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BREAD & DOUGH OUTPERFORMS THE FROZEN DEPARTMENT

Loaded with premium toppings, Palermo Villa’s new Screamin’ Sicilian Loaded Breadstix come in their own oven-ready tray.

But inflation has hit the refrigerated dough category particularly hard, dragging unit sales down 5.1%.

Thanks to raging inflation, dollar sales of frozen bread and dough jumped 12.7% to $351.0 million during the 12 weeks ended Dec. 4, despite a 2.0% unit sales decline, reports Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). However, the category outperformed the frozen department as a whole in both measures, giving retailers and manufacturers something to celebrate. But there’s even more reason for optimism.

While the last few years have brought sales gains across the supermarket, baking-related categories have done particularly well, explains Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, Austin, Texas. “So when we compare dollars, units and volume [of frozen baked goods, including bread and dough] to the pre-pandemic normal of 2019, we see that dollars are nearly 21% ahead of that baseline, units are up 5.4% and pounds are up 3.7%…. That says something for the strength and sustained nature of demand.” 

Like many frozen categories, the frozen baked goods assortment, including frozen bread and dough, has shrunk a bit over the past few years, due mostly to supply chain challenges, reports Roerink. However, the average refrigerated dough assortment has fallen double digits year-over-year. On top of that, she adds, “Inflation has hit refrigerated baked goods much harder than frozen. In fact, the average price-per-pound of refrigerated dough was up 17.4% over the past year.” As a result, although refrigerated dough dollar sales shot up 26.1% during the most recent 12 weeks to $798.84 million, unit sales fell 5.1%, according to IRI.

While the frozen and refrigerated bread and dough category hasn’t seen a lot of new product introductions in recent months, the few that have come to market all bring something special to the table. For example, Mason Dixie Foods, Baltimore, is launching a fully baked, ready-to-heat version of its original biscuits “so the consumer no longer has to wait for them to bake from raw,” says founder and CEO Ayeshah Abuelhiga. “Convenience has been the buzzword this year, and there is growing demand for convenient comfort food. We want to help customers enjoy a quality biscuit made from clean, simple ingredients with less wait time.” 

Mason-Dixie Foods will debut a fully cooked, ready-to-heat version of its clean label biscuits later this year.

CLEAN LABEL TREND TAKES HOLD

The convenient clean label trend is also taking hold in the frozen breadsticks segment where Salt Lake City-based Gusto Brazil is introducing naturally gluten-free heat-and-eat breadsticks (Traditional, Bacon and Jalapeno) made with its cassava flour-based cheese bread dough. 

Milwaukee-based Palermo Villa is also entering the frozen breadsticks category, but its new Screamin’ Sicilian Loaded Breadstix offer a much more decadent twist. Loaded with premium toppings, the tear-apart breadsticks come in four savory flavors — Cheesy Garlic, Cheesy Buffalo, Pepperoni, Nacho Cheese — and one dessert flavor, Cinnamon Apple. The product differs from others in the category because it can be served as an appetizer or mini meal, says Nick Fallucca, chief product and innovation officer. “We wanted to tap into a new eating occasion for our loyal fans and introduce new consumers to the Screamin’ Sicilian brand in a fun and unique way,” he remarks. “The Breadstix bake in an included tray to create a shareable meal, which is ideal for people who have busy lifestyles.”

On the biscuit side of the category, Minneapolis-based Pillsbury recently added Cornbread Biscuits (in both 12- and 20-count bags) — that can be prepared in an oven, a toaster oven or even an air fryer — to its Grands! lineup. Meanwhile, Brothers Gerard Baking Co., Charleston, S.C., introduced Cheddar Biscuits and Chocolate Chip Scones. 

“We wanted to add another of each of the biscuits and scones to round out our top four SKUs,” says company founder Brys Stephens. “Our Original Biscuit is a classic buttery, flaky biscuit, and the cheddar adds a fun twist to it. Our Chocolate Chip Scone is almost like the French pain au chocolat or chocolate croissant: dark chocolate chips nestled between buttery scone layers. There are no other sweet scones out there on a national level, and customers want to see fun, innovative products.”

Jus-Rol refrigerated doughs are rolled in oven-ready parchment paper for ease of use.

But according to Alex Dzieduszycki, founder and CEO of Julian’s Recipe, Brooklyn, N.Y., manufacturers still have to exercise some caution. His company is exploring different flavors of focaccia. “But do customers understand what a Margherita Focaccia is?” he asks, pointing to one of the company’s newest offerings. “We want to invent new products but need to consider the limits of consumer comprehension. While it is exciting to be a pioneer, it is important to be understandable as well.”

In the refrigerated dough segment, Cerelia USA Bakery Inc., Whitehall, Ohio, recently launched the Jus-Rol brand of pre-rolled dough in the United States. The company’s dough assortment includes Round & Thin Pizza Crust, Family Size Pizza Crust, Flatbread, Puff Pastry and Pie Crust, all made in the U.S.A. “Our dough products are rolled on parchment paper into a convenient flow-pack package,” says Guillaume Lermusieau, chief commercial officer. “The oven-ready parchment paper makes our products easy to use. You simply unroll, top and bake; cleanup is a breeze.”

While convenience is key, a clean ingredient panel is also important to today’s consumers, says Lermusieau. Jus-Rol dough items are non-GMO and made without artificial flavors or colors, high fructose corn syrup, or bleached flour. In addition, they are suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets. “Our brand and the product/package mix target young family shoppers,” says Lermusieau, who believes attracting young shoppers is critical to the category’s future. How can retailers help?

BUILD BASKETS BY CROSS-MERCHANDISING

Lermusieau says dough items provide a great opportunity for retailers to cross merchandise with complementary items in other departments. “Pizza dough, pie crust and puff pastry are all basket builders,” he explains. “So inspiring consumers at the point of sale with easy mealtime ideas (i.e. create your own pizza) is a good way for retailers to connect with consumers.”

Lermusieau also suggests merchandising frozen and refrigerated bread and dough in other parts of the store in order to both test their effectiveness there and introduce the category to new shoppers. “The deli section is perfect because of its proximity to many of the co-ingredients used in conjunction with pizzas and other types of baked items,” he says.

Another trick: using a reach-in door case versus a traditional open case to help increase dwell time.  Doored cases can also provide balanced light on product faces and save up to 70% energy versus traditional open cases, according to Jack Sjogren, Western Region design center specialist, Dover Food Retail, Dorado Hills, Calif. “Closing the loop with education will usually lead to additional sales,” he adds, citing door clings, tag signage and small digital displays on or around the case as good options.

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