Wheat bread brings in the dough

For the first time, dollar sales of fresh wheat bread have surpassed the sales of fresh white bread in U.S. supermarkets, according to Nielsen LabelTrends data (prepackaged, UPC-coded products only). Both white and wheat bread segments are significant and approach the $2 billion mark in supermarket dollar sales, reports the Lempert Report. Wheat bread, however, has overcome a more than $200 million sales gap in the past four years to overtake white bread. Higher annual growth rates in 2007, 2008 and 2009 culminated in an even sharper contrast during the latest 52 weeks ended June 12, 2010, the LabelTrends data showed. During this same period, white bread sales in supermarkets declined 6.6 percent to $1.90 billion, on a 2.6 percent equivalized unit volume (EUV) decline (16-ounce basis). By contrast, wheat bread dollar sales edged up by 0.8 percent to $1.99 billion, on a 3.7 percent EUV increase.

Wheat bread was the only bread segment tracked by LabelTrends to post any gain at all in this period. Rye, oat, multi-grain, pumpernickel and barbecue segments all declined in the latest 12 months. So did the fresh bread category overall in supermarkets - down 2.8 percent to $6.49 billion, on a 0.1 percent EUV dip in the period. There is a sizable distinction between the 'wheat with whole grain' classification, and the 'wheat without whole grain' classification. A 3.9 percent rise in dollar sales of 'wheat with whole grain' breads drove sales to $1.07 billion in supermarkets, on a 7.6 percent EUV boost, the data showed, compared to a 2.6 percent downturn in dollar sales of 'wheat without whole grain' claim (sales declined to $924.0 million), according to LabelTrends. In fact, in three of the past four years, the growth rate of 'wheat with whole grain' breads far outpaced that of the 'wheat without whole grain' breads.


But white bread was the largest segment to take such a high-percentage loss in this period. Defending their turf, white bread manufacturers are beginning to tout the nutritional attributes of their products. Can they reverse the trend? Only time will tell.