsen, food and drink analyst for Mintel. “As consumers continue to navigate inflation and look for convenient at-home solutions, bread can provide a healthy mix of comfort, familiarity and accessible exploration to meet different consumer needs.”

According to Mintel’s 2023 US Packaged Bread Report, the top reasons surveyed consumers increased bread consumption include eating at home more (54%) and bread being a budget-friendly product (43%). 

Consumers are saving even more by opting for larger pack sizes and private label varieties. Circana found that center store private label sandwich bread sales increased, a reversal of the past several years where store brand sales consistently fell. 

Overall, center store bread unit sales dipped slightly (-1.8%) but outpaced buns, English muffins and flatbreads, while dollar sales rose across all categories due to inflation, according to Circana data for the 52 weeks ended April 24. The perimeter performed exceptionally well with dinner rolls, bulk buns and rolls, and croissants all posting unit jumps.

There’s plenty of opportunity in the bread aisle, and producers are taking advantage with varieties that capitalize on trends such as premium quality, health and wellness, unique formats and new eating occasions that highlight bread’s versatility.

“Breads and rolls continue to have an opportunity as an affordable meal for the family, as well as a premium experience at home, particularly with those perimeter and fresh offerings versus dining out,” Ms. Altobelli observed. “I think manufacturers should use social media marketing to remind consumers of those cost savings, such as the cost of a sandwich at home versus a sandwich at a restaurant.”

With consumers seeking savings wherever they can, private label is a great way to encourage accessible exploration and capitalize on the segment’s recent growth. 

“When trying new products feels like a greater strain on budgets, private label innovation offers a solution,” Mintel’s report stated. “Retailers can both differentiate themselves and provide accessible opportunities to explore different packaged bread products.”

Producers can also tap into a wider audience by highlighting new eating occasions. Mintel’s report noted that with snacking on the rise, there’s opportunity for packaged bread to expand beyond formal meals into new dayparts. 

“Highlighting the versatility of existing products and the introduction of new formats designed for snacks will help expand consumer imagination and bring bread to the between-meal occasion,” the report stated.

And while bread can be simple, consumers don’t want it to be boring. Producers can drive interest in their product by showing unique ways it fits into everyday meals. 

“Consumers need to see inspiring recipes and bread showcased on the table instead of bread being a bystander to the meal,” said Brie Buenning, director of marketing, La Brea Bakery, Los Angeles. “Rather than basic sandwiches, consumers want to see flavorful, exciting combinations that will drive them to continue to want to purchase and try new breads.

This is especially true going forward, with Mintel noting that Gen Z and millennials are more open-minded bread consumers with less confined ideas of uses and occasions.

“Younger generations show more interest in using bread in new ways,” Mintel’s report stated. “Whether or not the products are currently in their repertoires, now is the time to engage with these explorative consumers to meet more of their needs. In order to grow packaged bread, versatility needs to become a part of messaging with applications and occasions that excite.”

La Brea Bakery offers recipe and pairing ideas for its new Cinnamon Raisin Loaf, including a grilled cheese sandwich with Brie and cinnamon raisin French toast with apple cider syrup.

And Dave’s Killer Bread regularly posts meal ideas featuring its bread on social media, ranging from avocado toast and turkey and cheese sliders to loaded breakfast sandwiches and animal-style cheeseburgers. 

Bread can do it all, and producers that highlight the growing versatility of this staple baked good will push the category forward.