Despite a ‘crumby’ quarter, Frozen Bread & Dough sales are up 18.3% compared to 2019, unleashing a wave of innovative new products.
Frozen bread and dough sales tumbled 14.5% during the 12 weeks ended June 13 (versus the same period a year ago) to $244.98 million across channels, reports Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). But compared to the same stretch in 2019, sales are up 18.3%, reinvigorating a category that had gotten a little, well…stale. The turnaround has been especially noteworthy in the “mature” frozen dough segment, which had been declining for a number of years as consumers sought out more convenient alternatives. Dough sales that skyrocketed at the peak of the pandemic have since come back to Earth, but they’re still up 6.2% versus 2019.
“Not a lot of good came of the pandemic, but it did force people to slow down, giving them more time in the kitchen and with their families,” says Dan Yost, senior vp at Anaheim, Calif.-based Bridgford Foods Corp. (bridgford.com), whose versatile 16-ounce Ready Dough has become a hot seller. “It appears that all of this new trial has led to significant repeat business after customers discovered fresh baked bread is a real treat.”
On the fresh baked side of the category, “The pandemic helped us reach a new audience that wasn’t there before,” says Scott Devon, founder and owner of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Cole’s Quality Foods (coles.com).
Pre-pandemic, younger consumers in particular were all about the perimeter, explains senior vp of retail operations Mike Neeley. “But a lot of millennials ‘found’ center store [last year], shopping aisles they didn’t before.” Clearly, they were impressed by the quality of their new finds. But will they stick with frozen once restaurants and bakeries are open again?
SOME GAINS HERE TO STAY
“There’s no doubt that even as out-of-home consumption increases post-COVID, in-home consumption will remain strong as families have recognized the benefits of eating together,” says Jackie Brenkel, head of marketing for North America at Mississauga, Ontario-based From the Hearth (fromthehearth.com), maker of the Furlani brand. However, she continues, “Eating and cooking habits have changed. Consumers are looking for real ingredients…and when they indulge, they want the experience to be worthwhile,” creating demand for more elevated, restaurant-style products. They’re also trying to reduce food waste, making smaller (and more eco-friendly) packages more popular, she adds.
To meet those evolving needs, From the Hearth is rolling out a new assortment under its Furlani brand “aimed at making mealtime even more joyful and memorable,” says Brenkel, citing both product and packaging innovation. On the product side, the trans fat- and cholesterol-free line is made with simple, wholesome ingredients, from real butter and cheese to specially selected seasoning blends. New additions include Soft Rolls in Garlic, Cranberry & Honey, Basil Pesto, and Caramelized Onion & Sage flavors; Knots in Parmesan Garlic, Italian Herb & Tomato, and Tex Mex flavors; and Aged Cheddar Biscuits. The entire take-and-bake collection is offered in environmentally friendly, 100% recyclable, six-count Bake-In-Bags, so there’s no additional preparation — or mess.
Furlani isn’t the only brand moving beyond traditional garlic and garlic parmesan flavors. Cole’s is making a big jump into the sweet segment with its new Chocolate-Filled and Caramel-Filled Breadsticks, expected to begin appearing in grocers’ freezer section at the end of the month. Company president Tom Quinn says Cole’s has done just about everything it can with garlic, so instead of another line extension that would only dilute sales of existing products, the team decided it was time for some real innovation that will drive category growth. The sugar-topped treats “hit it out of the park” in the taste department — and also help Cole’s break out of the dinnertime daypart since the filled breadsticks make a great dessert, breakfast or snack.
“There’s really nothing else like this in the category,” adds senior vp of sales Bob Cronin, who says some retailers may actually end up merchandising the product in the frozen desserts set.
Another manufacturer moving further into the sweet side of the category, Charleston, S.C.-based Brothers Gerard Baking Co. (brothersgerard.com), is adding Chocolate Chip and Cinnamon Chip Scones to its line of “fabulously flaky” Southern-style scones and biscuits. The company is also introducing both Cheddar Biscuits and Cornbread Biscuits, the latter of which is “truly innovative,” according to founder Brys Stephens. “You don’t see much cornbread in the frozen set, especially in ready-to-bake biscuit dough form,” he reports. “But we think it will be dearly loved by consumers, especially those in the Southeast and Midwest.” Like the rest of the Brothers Gerard lineup, the newcomers are made with real, simple ingredients and no bleached flour, trans fats or preservatives, giving credence to the notion that clean labels are rapidly becoming table stakes in the bread and dough category.
Baltimore-based Mason Dixie (masondixiefoods.com) is also broadening its assortment with limited edition Pumpkin Rolls and Pumpkin Scones (Pumpkin Spice Biscuits are already a permanent part of its lineup). Manufacturers have long touted seasonal offerings as a way to create excitement in the frozen bread and dough category, but retailers have shown little interest until now. The holiday flavors will be available at Whole Foods Market locations for $4.99 a box, reports the company.
‘GET ON BOARD WITH INNOVATION’
What else can retailers do to keep the momentum going? “Get on board with innovation,” answers Stephens, citing benefits to the bottom line. “And if there are smaller companies that you have confidence in, give them a shot.”
When new items are added to the set, continues Devon, retailers can help consumers find them by merchandising them with other new products in an endcap or display dedicated to innovation. “That would help the entire department,” he adds.
And despite what they may have done during the pandemic to ensure that top sellers remained in stock, “Retailers need to ensure that they do not cut back their offering such that customer needs are not being met,” says Brenkel. “Product and flavor variety as well as well-stocked shelves will remain important to American consumers.”
That said, “The pandemic was like a giant category review,” says Quinn of Cole’s. “Items that were still on the shelf seven days in probably don’t need to be there.”
FROZEN BREAD & DOUGH
Sales in supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, military commissaries and select club and dollar stores comabined for the 12 weeks ended June 13, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). Percent change is versus the same period a year ago. Only brands with at least $500,000 in sales during the period are listed.