Convenience, premium products, wellness, nostalgia/comfort and global flavors are driving trends in the U.S. bakery industry, according to the San Francisco-based Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts.
"Despite economic challenges, baked good sales have grown in the last few years," says CCD's CEO Kimberly Egan. "Consumers continue to connect with affordable baked goodness for the comfort it delivers, a comfort experience that now comes in many more varieties, shapes and sizes to meet everyone's needs."
"Since the 2008 recession, we have seen a trend [of] consumers seeking out affordable indulgences," says Amy Clark, director of snack marketing for Hostess Brands (www.hostessbrands.com), Irving, Texas. "Recent trends in the restaurant industry, like gourmet mac & cheese and red velvet cupcakes, are trickling down into the grocery aisles. Consumers want to satisfy a craving for comfort food, so they want the ‘real thing' but in a smaller portion they won't feel guilty about."
Major U.S. bakery companies include Hostess Brands (which just filed for bankruptcy protection) and Flowers Foods, plus the U.S. operations of Mexico's Grupo Bimbo. And there are some 2,800 smaller commercial bakeries with combined annual revenue of about $3 billion, according to Hoovers. The commercial side of the industry is concentrated: the 50 largest companies generate 75 percent of revenue. But the retail side is highly fragmented: the 50 largest companies account for only about 15 percent of revenue.
But all are working to meet the conflicting issues of enjoyment versus the growing problem of obesity. "Obesity has been a major concern over the years, especially for the [edible] oils business," says Dilip Nakhasi, director of innovation at Bunge North America's (www.bungenorthamerica.com) Bradley, Ill., facility.
"In the early 90s, everyone said, ‘Let's get the fat out of products; make them fat-free and low-fat and we'll address it that way,' " he continues. "It didn't work because the industry didn't reduce the amount of calories, so consumers continued consuming the same number or even more than they did before. [At the same time] taste, texture and quality were badly impacted in baked goods, because if you take the fat out of the system, the product won't deliver the qualities we all look for."
Nakhasi says fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, but actually it is an important component on our diet. "The challenge for us was to take out the bad fat, and add healthy fat without losing the taste and texture of the product. We had to go back and look at the chemistry to understand how standard triglycerides function and behave, and how we could substitute healthy fatty acids [and even] phytosterols, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and CLAs [conjugated linoleic acids].
"We developed structured lipids, including essential fatty acids coming from canola oil, which have low saturates, more polys and more monos, and combined them with medium-chain triglycerides, which provide cardio health benefits and burn like carbohydrates. We combined them to get a process of interesterification or randomization, where we build the structured lipids."