Baking, as retailers know well, encompasses a broad spectrum of skill levels, from utter beginner all the way up to those capable of producing restaurant-quality breads, cakes, pastries and the like.
During Progressive Grocers visit to the Food City store in Johnson City, Tenn., our September 2016 Store of the Month, Dan Glei, EVP of merchandising and marketing at the Abingdon, Va.-based grocer, pointed out this fact during a brief stop in the baking aisle: “We have a strong [number] of customers that seek a high level of convenience, and many customers, still, that are very, very basic, scratch-made cookers at their house.”
Given this wide divergence in ability among home bakers, the trending demand for clean ingredients can be more easily met by some products than others. For scratch bakers who control every item they include in their creations, it’s a relatively straightfoward process — depending on market availability, of course — to source organic, all-natural, non-GMO or free-from ingredients, but for consumers dependent on mixes for their bake-at-home treats, it’s been somewhat more tricky — until now.
Suzy Monford, CEO of Emeryville, Calif.-based Andronico’s Community Markets, which operates five stores in the Bay Area, acknowledges that while baking products were slower to follow the trend toward cleaner cooking ingredients that began more than a decade ago with the elimination of trans fats, the category is seeing what she calls a “massive emphasis” on lower-sugar and lower-sodium solutions, as well as such innovations as gluten-free, ancient grains and even cricket fours.
Andronico’s flags these types of ingredients in the baking aisle with its FitMarket attribute, creates eye-catching end cap displays, and offers clean options in its bulk sections, as well as promoting items online via its e-newsletter and website.
Meanwhile, the baking ingredient category “has been performing well over the past year and continues to grow,” notes Jeff Culhane, SVP merchandising at Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets LLC, which operates more than 170 stores in upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, western Vermont and north central Massachusetts. “Consumer trends are toward cleaner, less refined products, more organic, more natural, less artificial colors and less high-fructose corn syrups.”
Private label offerings, as well as an integrated product assortment, can help draw shoppers to cleaner baking ingredients. “We promote Tops brand products in conjunction with other brands,” explains Culhane. “We traditionally merchandise these alongside one another, so in some cases you’ll see an integration of cleaner-label flours and organic fours. Even in our bulk section, we’ve introduced more organic and more natural products like oats, flours and cornmeal for [consumers’] baking needs. We promote these both in our fliers and TPR during key baking seasons, so we will run them in conjunction with more traditional, conventional products like Tops Sugar or Pillsbury flour, or if we’re adding in the whole wheat flour or organic flours into our promotional plan.”
“Parents want to instill the values of making healthier lifestyle choices in their families,” notes Russ Moroz, VP of research, development and quality at South Bend, Ind.-based Whole Earth Sweetener Co., a maker of baking-friendly zero-and lower-calorie sweeteners incorporating natural ingredients such as stevia and monk fruit. “While they want to be mindful of where their food is coming from, they don’t want to sacrifice the recipes, ingredients or tastes that they love.”
When it comes to encouraging trial, Moroz says Whole Earth “[works] closely with retailers to co-promote and leverage the baking season starting in October and the New Year resolution period to promote healthier ingredients for baking.” The company has also teamed with celebrity chef Buddy Valastro — TV’s “Cake Boss” — on a campaign to get consumers to Rethink Sweet, which includes easy-to-prepare recipes for lower-calorie baked goods.
Recent introductions, such as zero-calorie Nature Sweet packets and Monk Fruit Juice Concentrate, and lower-calorie Baking Blend, Turbinado Raw Cane 50, Whole Earth Sweetener Honey 50 and Whole Earth Sweetener Agave 50 (the last three blended with stevia extract for half the calories and sugar of their traditional counterparts), receive particular emphasis. “When introducing a new product … we make sure we are properly educating the consumer at the point of purchase, with shelf and floor signage detailing the nutritional facts and information,” adds Moroz.
Sugar 2.0 + Probiotics, launched in March 2016, is “marketed as a clean-label product with just three natural ingredients [and] no artificial ingredients or high-intensity sweeteners,” says Trong Nguyen, CEO of Riverside, Calif.-based Foods 2.0 LLC, who describes the product as “a healthier sugar replacement that aims to fill the gap between regular sugar and artificial sweeteners.”
To promote such items in-store, Nguyen suggests: “Retailers can place ‘call tags’ in-store to promote clean baking ingredients. Such call tags could effectively identify clean-label products in the store and highlight the benefits of using [them].”
Mixing it Up
“Now, more than ever, consumers are looking for quality products that are made with natural ingredients — a trend that directly ties into how they approach baking at home,” asserts Hannah Hershey, marketing manager at Ukiah, Calif.-based Pamela’s Products, which offers items that “are always made with natural ingredients that are non-GMO and meet gluten-free certification standards as well.”
Pamela’s latest product rollouts include a Grain-Free line offering a Nut Flour Blend of almonds, coconuts, pecans and walnuts. “We have marketed this line as gluten-free, vegan and Paleo-friendly, dairy-free, sugar-free, and non-GMO, which are attributes that we call out on the package and highlight in our marketing messages,” says Hershey. “These products are being merchandised with other products like almond meal and Paleo baking mixes.”
