Rising to the occasion

From breads and rolls to cakes and zucchini muffins, the in-store bakery continues to fill consumers’ desire for sweet and savory treats.

In-store bakery managers have a message for shoppers: Let them eat cake—and pies, muffins, Danish, fruit bars, crusty rolls and piping hot loaves of artisan bread too.

Thanks to TV shows such as Ace of Cakes and Cupcake Wars, shoppers are taking a second look at the decorated cake case. With manufacturers offering an abundance of frozen, thaw-and-sell, completely finished and partially finished end goods, along with bulk ingredients, retailers are heating up the creativity and churning out blue-ribbon quality baked goods that are drawing in shoppers.

“There is an overall desire from the shopper perspective for new,” says Ann Boyd, senior marketing manager, in-store bakery, Bettercreme Whipped Icing, for Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rich Products Corp. “They are looking for new and smaller sizes, largely because of the economy. We’re seeing a move toward square [cakes], but we’re also seeing a lot of growth in our 5-inch round program too. It is small and brings something new.”

Hugh Brooks, senior business manager, cakes and icing, at Jackson, Mich.-based Dawn Food Products, sees the move to 5-inch cakes and cupcakes as more of an overall market shift. “A lot of that has to do with the economy,” Brooks says. “Everybody says ‘portion control,’ but when somebody wants to buy a cake they want to treat themselves. It is for a memorable occasion and there is a ton of emotion involved, as opposed the other categories in bakery.”

Industry observers say cupcakes are garnering more interest as well, going from trend to staple. Tara O’Donovan, marketing manager, at Bake’n Joy Foods, based in North Andover, Mass., says that while unique flavor combinations are on the rise, traditional varieties are still holding steady with consumers.

“Dessert items as a whole are still being consumed as they are considered a ‘comfort food.’ With single-serve and smaller-sized dessert items, cupcakes are a natural item to appeal to these customers looking for smaller portions,” she says.

Flavors that were once favorites in one region of the country are becoming hot in others. For example, red velvet, a common southern item, is now popular nationwide. “I see it everywhere, from restaurant dessert menus, in-store bakery offerings, even chocolate truffles,” O’Donovan says. “The in-store bakery can capitalize on this trend by offering different varieties of Red Velvet dessert items—traditional cakes, cupcakes, dessert bars, etc.”

Rich’s is capitalizing on the growing popularity of S’mores, the gooey graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate treats, with a S’mores Bettercreme whipped icing featuring a toasted marshmallow flavor and crushed pieces of graham cracker and chocolate with a thick fudge swirl wound into the icing. Rich’s also recently introduced a ginger spice cake.

“We look at a lot of areas for inspiration and one of the trends we’ve been watching for a while is cake batter,” Boyd says. “We developed an icing flavor that tastes like cake and added sprinkles inside, so it is a particulate icing that when paired with a confetti cake layer really enables the decorator to create a birthday party flavor experience in the bakery that transcends just the cake.”

Dawn Foods scours independent bakeries to spot up-and-coming trends. “We were recently in Chicago and toured the cottage bakeries,” says Mark Bastian, product specialist for in-store bakery. “You see a lot of the trends that you are going to see in the in-store bakeries after that.”

TV time

Retailers can also pick up the latest trends just by turning on the TV. “Food TV has upped the bar for cake decorating and supermarket bakeries are no exception,” says Carol Christison, executive director of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, based in Madison, Wis. “What we’ve heard from retailers, though, is that enthusiastic customers often get ‘sticker shock’ when faced with the cost of show cakes and detailed designs. So, while consumers are expecting more out of their bakeries, those same consumers are often really asking for the same look but on a budget. Retailers who encourage their decorators and offer internal training, rather than relying on decorators to continue training outside the store, are the most successful.”

Perhaps the biggest trend to be hatched from TV is the cupcake, which rose to fame after the gals in Sex and the City frequented Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village. “That cupcake trend is just growing. It is just amazing,” Bastian says.

Trends are also carrying over from coffee shops. This fall, Tucker, Ga.-based CSM Bakery Products is introducing its Coffeehouse Collection Muffins, available in nine flavor combinations, including Singing Sour Cream Lemon Poppy, Groovy Banana Chocolate Chip and Georgia Peach Cobbler.

“This really innovative line of muffins is inspired by the most popular coffeehouses,” says David Nies, director, ISB for CSM Bakery. “Our consumer insight tells us that consumers view muffins as more than just a breakfast item. And now more than ever they are enjoying muffins as a treat or indulgence throughout the day. That was our inspiration.”

Shipped frozen, fully finished, the muffins are packaged in a hybrid container featuring a clear plastic dome over a paperboard bottom tray.

Nutty as a fruitcake

Of course no in-store bakery holiday set is complete without an assortment of fruitcakes. Huntsville, Ark.-based Anna Mary’s Cakes is going nuts with its holiday fruitcakes, which are being reintroduced this year after a several year absence and are available in 1- and 2-pound loaves and 2- and 5-pound rounds.

