Loafing Around


Any way you slice it, packaged bread and other commercial baked goods, staples though they may be, are hardly the most exciting items on grocery shelves ? but some retailers and manufacturers are seeking to change that perception by letting shoppers lead the way.

?Consumers are asking for more varieties with dietary fiber and nutrient-dense offerings,? says Scott Preston, director of center store management for Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets, which operates 50 grocery stores under the United, Market Street and Amigos banners. ?The grain breads are popular ? whole grain, sprouted grain and breads with added ancient grains,? he continues. ?A second level of consumer interest/demand is gluten-free breads as major bakery manufacturers make forays into this sector. ? Consumers are focused on nutritious ?better-for-you? products tailored to their dietary needs and expectations.?

Along with all of this health-motivated purchasing in the category, however, Preston observes, ?There is still a consumer segment that demands value ? cost ratios that meet their budget constraints ? and consume in the white bread space.?

In terms of promotions, United has seen success ?with price promotions; buy one, get one free (B1G1); value-added; bundling; and multiple product offerings? asserts Preston. ?Our recent successes have been achieved with B1G1 free offers, and we see 100 percent lift on these weekly promotions. Consumers are driven by price, value and nutrition equations in today?s retail world.?

As for what types of merchandising work best for commercial bread and baked goods, Preston recommends ?off-shelf outposts that are placed in high-traffic locations ? dairy, frozen, produce and meat aisles. With prominent signs and attractive retails, incremental sales can be achieved in the bread category. Consistent service and monitoring retail by bakery company reps during peak day/hour sales timeframes is crucial to maximize sales potential. Expanding the bread rack facings to billboard the promotional product is a merchandising strategy that returns sales dividends.?

Paving the Way

?We?re fortunate that breads, as well as buns and rolls, fill a lot of the checkboxes on consumers? want lists: good value, quality, freshness, good nutrition and convenience,? says Keith Aldredge, VP of marketing/breads and rolls at Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers Foods, whose offerings now include the Wonder, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut lines, which were formerly part of the portfolio of the defunct Hostess Brands Inc.

Flowers? bread sales saw double-digit sales growth in dollars and units in the past 52 weeks, compared with overall category growth of 1.2 percent in dollars and 0.4 percent in units, notes Aldredge, citing IRI figures. ?We think this speaks to the strength of our Nature?s Own brand, which is now the best-selling bread brand in the U.S.,? he notes.

What?s more, the company has recently expanded its already impressive lineup. ?In July, after a successful test market, we introduced a new brand called Cobblestone Bread Co., which features 11 restaurant-style breads and rolls with bold, rich flavors, throughout our direct-store-delivery market,? says Aldredge. ?Every Cobblestone Bread Co. package features a recipe on the bag and a tag that allows shoppers to use their smartphones to connect to more recipes and shopping lists. They can even find videos with easy tips for making great-tasting sandwiches.?

To support the rollout, as well as focusing on social and digital media, the company kicked off a summer food truck tour that made stops in such cities as Memphis, Dallas, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to offer sandwiches made using the bread, with highlights posted on the brand?s Facebook page. Flowers also plans several fall tailgate tours to further familiarize consumers with the line.

Continues Aldredge: ?We see Cobblestone Bread Co. as an example of our ongoing investment in the future. We designed the line to have special appeal to Millennials, but we?re finding that it has a much broader appeal.?

When it comes to displaying product, he asserts, there?s ?definitely a science to merchandising bread correctly, especially in the bread aisle, and where you place loaf breads, buns and rolls, and breakfast bakery items is important. All these bakery categories are planned purchase segments, but breakfast items tend to be more impulsive. Our team works closely with our retail customers to ensure the best possible placement of products in the bread aisle.?

He adds that ?branded bread and bun displays in other parts of the store are very effective in building sales,? describing them as ?flexible and easy to execute.? For Cobblestone in particular, Flowers has developed special off-rack in-store displays to help create awareness of the new brand, notes Aldredge.

Beyond the Bread Aisle

For commercial packaged breads usually merchandised beyond the bread aisle, things are also looking up. ?In general, sales in the fresh bread segment have declined slightly, while flatbreads have grown significantly over the past year,? attests Perry Abbenante, general manager of Concord, Ontario-based Stonefire, whose products are generally carried in supermarkets? deli sections. ?In fact, Stonefire has the highest year-over-year sales increase of any flatbread brand, and Stonefire Original Naan is currently the No. 1 flatbread SKU, while Stonefire pizza crusts are one of the fastest-growing ready-to-bake pizza crusts,? according to IRI data.

Abbenate attributes this rise in consumer interest to the products? uniqueness, as well as the fact that shoppers ?are also seeing flatbreads on menus when they go to restaurants and want to recreate those when they?re cooking at home.? He promises ?some exciting items launching soon in the flatbread segment in the next 12 months,? joining such innovative brand extensions as the company?s recently introduced Naan Crisps snack line.

Another ethnic product merchandised outside the bread aisle, Bauli, Italy?s No. 1 producer of holiday cakes, is working to gain a foothold in the United States with such authentic items as panettone and pandoro, in addition to ready-to-eat filled croissants and mini croissants. ?Over the past year, we have projected increasing sales, especially in our croissant segment,? says Luca Nava, president and general manager of New York-based Bauli USA. ?Our croissants are packaged individually and therefore convenient as a quick snack on the go, in between? meals or even as an easy breakfast treat.

Since the product line is still so new to American retailers and consumers, the company?s ?primary focus is on product demos and sampling events,? explains Nava. ?In-store and OOH [out-of-home] sampling/advertising are fantastic ways to increase knowledge of brand, build equity and drive sales, as well as quarterly pricing strategies that are connected to back-to-school, winter holidays and spring.? He adds that Bauli?s merchandising plans include ?a self-shipper for grocery in order to run in/out activities.?

Suitable for Eating

What?s ahead for bread? Noting such current category trends as ethnic products, handheld breakfast options, grain-based dense nutrients, sprouted grain, whole grain, ancient grain and gluten-free, United?s Preston foresees continuing emphasis on positive tailored messages like those embodied in ?suitable for? items, which he defines as ?products more suited to consumer needs, like gluten-free, vegetarian and specific flours.?

Adds Preston, ?New opportunities in the grain-based categories with proteins and flavors will allow consumers to rethink how bread impacts a meal.?

?New opportunities in the grain-based categories with proteins and flavors will allow consumers to rethink how bread impacts a meal.?
?Scott Preston, United Supermarkets

?Branded bread and bun displays in other parts of the store are very effective in building sales.?
?Keith Aldredge, Flowers Foods

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