KANSAS CITY, MO. - Coming out of closures and limited department hours, now is the time to recapture and introduce new consumers to the many delicious sweet good options in and outside the perimeter.  

It’s hard to imagine, but pre-pandemic there were consumers who rarely, if ever, stepped into a grocery store. Diminished channel options over the past few months have made the grocery store a more accessible and appealing option, offering an unexpected discovery or re-discovery into what the supermarket has to offer.  

“While there will be some changes, these categories are strong and as people look to re-create routines at home and look for options to do so, it offers departments such as the ISB new ways to get in front of consumers,” said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator for the Madison, Wis.-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). 

Earlier this year, Cargill, Wayzata, Minn., conducted proprietary consumer research to determine how and why consumers snack. The company found that consumers enjoyed sweet baked goods 9.8 times per month. Forty-one percent of those surveyed indicated they consumed a sweet baked good several times a week.  

Those in search of novelty and indulgence to break up the daily monotony are finding new reasons to enjoy sweet goods not just in the morning but also as an afternoon pick-me-up or after-dinner treat. Enforced curtailment of activity has also resulted in the revamping of routines with consumers re-imagining snack and meal options and re-calibrating eating dayparts.  

 Shaping Routines  

With stay-at-home orders winding down and consumer routines set to shift once again, the instore bakery has an opportunity to meet the needs of consumers in transition. This is particularly true in the sweet goods category, where convenience and affordable indulgence are tailor made for such times. 

Bake’n Joy, North Andover, Mass., produces pre-deposited muffin batters, cornbreads, loaf cakes and fully baked private label coffee cakes, shared muffins and coffee cakes, which are increasingly viewed and consumed as snack products at various times throughout the day and night. The nearly 80-year-old manufacturer expects this trend to continue as the eating habits of millennials shape the world. 

Such habits include a willingness to embrace creative options. Consumers are looking to try new things and elevate their favorite foods. This makes simple indulgences like sweet goods more important than ever, according to Paul Baker, co-founder, St. Pierre Groupe, Manchester, United Kingdom. 

“There is a big opportunity to showcase diverse flavors and exotic ingredients in familiar formats,” he said. “Consumers look to sweet goods as a tried-and-true favorite but also expect innovation.” 

Center Aisle Bump 

Accommodation of such needs is an opportunity that will be tempered by the need for flexibility. Over the last two months, many instore bakeries have taken a temporary hit. 

For some, this meant the need to reduce selection and services, limit hours or temporarily close the department to reallocate employees to stocking and sanitation.  

“With many sales moving to center aisle, packaged products are seeing a double-digit uptick,” Richard said. “Bakeries that don’t have the staffing or capability to have a full case can still provide products in a packaged option and in instore displays.” 

For bakeries forced to choose between staffing and keeping cases full, Rich’s, Lawrenceville, N.J., offers ready-to-bake and proof-and-bake sweet dough. Its sweet dough line includes cinnamon rolls, Danishes, laminated dough pastries, strudels and scones. 

“The top attributes that consumers seek in sweet baked goods are natural sweeteners, increased protein and organic ingredients,” said Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill. “However, whether bakers are boosting protein or creating label friendly formulations, the key to success is making the required ingredient adjustments without diminishing sensory appeal, especially in indulgent sweet baked goods.”   

Permissible Indulgence 

Although packaged baked goods in the center aisle currently make up the bulk of sweet good purchases, the indulgence factor is still a major driver for consumers desiring a treat. To meet the needs of stressed consumers, Richard emphasized the importance of providing packaged, grab-and-go bakery products in small sizes with accurate labeling. 

J. Skinner Bakery, Omaha, Neb., offers category staples of Danish and sweet rolls. Some of its best-sellers being the classic cheese & strawberry Danish, sweet rolls, and its best-selling sweet dough cinnamon rolls. To accommodate demands for smaller sizes, the company is partnering with different retailers to design indulgent, individual-serve products, including its Mini Danish. The bite-sized, ready-to-eat treats come in a multi pack (strawberry, cherry, cheese, lemon and apple), cheese or cinnamon varieties.  

“Consumers love to eat and turn to food for a variety of reasons, including as a treat and indulgence,” said Jayne Kearney, director of marketing, Bake’n Joy. “Decadent, sweet treats satisfy this desire perfectly.” 

Seeking Freshness  

While shelf-stable items met consumer needs for the massive store runs of the past few months, freshness and variety are still desirable. 

A craving for freshness after weeks of shelf-stable meals could drive an accompanying aspiration for sturdier packaging, making freshness even more appealing, according to Kathy Sargent, global innovation director, Corbion, Lenexa, Kan. Enhanced packaging offers an assurance of locking in freshness that is attractive for those who are freezing products for longer shelf life. Sturdier packaging also offers a safeguard against contamination. 

“While some label claims, such as those calling out the absence of ingredients like preservatives or artificial colors, are on the decline, we have seen an increase around freshness claims that let consumers know an item was baked instore that day,” Sargent said. Mintel’s In-Store Bakeries U.S. February 2020 report found in the ISB, health concerns take a backseat to freshness and flavor. 

Kearney of Bake’n Joy echoed the importance of freshness, as it is synonymous with quality. To take advantage of this attribute, the company recommends drawing attention to product freshness in the display case and calling out the attribute on pre-packaged products with messaging such as “Fresh from the Oven” and product tags reading, “These are still warm.”  

New Behaviors 

Adapting to new habits over the past months hasn’t deterred consumers from a path of discovery or the potential of an impulse buy. 

Capturing consumers can be as easy as re-imagining favorites in a new twist such as the hybrid sweet good matchups. Think cronuts, (croissants and donuts), the cruffin (croissant muffin), donnoli (doughnut cannoli), wonut (waffle doughnut) and the bagnut (bagel doughnut). And don’t forget to include an element of anticipation. Mitch Riavez, senior national accounts manager, Stratas, cited the ongoing appeal of LTO offerings such as Dunkin Donuts’ Frosted Sugar Cookie, Gingerbread Cookie, Mint Brownie and Spring Fling doughnuts. 

On the flip side, familiarity also plays a role in sweet goods purchasing behavior as viewed by Anthony & Sons, Denville, N.J., which sells its sweet goods on the company’s fresh routes. Among its customers, it finds simple and healthy products to be more attractive in today’s market, with a greater audience for sweet goods among Baby Boomers. 

“Consumers tend to lean toward product they grew up on or are accustomed to,” said Ben Rizzitello, vice president of sales and marketing for Anthony & Sons. “I feel sweet goods will always be a part of people’s diets and simple is always more enticing.” 

Whether leaning toward the simple or complex, Hunter, a New York-based food and beverage communications firm, found the pandemic to be a time of rediscovery for many. The Hunter Food Study Special Report found 28% are rediscovering favorite ingredients, 40% are turning to more indulgent comfort foods and 50% have discovered new brands and products. 

According to Mintel, 44% say the ISB is a good place to discover new things and more than one-third of parents consider a trip to the ISB as a special and dedicated occasion for discovery. 

As life finds new equilibrium and accompanying routines, consumers will continue to look for sweet goods that add interest and excitement. That includes offering convenient, portable products emphasizing clean, real ingredients, portion control and ethnic flavors.  

“In today’s trying times, we see consumers turning to food to restore a sense of security and wholeness among their families,” Kearney concluded. “Even while many are preparing more home-cooked meals than ever, consumers still need and appreciate the quality and convenience of their supermarket bakeries. These are truly comfort foods.” 

This story is from the June 2020 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. To view the full magazine, click here.