What is most notable about bakery shopping trends involving US consumers overall is that shopping at mainstream retailers is shifting toward a preference for immediate consumption, which bodes well for sweet goods. Consumers are spending more on fresh bakery since 2019. The biggest change – they are stocking up less and buying more on quick trips to grocery stores.

Instore bakeries are addressing this trend with unique merchandising strategies. Star Provisions Market & Café, a highly acclaimed gourmet market in Atlanta, offers an innovative instore program called “Bakery To-Go.” Unique fresh bakery products such as a breakfast scone or seasonal hand pie are offered inside the store and presented in style. This leads to a positive experience for the shoppers – and best of all, higher repeat sales.

Sally Lyons Wyatt, global executive vice president and chief advisor, consumer goods and foodservice insights, Circana, points out that “time is of the essence for Americans, especially when it comes to their morning routines.”

Sixty-five percent of morning eating occasions are prepared in less than five minutes, Circana reveals.

According to supermarket data from Circana, the true impact of inflation in the current economic climate is “less food on hand.” What this means is consumers are not stocking up on groceries at nearly the same rate as pre-pandemic. In 2023, using all fresh foods before they go bad scored higher than other methods for combatting food cost inflation than other shopping or eating changes, according to Circana.

In annual eatings per capita, savory snacks and sweet treats are trending up, while better-for-you snacks are creeping down over the past three years, according to the latest Circana data.

“Snacking is still a lifestyle in the U.S.,” said Jonna Parker of Circana. “Snacking more doesn’t mean snacking better.”

Crowd-pleasing treats

Supermarkets are rising to the occasion by transforming sweet goods and desserts into scrumptious, crowd-pleasing treats.

Whether it’s an intimate dinner for two, a Hollywood-style movie party, or anything in between, the in-house catering department at Gelson’s can take the stress out of making a special event exceptional. Under the supervision of corporate executive chef Tony Dang, the Gelson’s catering department recently introduced nearly two dozen new items to increase its breadth as a one-stop solution for any occasion – from birthday parties and anniversaries to backyard barbecues and holiday gatherings.

And no event is truly special without decadent desserts such as Flourless Chocolate Lava Cake Bites (new), Raspberry & Mascarpone Mousse Bites (new), Apricot Pistachio Tart Bites (new), Lavender Honey Cheesecake (new), Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, and, last but not least, French Macarons.

“For decades, Gelson’s patrons have turned to our in-house catering department for beautiful and delicious cuisine options, so that they can relax and enjoy the day with guests,” said director of hospitality Tyler Williams, who is available to advise and assist with catering orders. “I’m excited to bring my experience to the catering department for all 28 Gelson’s stores and 17 Wine Bars to deliver a go-to solution for our guests everywhere.”

Gelson’s is a collection of premium food and beverage markets with 28 locations throughout Southern California featuring the full breadth and amenities of a traditional grocer with the high level of personalized service and tailored offerings of a neighborhood shop.

Shopping at a Lidl store, meanwhile, is unlike any experience in America. As you walk to the bakery department, an attractive display case features a lineup of well-lit glass-enclosed shelves, each filled with four rows of unique breads and pastries. There are mini chocolate croissants, maple pecan pastries, and one-of-a-kind creations like cheese pizza bread.

The bakery products are unique because that is what today’s consumers demand. Around 80% of its products are private label – all of which undergo rigorous taste, quality and sensory testing.

USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards and Food & Wine Magazine have both repeatedly ranked Lidl among the top grocers in the country.

Market Force Information, a leader in customer experience management, recently unveiled pivotal findings from its recent extensive survey on casual dining preferences across the United States. This comprehensive study highlights shifting trends influenced by economic factors and evolving consumer tastes. Economic shifts have significantly impacted consumer behavior, with 72.1% of diners noting that recent price increases have altered their spending habits, and 58.5% stating these hikes have changed their ordering decisions. To counteract this, diners are increasingly seeking out promotions, special offers, and better value for money as primary incentives.

Additionally, the study provides insights into the performance of delivery service providers and the integration of technology such as tablets and QR codes in dining experiences.

Production strategies

There are simple ways to transform everyday sweet goods into decadent bakery items that will deliver higher sales and bigger profits for your instore bakery.

 Satin Ice, for example, features fun and flavorful Isomelts™. Just melt in the microwave to create fun, edible decorations for your desserts. Once melted, pour into heat proof silicone molds to create lollipops, cake toppers, and much more.

Also available are 100% pre-colored and pre-cooked isomalt nibs – perfect for pouring into molds or shaping to create unique creations. Simply microwave to create fun, edible desserts.

Easy to customize color and flavor, they are available in 7-ounce resealable pouches. Available colors include red, pink, yellow, green, blue, and clear.

Instore bakeries can take their cakes, brownies, and cookies to the next level with an assortment of fudge, cream cheese, caramel, and German chocolate icings from Lawrence Foods, which features shelf-stable icings that deliver a delicious flavor and remain smooth.

They are easy to apply because of their light viscosity and texture.

With a large selection of seasonal flavors, the variety of buttercréme icings from Lawrence Foods give you the ultimate in performance, flavor, and function.

Available in 20 colors, Colored Decocremes® Icings come in an assortment of versatile trending colors, sure to catch your customer’s eye.

Promo opportunities

Shoppers are changing patterns regarding how they purchase sweet goods from their local supermarkets, which is having a profound influence on sweet bakery sales and future potential for the category.

Mia Boulos, director of sales for NielsenIQ, told attendees of an online webinar, “Mastering Pricing and Promotion,” that a “hybrid opportunity” exists to influence shoppers to make purchases online and pick up their groceries in person.

“We need to simplify what we have on the (supermarket) shelves,” Boulos said, “based on what is important to shoppers and how that has changed. What was important in the past is not as important today.”

For instance, there has been a large shift to private label sales.

“Store shelves are becoming fulfillment centers,” Boulos said.

It’s an election year, so experts believe there will be a lot of movement in different economic numbers throughout 2024.

Steve Zurek, NielsenIQ vice president for thought leadership, points out the unemployment rate remains under 4% over a stunning 24 consecutive months.

“Things are starting to flatten out, and now we are starting to see (bakery) manufacturers put promotions back.”

The lack of promotional activity at stores during the past few years has led to an odd response from shoppers.

“Shoppers really don’t know what a good deal is right now,” Zurek said.

“Consumers are acting in an inflationary mindset but that will start to abate.”

What is unique today is the growing opportunity for online sales.

“A lot of shoppers are finding these categories can be purchased online. The shopping trip now starts at any place and any time,” he said. Retailers who understand that have much to gain.