KANSAS CITY, MO. - The well-known quote about having your cake and eating it too could aptly apply to trends across the bakery industry. Sweet, indulgent and comforting, bakery goods remain immensely appealing, but there are changes afoot across the category. Consumers are upping the ante with demands for cleaner labels, sustainability and enhanced health and wellness benefits.

Food is no longer just about the consumption of calories; it’s also about the narrative behind a product. Backed by its proprietary consumer research, Cargill, Minneapolis, is tracking the trend of “Food with a Story.” Paired with research information from Innova and GfK, Cargill is finding consumers resonate with authentic, unique and interesting stories, especially those built around responsible sourcing, sustainability and traceability.

Satisfying consumer desire for “something different” often begins with using the familiar to create something innovative and non-traditional. For those looking for something new that won’t break the budget, consider offering to customize products according to a consumer’s unique needs. Dawn Foods, Jackson, Mich., recommends bakers use icings to show creativity and glazes to turn a traditional baked good into something new.

“People are expanding beyond exact replicas of traditional dishes and mixing familiar ingredients with additional flavor profiles. Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes are a perfect example of this. They have all the traditional ingredients for making chocolate cupcakes consumers are familiar with while adding ingredients like cinnamon and chili powder to give it a unique, yet familiar, flavoring,” said Annie Best, market research and insights manager, North America, Dawn Foods.

Aligning values

Flavor and texture remain critical, but consumers also want to know where a product was grown, how it was produced and if it’s sustainable. Hailey Rogers, research chef at Ardent Mills, Denver, is finding as consumers ascribe deeper meaning and connection to the food they eat this is evolving into clean labels, additions of plant-forward ingredients and building sustainability and transparency into ingredient production.

“From a cultural perspective this is translating into a desire among consumers for the brands and companies their choose to take a stance on cultural and societal issues, making transparency and authenticity highly valued,” Rogers shared. “This could take the form of donating portions of the profit to a cause or creating baked goods that keep in mind environmental impact, local communities and sustainable food methods.”

Simplified approach

As evolving attitudes in health and wellness continue to impact offerings in the category, bakeries are widening their offerings with options that appeal to consumers such as vegan, gluten-free and clean label. Coined “Enlightened Eating” by Dawn Foods, the company strives to find balance between what’s considered “permissible” and what will continue to provide optimal flavor, sweetness and quality.

“Consumers are looking for simple labels,” said Joe Perdicho, director of bakery operations, Special Touch Bakery, Rochester, N.Y. “The more scientific the ingredient sounds, the less natural it is to the consumer. We find the fewer ingredients we can put in a bakery item, the better it is received.”

Simplifying ingredient lists could include introducing or re-introducing consumers to plant-forward ingredients and ancient and heirloom grains. Spelt, einkorn and barley are finding starring roles alongside more familiar grains such as quinoa, oats and chickpeas. Additions of fruit, grains, nuts and seeds offer ways to provide color, flavor and texture with nutrition and a halo of health.

In addition to plant-based sources, other “healthier for me” options include the use of natural sweeteners, fiber and protein additions, or adding pre- and post-biotics to infuse baked goods with added superpowers. Such additions improve the nutritional profile of baked goods and appeal to consumers embracing keto, vegan or even gluten-free diets, according to Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill.

The instore bakery plays the perfect backdrop to showcase the freshness of products produced with a minimal amount of ingredients as opposed to center of the store. The importance of setting the instore stage will grow as health and wellness attitudes evolve into tenets of food as medicine. Post-pandemic, offering foods that offer perceived health and wellness benefits such as gut health or weight management could meet the health and wellness needs of those using food as a way to ward off illness.

JoAnn Rupp, global marketing and research insights professional, Corbion, Lenexa, Kan., anticipates a strong demand for simpler, more natural ingredients that supply functionalities similar to their traditional counterparts such as using honey or fruit juice instead of artificial sweeteners and replacing processed wheat with vegetable-based flours and ancient grains. Increased interest in the fiber-based applications and fermentation in the artisan space also show promise.

Meeting varied perceptions of what’s “natural” and “highly processed” can be challenging and highly subjective, differing from person-to-person and generation-to-generation. But it’s safe to say, there will always be room for permissive indulgence, even if it doesn’t fit into other healthy purchasing patterns.

Generational approach

Finding the right message for the right audience is key. GlobalData research from September 2019 showed 42% of consumers purchasing baked goods in the time period of 2013-2018 were age 45 and older. Ages newborn to 15 years accounted for 22.7%. Although consumption of bakery items skews older, there’s a growing opportunity among younger generations who profess preferences for snacking and freshness. The Hartman Group found nearly 60% of Gen Z and Millennials say they can’t get through the day without a snack.

