It was the only top 20 frozen subcategory that reg-istered unit growth during the most recent 12 weeks.
The war in Ukraine has had a dramatic impact on flour prices, while the cost of sugar, oil and a whole host of other ingredients are on the rise as well. It comes as no surprise, then, that dollar sales of frozen bread and dough jumped 12.9% during the 12 weeks ended June 12 (versus the same period a year ago) to $277.9 million across channels, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). What is surprising, though, is that unit sales remained relatively steady, slipping just two-tenths of a percent while volume edged up 1.1%.
‘We’re entering a downturn, and when that happens, people turn to comfort food. And what’s more comforting than fresh baked bread?’
UNIT SALES GROW 1.5%
In fact, the frozen fresh baked bread/roll/biscuit segment is the only top 20 subcategory that saw unit sales rise (+1.5%), suggesting consumers are largely undeterred by skyrocketing prices. It’s worth noting, however, that while several top 10 brands registered unit growth (Sister Schubert’s, Cole’s, Pillsbury and Furlani), No. 2 “brand” private label (+13.5%) was by far the biggest unit sales gainer. So perhaps shoppers are simply seeking more budget-friendly ways to stay in the category. But why are they so bullish on a product that many consider an add-on, not a staple?
Stephen Shamy, vp of sales at Salt Lake City-based Gusto Brazil has a theory. “We’re entering a downturn, and when that happens, people turn to comfort food. And what’s more comforting than fresh baked bread?”
It’s not just the taste, adds Carrie Morey, founder of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, North Charleston, S.C. It’s the smell. “Reheating or baking a frozen product gives consumers the bonus of a kitchen that smells like they baked from scratch.” Except they didn’t. “It’s much more convenient, but it still feels semi-homemade,” offering the best of both worlds.
Morey says consumers also appreciate the high quality of today’s frozen breads, many of which are made with real ingredients and contain few or no preservatives, as well as the fact that most products can be baked one at a time, which helps combat food waste. That frugal mentality could also help jumpstart frozen dough unit sales, which fell 5.1% during the most recent 12 weeks (though dollars were up 7.3%), according to IRI.
Despite the recent stumble, frozen dough was a big winner during the pandemic because families finally had time to experiment with home baking — which many discovered they really enjoyed, says Dan Yost, senior vp at Anaheim, Calif.-based Bridgford Foods. But now that inflation has taken hold, consumers are just as likely to choose frozen dough for the value. “Because frozen dough hasn’t been baked, consumers aren’t paying for production and baking time,” Yost explains. “So a loaf of bread dough can be half to a third the price of a loaf of prebaked bread.” As a result, “Bread and roll doughs provide one of America’s best bread values.”
MORE SPACE, MORE VARIETY NEEDED
Prior to the pandemic, some retailers were trimming space for frozen bread and dough. And during the crisis, “We actually decreased the number of items we offer,” reports Kenny Farnsworth, president at frozen dough category leader Rhodes Bake-N-Serv, Salt Lake City. By focusing its resources on top sellers, the company has been able to maintain a fill rate of 99.4% in the past two years — one reason Farnsworth believes Rhodes’ unit sales jumped 7.6% during the most recent 12 weeks (dollars shot up 22.3%).
But with the category on the rise, manufacturers say it might be time to consider expanding both space and assortments. “Throughout this trading period, it has become even more evident that both branded and private label offerings appeal to shoppers and retailers,” says Jackie Brenkel, head of marketing, North America, for Furlani Foods, Mississauga, Ontario. “Based on this insight, retailers might think about expanding the section [to include an ample selection of both].”
Although branded rollouts have been fairly scarce the past two years, new items that have hit the market have trended premium. Late last year, for example, Furlani launched a line of bake-in-bag soft rolls, knots and biscuits that go beyond the garlic and garlic cheese flavors for which it’s known. Meanwhile, category newcomer CLO-CLO Vegan Foods, Edina, Minn., rolled out a collection of allergen- and palm oil-free plant-based breadsticks, including new sweet potato-based French Toast Sticks. And in May, Toronto-based O’Dough’s debuted gluten-free O’Dippers naan-style bread pieces.
‘A loaf of bread dough can be half to a third the price of a loaf of prebaked bread. Bread and roll doughs provide one of America’s best bread values.’
But the newest addition to the category comes from Gusto Brazil, which is on a mission to bring traditional Brazilian cheese bread to American consumers. The company offers three flavors (Traditional, Jalapeno and Bacon) of frozen cheese bread dough that can be baked as is into authentic pão de queijo — or turned into any number of other products, from tortillas to waffles.
“There’s really nothing like it in the United States,” says Shamy. “It’s naturally gluten-free. But unlike other gluten-free products, there’s no nutritional trade-off. And it tastes great.”
However, not everyone likes to bake. So the company just started shipping heat-and-eat gluten-free breadsticks made with the same cassava flour-based cheese bread dough. Again, says Shamy, “There’s really nothing like this on the market. Most gluten-free breadsticks in the U.S. are made from a mixture of cauliflower and oat flours that are high in starchy carbs that don’t bring any nutritional value.” Gusto Brazil’s breadsticks come in the same three flavors as its cheese bread dough, but the company hopes to add both Garlic and Cinnamon varieties, the latter of which will deliver a churro-like experience.
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is also exploring the sweeter side of the category with its new Pumpkin Spice Biscuits, which the brand’s fans have been requesting for years, says Morey. Unlike savory biscuits and rolls, sweet varieties are often enjoyed at breakfast, extending the category into new dayparts. “We’ve seen a surge in customers buying for brunch and for entertaining, and we’ve loved seeing our biscuits pop up in the grazing board trend,” confirms Morey. Like all Callie’s products, the new variety is made with a short list of clean, simple ingredients that consumers would find in their own pantries, highlighting a continued trend toward higher quality products. n