Reinventing Packaged Bread

Packaged bread endures as a staple of the American diet.  Notwithstanding the culinary conflagrations of low-carb and gluten-free, virtually all U.S. consumers eat some form of bread. and the market enjoys a high household penetration. Retail sales of packaged breads totaled $13 billion in 2012, according to Packaged Breads: U.S. Market Trends, a just-released report by market research publisher Packaged Facts. Product trends in packaged breads generally revolve around two themes: health and nutrition, and taste and experience. The themes often overlap as many new products deliver different tastes and experiences that are also healthier and more nutritious.

U.S. consumers remain attentive to health and wellness across virtually all product categories, and bread manufacturers have responded for years with products that are more nutritious. Breads are being fortified with ever healthier and trendier ingredients that both deliver benefits many consumers have to come expect, and help differentiate one brand from another. Products have been formulated to reduce sodium, sugar and fat, be free of high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, and be more natural, organic, and fresh, and to be gluten-free.  Whole wheat now outsells white bread at retail stores, factoring out foodservice’s hamburger buns and pizza crusts. And whole grain products are filling shelves, thanks in large part to the fast-growing older population that has helped propel the trend toward healthier breads and higher fiber.  Since over half of Americans say they are watching their diets and a large percentage look for more fiber in what they eat, healthier breads will help drive sales in the years to come.

Consumers aren’t just looking for healthier products, but also for breads and rolls that offer different experiences in terms of taste and texture and food adventure. They seek more variety beyond white and whole wheat, and multi-grain and seeded breads provide such experiences for many, along with international options. Hispanic and Mediterranean influences are key drivers of sales for tortillas and flatbreads.  Artisanal manufacturers are introducing new flavor combinations, using ingredients like olive oil, garlic and jalapeno flavors in breads and rolls.

Challenges do persist for this mature food market segment. Consumers are eating bread less frequently and are consuming it in less quantity. Health and diet concerns, changing eating patterns and ethnic influences on food are making standard breads less important to consumers.  Packaged Facts forecasts that retail dollar sales of the packaged breads market will essentially be flat, growing marginally between 2014 and 2017. Manufacturers must innovate to keep bread relevant in American diets as consumption of packaged breads, particularly sliced bread, declines, according to Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle.  Nonetheless, “it would be foolhardy to throw in the towel on what has long been known as the staff of life, particularly in this sandwich-loving nation.”

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