Cargill’s’ 2020 FATitutes survey, which gauges consumer perspectives on fats and oils in packaged goods, discovered 45% of Gen Z and 42% of Millennials say they are more likely to purchase products with a sustainability claim. This is in comparison with 35% of Gen X and 32% of Baby Boomers. Older generations remain more concerned about sugar content and portion size, according to a report from the American Baker’s Association.

“Great taste from quality ingredients baked fresh throughout the day ignites the senses and leads to more impulse bakery purchases,” said Jayne Kearney, director of marketing, Bake’n Joy Foods, North Andover, Mass. “Consumers still need and appreciate the quality and convenience of their supermarket bakeries and local bake shops. These truly are comfort foods.”

Yet, comfort remains unique to the eye of the beholder with Millennials and Gen Z searching for food adventure through globally inspired unique flavors, textures and ingredients. As younger audiences come into their buying power, Rogers predicts a rise in sustainable packaging, clean ingredients and thoughtful portions with accompanying desires to reduce environmental impact.

“Labeling plays a very important role – from educating about what’s in the product to the sustainability of the packaging used,” said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator, IDDBA, Madison, Wis. “Consumers are the drivers of this and manufacturers should take their cues from what is attracting consumers.”

Perdicho finds younger buyers less price conscious and more inclined to purchase ready-to-eat products and items with an associated story or mission. He noted making the connection between the growing trend for social responsibility and connecting one’s products with a great story remains a differentiator.

Actionable steps

As consumers increasingly demand to know the origin story of the foods and ingredients they’re purchasing, this places an emphasis on reliable ingredient sourcing and formulation. Having the necessary technical and scientific expertise throughout the development process and asking more of ingredient suppliers when building sustainable, traceable and transparent supply chains is beneficial, according to Cargill.

“Compelling stories that captivate consumers are one way brands can differentiate their products from others in a crowded marketplace,” said Jamie Mavec, marketing manager, Cargill Global Edible Oil Solutions. The company’s responsibly sourced offerings of RSPO-certified mass-balance palm oil, chocolate and cocoa, sustainably produced stevia and traceable pea protein assist with the development of prototypes that bring ideas around transparency and sustainability to life, she continued.

Moving deeper into sustainability measures is a growing trend throughout the industry. Corbion is looking to champion preservation in all forms – food and food production, health and the planet – setting Sustainable Development Goals based on the United Nations’ development agenda. Its food preservation solutions include reducing food waste, partnering with suppliers on sustainable agriculture and preserving natural resources along with a commitment to 100% bio-based solutions.

Ardent Mills is also aligning sustainability practices with the Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations. In July, the company shared its first public-facing CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program and report and identified three key high-impact goals: zero hunger, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.

Building sustainability into its core processes, Dawn Foods is identifying all greenhouse gas emission sources, reducing CGC consumption, using re-sealable, re-closable and recyclable packaging and implementing certification practices of International Food Standard.

With increasing interest and scrutiny in the sustainability and sourcing of ingredients, companies looking to attract and retain consumers in the category can benefit from a long-term approach and a mindset of flexibility that’s ready to accommodate whatever might be next.

“Consumers are more aware of what they are putting in their bodies,” Rogers concluded. “Not only are they more conscious but they are also leaning into ingredients, products and brands that have a story behind them with a high value placed on authenticity and transparency.”

Category Predictions

Generationally, you can see that some trends will take hold: online ordering, delivery, ready-to-eat all will continue to hold a solid market share. People love sweets and quality bakery products will hold its own regardless of generation or pandemic. – Joe Perdicho, Special Touch Bakery

Focus on the freshness component and focus on the holidays, a driver for the instore. People are still celebrating, so make it easy for people to purchase from the instore and ensure quality is present along with the inventory. – Eric Richard, IDDBA

Consumers will lean toward ingredients and products more thoughtfully crafted that indulge but also give consumers an experience. Be on the lookout for new companies using “left over” ingredients to make new products to reduce environmental impact and food waste. - Hailey Rogers, Ardent Mills

Humans will not shy away from baked items during tough times. Between that and the variety of bakery items out there now (vegan, gluten-free, cleaner label), I doubt the trend for bakery items will phase out any time soon. – Annie Best, Dawn Foods

Consumers are purchasing bakery items they can keep in their pantries for longer periods of time and those that are packaged by brands they recognize and trust. We expect that sturdier packaging will continue to stick around for some time. – JoAnn Rupp, Corbion

Despite all the hype about health, consumers still value permissible indulgences. There’s growing interest in value-based purchasing, and our Insights Report on Sweet Baked Goods shows the continuing impact of the clean label movement. - Pam Stauffer, Cargill

This story was featured in the October edition of Supermarket Perimeter. Click here to view the whole issue.