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Despite losing some space, the frozen bread and dough segment is rising fast. But more innovative assortments and improved merchandising are needed to keep the momentum going post-pandemic.

Consumers craving the comfort of homemade breads and baked goods saw the pandemic as an opportunity to finally explore their inner baker. But early ingredient shortages combined with the realization that scratch baking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be brought many to the frozen bread and dough set instead. In the early days of the pandemic, sales in the two segments were easily double the previous year. But thanks to all the trial (and the fact that many families remain at home), base sales have remained high. During the 12 weeks ended Oct. 4, dollars were up 20.4% to $247.13 million across channels, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). And as we head in to the holidays, manufacturers say they’ll only continue to grow.


In fact, the biggest challenge is keeping products in stock. It’s always been a problem during peak selling season, but it’s expected to be much worse this year since a. so many consumers “rediscovered” the category, leading to higher-than-usual demand, and b. some retailers cut space for frozen bread and dough pre-pandemic when the category appeared to be in decline, creating “historically small” sets. To ensure consumers don’t leave your store empty-handed, manufacturers say secondary displays — endcaps, portable cases, etc. — are critical. But you might also consider adding an extra facing or two of frozen bread dough in particular since it’s seeing some of the biggest gains and most frequent out-of-stocks.

In terms of assortment, suppliers say the freezer-to-oven segment is underdeveloped, but it offers the most potential for growth. Made up of frozen dough products ready to eat in about 30 minutes, “It fills the gap between thaw, rise and bake items that take three to five hours and par-baked products ready in 10 or 15 minutes,” says one manufacturer.

Other suppliers suggest making room for smaller, innovative brands that offer more premium, artisan products likely to elevate segments at risk of commoditization. Yes, that might mean eliminating some SKUs from legacy brands, but as one manufacturer put it: “It’s time to stop stuffing the shelves with mass-produced items that have been around forever and do little to grow the category.”

Many brands, both new and old, are offering clean (or cleaner) ingredient panels, but in frozen bread and dough as well as other categories across the supermarket, consumers are looking for even-better-for-you offerings: gluten-free, low-carb, plant-based, etc. So make sure they’re represented in your assortment. And don’t put the cauliflower breadsticks in the veggie set or the gluten-free biscuits in a segregated gluten-free door; regardless of what they’re made of, they belong with the other frozen bread and dough products so consumers open to anything can find all of their options in one place. (But do use shelf tags to call out specialty items so they’re easy to spot.)

To create a little excitement, retailers should also consider limited-edition and seasonal frozen bread and dough items (think pumpkin spice scones). Or consider offering a signature variety — perhaps a regional favorite — under your own brand.

Another idea that’s starting to gain some momentum is the concept of a “frozen bakery” set that combines artisanal biscuits, focaccia, sandwich bread, pretzel rolls, ethnic items and other premium offerings into a single destination section. Positioned as a “fresher than fresh” alternative to in-store bakeries, such a set could also help “train” consumers to consider the frozen aisle for baked goods. Some manufacturers have also floated the idea of combining all frozen baked goods into a single “baking” set rather than placing some items in bread and dough, some in desserts, some in breakfast, etc.


Manufacturers say cross-merchandising frozen bread and dough with complementary products is one of the best ways to grow sales; however, the strategy is underutilized in most chains. (In fact, only 12.7% of frozen bread and dough volume was sold with merchandising support of any kind during the most recent 12 weeks.) Including garlic bread or biscuits in meal deals would be ideal, but simply merchandising those items adjacent to frozen lasagna, skillet meals or refrigerated soups would provide a boost. For specialty items, what about combining vegan rolls with plant-based meats?

Retailers can also help by providing recipes — on their websites or social media platforms, in in-store magazines or at the point-of-sale — that give consumers ideas on how to use frozen dough to create cinnamon rolls or gluten-free flatbread to make focaccia.

Out Warren’s Way – December 2020

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Warren Thayer

Warren Thayer

Warren is the Editor Emeritus, Managing Partner for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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