Generally weak sales performance of baked goods within the center aisles of the store has resulted in a migration of sales volume toward the perimeter, suggested Todd Hale, principal of Todd Hale, L.L.C., and former senior vice-president, consumer and shopper insights, with Nielsen.

While sales of baked goods in the center aisles remain relatively stable, the perimeter of the store, including the instore bakery and deli, have experienced solid — and even robust — growth in some categories, Hale noted during his presentation at the American Bakers Association annual conference, held March 20-23, in Phoenix.

Overall dollar sales of packaged baked foods have increased about 2%, according to Nielsen data for the 52-week period ended Dec. 26, 2015. However, bakery sales volume in the perimeter of the store rose even more — just under 6%, Nielsen reported.

Digging deeper into the data, Hale pointed out that about 4% of the bakery growth in the perimeter of the store is due to increased volume while pricing accounted for about 2% of the increase.

Hale added that indulgence remains a solid trend in the baked goods arena. Within in-store bakeries located on the perimeter, pies rose 21%, according to Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2015. Brownies and dessert bars jumped 13%, cookies rose 7%, muffins climbed 5% and cakes saw a 4.5% increase. Meanwhile, bread sales rose 3%, bagels inched up nearly 2% and rolls also increased 2%, according to Nielsen.

Likewise, sales of sandwiches in supermarket delis — where bread and rolls are sold as a component of the meal occasion — jumped a similar 6% on a volume basis. Positioning bread as a component of the sandwich provides additional opportunities for bakers, Hale said. He added shoppers are focusing more on fresh meals and meal components over specific ingredients that are typically promoted on the packages of bread and other baked goods.

Specifically, he talked about how the growth of some ingredients such as amaranth, chia and quinoa have received a lot of publicity because they have had a compound annual growth of 80% or more over the past four years. However, the baseline for this market is still pretty small.

“In absolute terms, while the growth is pretty amazing, none of (these ingredients) is bigger than $500 million in annual sales,” Hale said. “If you think about the size of your industry, almost $50 billion in sales, the fastest-growing claims are not generating that much in annual revenue.”

Gluten-free remains a niche opportunity, but growth in this segment has stabilized — possibly even slowed. Hale noted that data reveals a flattening growth curve that indicates sales of gluten-free products is stabilizing and will remain a small player compared with overall food sales. Hale even wondered if the gluten-free movement has peaked and might decline over the next five years.

Hale stressed that the overall “center of the store is not dead.” In fact, five of the top growth food categories and seven of the biggest declining categories are from the grocery department.  Increases for growth categories are much larger than losses from the decliners — specifically $15.8 billion in collective gains versus $3.2 billion in losses.

Likewise, he said, winners within the baked goods market clearly outpace the losers, according to Nielsen data. In fact, cookies, snack cakes, crackers and baked bread — clearly the largest segments of the baked goods industry — collectively saw larger dollar gains over those categories — such as frozen and refrigerated baked goods  that saw declines in sales. In fact, in a study of categories where A.B.A. baker members compete, the Top 10 growth categories saw sales rise a collective $2 billion compared with an overall loss of only $237 million in the Top 10 declining categories.

As a result, that overall growth bodes well for the industry as a whole, he said.