Hershey recommends merchandising such items as a group. “Categorizing products together that feature these ingredients makes it easy, so consumers don’t have to sift through the entire store to find what they are looking for,” she notes. “Highlighting product certifications such as Non-GMO Project Verified, which consumers have come to expect from brands and the ingredients they use, [is] also a great way to promote and merchandise these ingredients.”
In common with Pamela’s, which has sourced clean ingredients since its founding in 1988, the folks at Norwich, Vt.-based King Arthur Flour believe that “scratch baking and clean ingredients have always gone hand in hand,” according to Brand Manager Erika Randolph.
The venerable company, which has been around since 1790, is still coming up with new products, having introduced this past summer a line of Essential Goodness baking mixes containing no preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. “To make it feel even more like scratch baking, [the] line is supported on our website with recipe content and ideas to transform each mix into a creative, decadent treat,” notes Randolph, who says that the products’ “appeal to retailers is driven in part by the opportunity these mixes present to reinvigorate a flagging category.” According to Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen, total baking mix sales dollars fell 4.8 percent for the 52 weeks ending July 2.
Meanwhile, the packaging combines an on-trend ingredient deck with retro styling. “The back panel harkens to the old-school recipe cards you remember from your mom’s or grandma’s kitchen, and the line represents a blend of classic baked goods like Everyone’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie … to unique products like our Cinnamon Sugar Puff Muffin,” observes Randolph.
She explains that “the consumer trend toward understanding their food has allowed us to broaden our horizons. The mix section of the baking aisle has long been dominated by highly processed, low-cost mixes that consumers have known for a long time. … That’s scary for a consumer looking to nourish their family with a quick, convenient alternative to baking from scratch.”
“Many consumers are now baking their own breads, muffins and cookies with specialty ingredients because they can’t find what they’re looking for in stores,” notes Katlin Smith, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Simple Mills, which she says is the third-largest natural baking mix company by dollars sold and No. 1 for dollar sales per point of distribution. “For example, almond four is now one of the best-selling flours in grocery stores because it enables consumers to bake with simple, nutrient-rich ingredients.”
Simple Mills’ success “is indicative of a larger trend,” Smith believes. “As you look at the baking shelves, you often find a lot of carbohydrates, sugar or ingredients you can’t pronounce. … This is true even in natural grocery stores.” The company’s newest product is Organic Frosting in Vanilla and Chocolate flavors.
Notes Smith: “Our baking mixes have less than half the sugar and carbohydrates of leading brands of baking mixes, and we clearly indicate our sugar content on the front of our packages. Retailers that have created a strong brand block of our products have been effective in grabbing the consumer’s attention at shelf and bringing them back into the category with this simple messaging. Additionally, we have conducted many in-store demonstrations, which have been a great educational opportunity.”
She advises that “the best way to promote clean baking products in-store is by giving them display space, as this grabs the consumer’s attention outside of the baking aisle, where many consumers may not have walked down for years. Retailers can increase the value of the display by pairing the clean baking-mix products with other complementary clean products, providing the consumer with a full solution versus just a piece of a puzzle, and thereby increasing basket ring. For example, our products are often merchandised with products like pure maple syrup, coconut oil, organic vanilla extract or organic dark-chocolate chips.”
Smith further observes that “our products do incredibly well when on displays for Paleo products, grain-free products or lower-sugar products. In addition to in-store displays, these product bundles also work incredibly well when featured in store ads or included in in-store demonstrations.”
The Raw or the Cooked
“Home bakers are experimenting more with clean substitutions, for instance replacing eggs with other binding agents such as flax or chia, and refined flours with nutrient-rich alternatives such as chickpea flour, coconut flour and root vegetables,” observes Chef Franklin Becker, co-founder and head of culinary development at New York-based Hungryroot, whose inventive products include Almond Chickpea Cookie Dough and Black Bean Brownie Batter, which are gluten-, dairy-, soy- and preservative-free, as well as vegan, and can be eaten either raw or baked.
Becker teases that an “exciting new dessert [is] launching this fall that will capture the favor of the season, and several more desserts [are] on the product roadmap for the remainder of the year.”
At the Whole Foods in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where the shelf-stable cookie dough and brownie batter made their debut, and from which they are “quickly expanding throughout the region,” the products “are merchandised in the dairy aisle alongside other cookie dough products,” notes Becker. “As the category of clean baking continues to expand, retailers can help build awareness for these ingredients and products through in-store signage, displays and strategic placement.”
Retailers and manufacturers agree that the enthusiasm for clean baking will only grow, with Becker the chef placing particular emphasis on a related rise in culinary experimentation. “We foresee that there will be a shift towards the increased inclusion of less conventional baking ingredients that are healthy and clean as a way of reinventing traditional baked goods and making them healthier,” he says. “This will include everything from substituting healthy fats such as almond butter and tahini to creating new binding agents through ingredients such as seeds and legumes.”
Tops’ Culhane believes that “we’ll see a trend more toward non-GMO products from the larger brands, [while] more smaller brands [will] pop out and evolve from local communities as that expands and grows, and you’ll see more evolution in this category, because that’s where all of the consumer trends are pointing.”