Thriving instore bakeries are cultivating a mindset of growth and flavor/product innovation to entice new demographics to indulge in sweet goods.

No instore footprint would be the same without the sensory pleasures of the instore bakery. The model has long induced shoppers with a variety of tempting formats. Today, premiumization, indulgence, convenience, nostalgia and cleaner labels continue to shape the sweet goods category for younger generations.

In many bakeries, traditional products remain a staple, which is logical considering the bakery’s primary customers: families with children, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. Despite these regulars, bakeries looking to remain competitive must embrace current trends to attract and retain a younger demographic.

Brill, headquartered in Tucker, Georgia, cites a growing need for reduced count sizes, reflecting the ongoing trend of smaller families. Today, more than three-fourths of U.S. households have fewer than three people. In response, the company helps its customers identify products that could benefit from being available in multiple sizes. This might include a single or double slice, reduced-count cupcakes and cookies or new products like Brill’s savory tomato basil and jalapeno cheddar mini muffins.

Omaha, Nebraska-based J. Skinner Bakery continues to enjoy strong sales of its top-selling sweet rolls and Danishes, including its newest almond Danish strudel. While the company’s products aren’t single-serve, they’ve begun partnering with retailers to design indulgent, individual-serve products.

“In the end, all segments are ‘right-sizing’ – finding a middle ground that is big enough to share but in smaller groups than we’ve seen in the past,” says Val Burnett, vice president, marketing, Brill.

Smaller sizes of full-sugar portions might also be on the rise as a result of the Jan. 1, 2020, deadline for labeling compliance. The redesigned FDA nutrition facts panel now includes added sugars.

Indulgence…in moderation

Most consumers believe the indulgence of sweet goods can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. And the freshness of that indulgent choice continues to be one of the most important attractions of the in-store bakery, according to Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator, IDDBA, Madison, Wisconsin. Richard stresses now is a good time for bakeries to begin experimenting. In addition to the well-loved flavor profiles, Richard suggests sweet and savory combinations and spicy/sweet twists on traditional favorites. J. Skinner Baking combines sweet, salty, savory and nutty flavors in its new sweet cornbread topped with Everything seasoning.

“ISB is lagging on innovative flavors and platforms that appeal to the more adventurous palates of Millennials and Gen X,” says David Skinner, marketing manager, J. Skinner Bakery. “Navigating what will appeal to those demographics will involve trial and error. It’s important for ISBs to look to what restaurants and independent bakeries are doing regarding flavors and platforms to reach that market.”

New flavor profiles help bakeries compete with innovations from stand-alone bakeries and are a smart way to attract younger generations. Among these, Hispanic millennials are significantly more likely to frequent the bakery than other millennials, which Richards attributes to tradition. Shopping together is a custom for many Hispanic families with the bakery being part of the instore experience.

Consumers in all demographics are embracing nostalgic flavors such as red velvet, butterscotch, lemon and Dulce de leche. And don’t forget seasonal and holiday treats in flavors of cereal milk, s’mores and birthday cake, according to Kathy Sargent, strategic innovation director, Corbion, Lenexa, Kansas.

Nostalgic triggers also impact impulse and planned indulgence. Mike Tilden, director of deli, prepared foods, salad bar and bakery, Balls Foods, Kansas City, Kansas, sees a 60/40 split between indulgence and impulse buys. “You have customers that want something fresh and good to eat but have no idea what that is until they see it,” he says. “Then you have customers who know exactly what they want and where to get it.”

Mixing it up for millennials

When it comes to attracting the eye of younger consumers, beautifully decorated sweet goods are a smart draw. As heavy social media users, Gen X and millennials tend to share these moments with others who gravitate to the experiential.

“The social factor goes together with impulse purchases,” Richard says.

Jamie Mavec, marketing manager, Cargill, Wayzata, Minnesota, agrees. “Sweet baked goods that deliver on eye appeal with bright colors, unusual toppings or indulgent combinations fit this trend to a tee, resulting in picture-worthy indulgences perfect for sharing on social media.”

Richard also suggests profiling sweet goods with instore sampling and pairings with alcohol and meal kits. Bake’n Joy Foods, North Andover, Massachusetts, offers an indulgent, double chocolate gourmet brownie batter and cornbread batter that retailers can use to make desserts and side items for instore prepared meals.

“With today’s increasingly busy lifestyles, consumers often find comfort indulging in sweet baked goods that allow them to slow down, reminisce and simply enjoy something delicious,” Sargent says. “Because instore bakery items are perceived to be fresher, consumers often feel justified in splurging on instore sweet baked goods, as opposed to prepackaged items.”

The desire for fresh product with clean labels drives purchases throughout the store, but it’s important to understand that not all consumers have the same perception of clean label, according to IDDBA’s What’s in Store Bakery report. Ninety-two percent of 25-to-34-year-olds say they know what clean label means while 58% of Americans 65 and older can’t define clean label.

“Consumers are looking for baked goods with a short list of recognizable ingredients, much like what they would use if they baked from scratch,” says Jayne Kearney, marketing manager, Bake’n Joy Foods. “While they’ll go for that new and exciting indulgent treat, they want it to be just as wholesome and pure as their nostalgic favorites.”

Brill’s research shows an emerging segment focused on avoiding specific artificial ingredients. Dubbed Artificial Avoiders, these consumers seek out products that are “less artificial-seeming in taste, texture and aroma,” according to Burnett. Companies are meeting these requests with a variety of new options. Brill’s Simplicious line offers products made without HFCS, artificial flavors, sweeteners and artificially derived color. Cargill has several gluten-free bakery formulations and accommodates organic, non-GMO, and allergen-free requests. Corbion’s expanded Function Plus product line includes a dairy-free egg white substitute designed to replace up to 30% of egg whites in chemically leavened cakes. Bake’n Joy’s Kitchen Cupboard Clean Label bakery line includes 70+ products, including new vegan muffin batters and cookies.

“From an ingredients perspective, clean label and sugar reduction remain key trends to watch in the bakery space,” according to Matt Gennrich, senior food technologist, R&D bakery applications, Cargill. “While consumers say, ‘don’t mess with my treats,’ muffins, pastries and even donuts aren’t immune to clean label desires.”

With more clean-label and free-from options to choose from, consumers of all ages can feel better about indulging any time of day. In preparation, both labels and employees must be able to effectively communicate all the in-store bakery has to offer.