“We hesitate to call it a fruitcake because it is really a high-quality nutcake,” says Ken Kauffman, owner/president. “In some markets we are putting a label on it saying ‘gourmet nutcake’ because it has more nuts than fruit. It is full of walnuts and pecans.”

Kauffman says the cake’s batter is also distinctive. “This is not your run-of-the-mill fruitcake, and it is not the pound cake batter that a lot of fruitcake companies use,” he says.

Also in the works from Anna Mary’s is an Oatmeal Nut Cake. “We’re introducing it in the interest of going more toward the healthy trend,” Kauffman says, adding that the cake will be merchandised in an 8-inch by 8-inch pan.

CSM is also increasing its healthy offerings by introducing a trans fat-free cake line. “Part of what we’re doing at CSM Bakery Products is really focusing on health-and-wellness,” Nies says. “Our trans fat-free line is a superior tasting cake product where the performance profile is really indistinguishable from baked versions containing trans fats.”

CSM’s new Sensibly Indulgent Cupcake is another facet of the company’s health-and-wellness initiative. Each cupcake has 58% less saturated fat than a typical frosted cupcake and only 120 calories. “We tested it with consumers and the likeability and uniqueness scores were up off the charts,” Nies says.

Consumer reaction to Danish from James Skinner Baking Co. has also been off the charts, says Audie Keaton, president, of the Omaha, Neb.-based bakery. Each contains 108 layers of paper-thin dough that is the result of a two-day manufacturing process; including sitting in a “retarder”—a 32-33-degree temperature-controlled room for 18 to 24 hours. “Most of our competitors are ‘no time’ dough. I don’t know of anybody who is aging dough anymore in the industry,” says Keaton.

A private label staple of the in-store bakery for years, in 2010 Skinner began branding its Danish under the J. Skinner name. “The retail trade knew us as a great manufacturer, but the category was pretty much a commodity that we referred to internally as ‘The Sea of Clamshells,’” says Gary Kyle, vice president of marketing. “We are one of the first companies in the in-store bakery industry who has stepped out and really launched a brand nationally to consumers and it is going extremely well.”

Keaton says Skinner opted to brand its Danish to reach a younger demographic. “What we’re seeing with the brand and the packaging is that we’ve made the product relevant again,” he says.

To promote the J. Skinner brand, the company has developed shippers that highlight its seasonal feature flavor. “We also have shelf talkers and are exploring some instant redeemable coupon opportunities,” says Matt McMillan, director of sales.

Hot, fresh bread

Of course fresh bread is also a bakery department mainstay. The Gonnella Baking Co. is helping retailers build sales by continuing to roll out its thaw-and-sell program to complement its raw dough items. “We are refining our product list to offer retailers another way to put some fresh, quality products on their shelf if they don’t have an in-store bakery or to supplement what is being baked off daily,” says Meg McDonnell, vice president of sales, Frozen Products Division, for the Chicago-based company.

The program covers a wide range of bread items including baguettes, French and Italian breads, Portuguese and Kaiser rolls and foccacia products. “We also have a new line of sub rolls, packaged four to a bag,” McDonnell says. “It is a nice, soft deli sub that can be used either in the in-store bakery or the deli counter for sandwiches.”

On the raw dough side of the business, Gonnella has been expanding its popular fruit bread program. “We have been very successful with our Irish soda bread that many customers carry year-round and not just for St. Patrick’s Day,” McDonnell says. “We expanded upon that with Orange Cranberry and Apple Cinnamon breads. They are great 1-pound loaves that don’t have to be proofed because there is no yeast in them; they just have to come to room temperature and then bake. They can be topped with granulated sugar for an awesome look when they are done. They are great on their own, toasted, and they make an excellent breakfast bread platter item.”

Zipping up freshness

Look for the phrase “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” to go the way of “23 skidoo” now that Robbie Fantastic Flexibles has introduced its Fresh N Tasty Bakery Pouches. The line of bakery packaging is specifically designed to keep cookies and other baked goods tasting fresher longer.

The stand-up pouch contains a proprietary film structure and resealable zipper to help maintain moisture content and minimize hardening of the cookies. By retaining a higher moisture level the cookies are less brittle and naturally less crumbly, says Ashlee Robinson, product manager for the Lenexa, Kan.-based manufacturer.

Focus groups conducted by Robbie found that a major consumer complaint is that baked goods from the in-store bakery do not maintain freshness. “Only 25% of consumers say they eat all their in-store bakery cookies in the rigid container before they go stale,” Robinson says. “During in-home use testing, we saw that consumers clearly perceived the extended freshness of cookies in the FNT pouch resulting from our proprietary film structure and resealable zipper. Consumers overwhelmingly agreed cookies in the Robbie pouch stayed fresher longer than cookies they were used to buying in a rigid container and this translated into higher product appeal and increased purchase interest.”

The pouches are available in two sizes: a smaller one holding approximately 10 to 13 cookies and a larger one holding 12 to 18 cookies. The pouches offer colorful graphics and can be customized to the retailer’s specifications.

For more information, visit www.robbieflexibles.com.

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