The category outperformed the frozen department as a whole, but consumer demand is shifting from comfort foods to better-for-you
Although dollar sales are up across the board, volume growth has been hard to find in 2022 as consumers battered by inflation cut back on purchases. But thanks to consumers’ new appreciation for fresh baked bread, the frozen bread and dough category managed a 0.6% gain nonetheless. The advance was driven exclusively by the fresh baked subcategory, which saw volume jump 3.6% and dollars 11.8% (to $245.75 million) during the 12 weeks ended March 20, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). The frozen bread/rolls/pastry dough segment didn’t fare quite as well, registering 1.9% dollar growth (to $53.44 million) in the face of a 5.8% decrease in volume. But compared to the same period in 2019, subcategory volume is up 4.4% and dollars, 16.2%, suggesting that at least some pandemic buying habits have stuck.
The onset of COVID-19 has also changed consumer preferences around product attributes, says Jackie Brenkel, head of marketing for North America at Mississauga, Ont.-based From the Hearth, maker of the Furlani brand. “Consumers have been more concerned about their health and what they eat,” with wellness prioritized over weight loss, she explains. “Consumers are looking for better quality ingredients as a measure of eating better, and [that] will increase the demand for clean label and plant-based products into 2022 and beyond.”
But faced with unpredictable supply, many consumers are stocking their freezers to avoid disappointment. “This will be an ongoing trend due to the ultimate convenience of having cleaner frozen options readily available at home and not having to worry about refrigerated or shelf-stable items — that most likely contain shelf-life extending preservatives — expiring,” says Liz Garrity, U.S. sales director for newcomer Panificio Cremona Italia.
NEW TWISTS ON OLD FAVORITES
The Cremona, Italy-based company is carving out a place for itself with traditional Italian bread bites in Rosemary and Italian Cheese flavors. But these gluten-free dough balls come with a twist: Both varieties are made with cauliflower and chickpea dough, which is ideal for preparing in an air fryer.
“Our technology allows us to offer truly ‘poppable’ bread bites that can be used for a variety of occasions — from a hassle-free breakfast solution to lunch and dinner pairings as well as a simple and light snack,” says Garrity. This summer, the company will add a line of gluten-free cauliflower breadsticks filled with classic Tomato & Mozzarella, Spinach & Ricotta, and Four Cheese with Herbs & Garlic. “This is more of a handheld pizza stick with the added value of having the side sauce on the inside,” she explains.
Another player in the gluten-free space, Toronto-based O’Dough’s, is adding O’Dippers to its vegan bread lineup. Described as naan-style bread in portion-controlled, 5-ounce pieces, O’Dippers come in two flavors, Original and Garlic & Chive, both hitting the market this month.
“Our biggest challenge will be where to merchandise the line,” says Rick McKelvey, vp of sales and marketing. Although the O’Dough’s brand has been placed in frozen gluten-free sets, the company discovered a natural shelf-life extender that allows for a 15-day ambient shelf life. “As a leading brand within the freezer, retailers have been reluctant to allow the brand to pivot to fresh. But as an alternative to the freezer, we envision merchandising the line next to the refrigerated dips, which will be the perfect partner for this line,” he explains.
After watching retail sales grow, Salt Lake City-based Gusto Brazil, which has provided traditional Brazilian cheese bread to restaurants and club stores since 2016, took the opportunity to launch a retail line of gluten-, sugar- and trans fat-free cheese bread last year. “This isn’t just a Brazilian export,” says vp of sales Stephen Shamy of the all-natural product. “It’s made in the United States, which provides versatility and flavor without compromise.” Offered in Traditional, Bacon and Jalapeno flavors, the cheese bread will be available in up to 2,000 Walmarts nationwide by Q3.
HOW SWEET IT IS
During the fourth quarter, Gusto Brazil will add a line of breadsticks in the same three flavors as its cheese bread plus a new Cinnamon variety. “We wanted to introduce a sweet flavor to the mix so consumers can have the churro experience without any of the gluten or guilt,” says Shamy. It’s providing a new world experience with an old world recipe. Retailers will be offering something that the consumer has been asking for: new, delicious, clean label and gluten-free.
Edina, Minn.-based CLO-CLO Vegan Foods will also offer something to satisfy plant-based consumers’ sweet tooth. “We noticed customers enjoying our plant-based vegan breadsticks with coffee for breakfast and as a late-night snack,” says vp and co-founder Wendy Hinnenkamp. “We think there is a market for healthier options at breakfast, [leading to the creation of] our new CLO-CLO French toast sticks.” Sweeter than the company’s regular gluten-free breadsticks, the sweet potato-based product will hit stores in early 2023.
In the “gluten-full” category, meanwhile, Charleston, S.C.-based Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit will bring a new sweet treat to market in August. Some pandemic experimentation led to a limited release of vanilla-iced pumpkin spice biscuits. They sold out online in less than three days. “We knew we had something special and that we could bring a high quality, handmade biscuit to the trendy pumpkin flavor market,” says founder Carrie Morey.
Most recent additions to the frozen bread segment have come from established brands. But one innovative new item comes from Los Angeles-based Actual Veggies, which made its mark with a line of plant-only burgers that taste like plants, not imitation meat. Now, they are turning their attention to Actual Buns. Sold frozen, the hamburger buns are named by color, which reflects the main ingredient: Actual Black (black bean flour), Actual Purple (ube), Actual Orange (sweet potatoes) and Actual Green (spinach). “Not many people are putting vegetables in their bread. We take it one step further and make it without oil,” says Jason Rosenbaum, co-CEO and co-founder. The buns will be available this summer, just in time for barbecue season.