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Raking In The Dough

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Renewed interest in baking turns frozen dough into an unlikely “winner” during the coronavirus shutdown.

Although coronavirus panic buying lifted grocery sales across the board, a handful of “mature” frozen food subcategories whose best days were probably behind them (think frozen orange juice concentrate) outgained the department as a whole. Among the biggest winners: Frozen dough.

FROZEN DOUGH SALES JUMP 18.4%

While the frozen bread and dough category as a whole saw sales jump 15.6% to $266.76 million during the 12 weeks ended March 22, frozen dough registered an outsized 18.4% gain (to $54.56 million), according to Chicago- based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). But just one month prior, during the 12 weeks ended Feb. 23, subcategory sales were down 3.2% versus the same period a year earlier.

Consumers have always enjoyed fresh-baked bread, rolls and sweet goods, explains Dan Yost, senior vp at Anaheim, Calif.-based Bridgford (bridgford. com). Until recently, however, they didn’t always have several hours to wait for frozen dough to rise, proof and bake, part of the reason for the subcategory’s continued decline. “But with a little extra time on their hands now, our fans have taken to the kitchen to bake all of their favorite treats – a tradition we hope will continue even after this awful pandemic is over,” he says.

Formerly sold under the Callie’s Biscuits label, the newly rebranded Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit lineup will soon include a gluten-free offering.

Based on persistent out-of-stock products like flour and yeast, it’s clear that consumers stuck at home are baking more, confirms Kenny Farnsworth, president of Salt Lake City-based Rhodes Bake-N-Serv (rhodesbakenserv.com). But not everyone has the skill to make bread and rolls completely from scratch. For those folks, “Frozen dough is a convenient alternative that also requires less effort and cleanup.” Clearly, consumers agree. “We’re seeing a lot of new users coming to the category. People who have always had a desire to learn how to bake are trying frozen dough for the first time, and we’ve received many positive comments.” He says, “We anticipate many of these consumers will become repeat buyers,” especially if the economy doesn’t bounce back as quickly as hoped. “Frozen bread dough is an item that sells well during recessionary times because it’s such an outstanding value,” Farnsworth explains.

With that in mind, he says, retailers in strong frozen bread dough markets that carry only one SKU should consider adding a second package size. “During the past few weeks, many retailers have been running out of stock daily on frozen bread dough due not just to the huge spike in demand but also to the limited number of facings.”

NATURAL SCONES & SWEET ROLLS DEBUT

For consumers who want to enjoy fresh baked goods without all of the work, Washington, D.C.- based Mason Dixie Foods (masondixiebiscuits.com) just debuted frozen ready-to-bake, clean label scones and sweet rolls made with simple, scratch ingredients like butter, fresh dairy and real fruit – and no artificial flavors, preservatives, oils or stabilizers. Billed as the first-ever natural brand to hit supermarket freezers, the scones come in four flavors: Cranberry Orange, Blueberry Lemon, Chocolate Chip and Coffee Cake. The sweet rolls are also offered in four flavors, including a couple of unique varieties requested by Mason Dixie fans: Cinnamon, Orange, Sticky Bun and Strawberry Cheesecake.

“Our customers have grown tired of only experiencing scones from a pastry window, stale and exposed – never fresh from the oven,” says founder and CEO Ayeshah Abuelhiga. “And we have yet to experience in grocery sweet rolls that don’t come from a tin or aren’t filled with oil, preservatives, even titanium.” She adds that Mason Dixie sweet rolls come with a category-first titanium- and gum-free natural icing and are packaged in a recyclable cardboard baking tray for easy clean up.

“We want the surprise and delight of the smell of fresh pastries to be the new normal, not day-old bread,” says Abuelhiga.

HOME-STYLE BISCUITS BRING COMFORT

Rhodes Bake-N-Serv recently transitioned its AnyTime lineup to more durable rectangular pans in cardboard cartons, now featuring new artwork.

The fresh-baked side of the frozen bread and dough category also saw a nice bump during the 12 weeks ended March 22, climbing 12.7% to $206.73 million. With old-fashioned sit-down family meals suddenly possible once again, complementary products like bread and rolls that had fallen by the wayside are back on the menu. But according to Carrie Morey, founder of North Charleston, S.C.-based Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (formerly Callie’s Biscuits), few products provide the comfort consumers are craving right now more so than biscuits. Whether a celebration with family and friends or time spent baking with mom or grandma, “Everyone has a happy memory associated with biscuits,” she explains.

Hand-made from real ingredients the way Morey’s grandmother taught her, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits “take people back to a special time,” she continues. “They’re nostalgic and comforting, which people need now more than ever.” Yes, the artisan offering is a little more expensive than other “standard” biscuits, but since groceries are the only thing people are buying right now, Morey thinks consumers are more apt to treat themselves to a premium product. “Hopefully they’ll realize that they don’t need to eat out several times a week because they can easily create good meals at home,” she adds.

The newest addition to the Callie’s lineup, which Morey hopes to roll out this fall, is a gluten-free biscuit. Already “wildly popular” at the company’s four bake shops, the gluten-free offering was two years in the making. But Morey believes it was worth the wait. “You don’t usually see gluten-free biscuits, but ours is really tasty.”

While demand for gluten-free breads and rolls are certainly on the rise, some consumers are looking for alternatives outside the bread category where a wave of gluten- and grain-free wraps have hit the market recently. Among the new additions: gluten-and carb-free Cheese Wraps from Crystal Farms (crystalfarms.com), gluten-and grain-free Veggie Tortillas from Maria & Ricardo’s (mariaandricardos.com) and grain- and dairy-free Egg White Wraps from EggLife Foods (egglifefoods.com).

However, many of those products offer additional better- for-you attributes beyond just gluten-free. For example, EggLife wraps contain 5 grams of protein, less than 1 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of saturated fat and 25 to 30 calories. So not only do they “hit the mark” in terms of taste, “They deliver exceptional nutritional benefits relative to a typical flour alternative,” says chief sales officer Ross Lipari. As a result, “EggLife wraps cater to a wide audience,” including those who follow keto and paleo diets. Available flavors include Original, Italian Style, Rye Style and Southwest Style.

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Raking In The Dough

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Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the editor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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