HORSHAM, PA. — The food industry continues to feel the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with many bakeries, restaurants and foodservice operators dramatically shifting their operations and menus to adjust to the new normal. With 2022 around the corner, Bimbo Bakehouse has released its top four trend predictions for the ever-changing industry in the new year.

Less is more: Labor-light options will be in greater demand

“Driven by the ongoing labor challenges and whiplash from employee turnover, both foodservice operators and in-store bakeries are seeing turnkey, quality products that also require less labor,” said Heather Davis, senior manager of customer insights, Bimbo Bakehouse.

More than a third of operators are now seeking consistent, easy-to-prep bakery products, according to Technomic’s “AFH Bakery Category Assessment,” and Ms. Davis says these labor-saving formats will only grow in popularity. One low-labor option Bimbo Bakehouse is offering is thaw-and-sell products. Thaw-and-sell products only require retailers to thaw the product rather than prepare them. They also typically have an extended shelf-life that helps retailers with inventory and waste management.

Popular flavors will continue to grow

While menus are constantly changing, some popular flavors are far from crumbling, Ms. Davis said. Bimbo Bakehouse predicted flavors like everything bagel seasoning, brioche and chipotle will continue to dominate restaurant menus, foodservice operations and in-store bakery shelves.

In the past year alone, Dataessential reported that everything bagel seasoning has grown on menus more than 67%. While this savory seasoning was traditionally seen as just for bagels, it has since expanded as a versatile topping that can be used across all dayparts. In response, Bimbo Bakehouse recently launched the elevated Bavarian pretzel bun topped with the everything bagel seasoning.

Brioche buns have also seen a rapid rise in popularity and, according to Dataessential, are now the fastest growing burger and chicken sandwich carrier. Similarly, chipotle has become one of the fastest growing burger flavors.

“To complement this trend, Bimbo Bakehouse recently added a chipotle brioche bun to its foodservice product lineup, combining the sweet flavor of brioche bread with smoky chipotle pepper,” Ms. Davis said.

The bakery has added a traditional brioche bun as well.

Portability will remain relevant

The pandemic created a spike in at-home cooking and off-premise dining among consumers. According to Dataessential, 75% of operators now offer takeout, while 41% offer curbside pickup and 33% offer delivery.

“This means that portable carriers that can hold up during transport are key,” Ms. Davis said.

Bimbo Bakehouse offers sandwich rolls and burger buns that travel well from restaurant and in-store bakery to home.

Take-and-bake options have also taken off as consumers seek out easier cooking methods. Additionally, two-thirds of consumers say the ability to order prepared meals in advance and having an inside pickup station are important factors in purchasing prepared food from the grocery store, highlighting the importance of convenience-driven foodservice. Bimbo Bakehouse offers take-and-bake solutions, which are baked 95% and sold oven-ready to shoppers, as well as flowwrap packaging options for individually wrapped grab-and-go items.

High tech dining has staying power

“Technology continues to make a large impact on the food industry as seen with the growth of QR code menus, ghost kitchens and even robots taking orders and delivering food,” Ms. Davis said.

The high-tech dining trend she sees having the most staying power in 2022 is online ordering, as many restaurants have added drive-thru lanes specifically for online orders.

“Operators are learning to manage a new balance of receiving orders both online and in-person,” Ms. Davis said. “Offering products that deliver on flexibility, like the thaw-and-serve format, make it easier to prepare items in advance of customer rush and help with inventory management.”