Heading into 2019, artisan bread bakers are bullish on their category’s opportunities for growth. And increased consumer demand for clean label, farm-to-table and heritage ingredients backs up that optimism.

Pittsburgh-based artisan baker Mediterra Bakehouse, which also has a facility in Phoenix, entered a new, exciting phase in its company’s history in the past year, says Anthony Ambeliotis, Mediterra’s production manager.

“We have somewhat shifted our focus,” he says. “We are still wholesale driven, but we have undertaken the task of becoming our own retailer.”

Mediterra opened its first retail café in an upscale Pittsburgh neighborhood —and has plans to open two more. By doing so, the company is able to better control sales of its own products, Ambeliotis says.

With its own retail outlet, Mediterra can educate its customers directly, he says. And it also provides opportunities to diversify income streams. Mediterra’s cafe is not only a bread and pastry outlet. The company also sells coffee, sandwiches, soups, porridge and oatmeal, as well as specialty foods like olive oil, cheese, vinegars and chocolate.

“Nobody can see something as good as the people who make it. By opening this café, we’re able to basically have more control of our future and sales, as opposed to relying on a massive wholesale account.”

Some of Mediterra’s biggest wholesale accounts recently have been purchased by giant corporations, Ambeliotis says. That means decision-making is no longer at a local or even a regional level. “This sort of scared us to some degree,” he says.

On the wholesale side, meanwhile, Mediterra hasn’t expanded in the past year — but growth is definitely in the company’s plans, Ambeliotis says. For the time being, however, Mediterra’s focus is on using the space it already has more efficiently.

New for Cary, North Carolina-based La Farm Bakery is a white chocolate mini baguette, which the company’s  Missy Vatinet calls “an addictive snack and treat.” The product is available in bake-off form, requiring about 10 minutes of oven time.

In 2019, La Farm’s artisan lineup will include Ancient Buckwheat, Ancient Einkorn, Heirloom Wrens Abruzzi Rye and Carolina Gold Rice, Vatinet says.

The company’s bakers, led by founder and Master Baker Lionel Vatinet, will complement flavors and increase their breads’ nutritional value by incorporating items like buttermilk, toasted nuts, sprouted grain and turmeric, Missy Vatinet says.

“Consumers are no longer referencing ‘grain’ as an over-arching ‘flour’ category but rather call out specific grains,” she says. “They now have a great understanding about sourcing and about which grain varieties and applications produce the best products.  In general, we see a move from macro grain to micro variety of grain, and it's so exciting.”

When La Farm rolled out its Ancient Einkorn bread at Whole Foods Market stores in North Carolina’s Triangle region, it sold out in all stores by 10 a.m., Vatinet says.


A Nordic wave

Among the hottest new products at Lake Katrine, New York-based Bread Alone are Nordic breads, says the company’s Nels Leader.

The company currently has three SKUs in the category,  all 100 percent sourdough and made with whole grains, primarily rye, Leader says. Bread Alone launched its Nordic breads at the Summer Fancy Food show in New York in June.

The company’s Nordic experiment got a big boost in November, when Whole Foods Market began carrying the bread in all of its stores in the Northeast.

“We’ve already seen a lot of excitement among customers,” Leader says. “They’re delicious and very healthful, and they’re the types of bread people are demanding more and more of.”

Nordic breads are also a draw among people looking to add more “functional” foods to their diet, he says. The ways in which Nordic breads are often eaten also jibes with the way many consumers are eating bread these days, Leader says — for example, one slice instead of two for a sandwich.

Bread Alone expects a big expansion of its Nordic line in the first quarter of 2019, Leader says. “They check a lot of boxes for what people are looking for.”