* Flat Breads and More Healthful Cookies Abound

* Breads and Cakes Get Yogurt-inspired

* Gluten-free Products May be Peaking


Sometimes a lack of big news during a year is actually good news. Bakery companies that remember the Atkins Diet and its characterization of carbohydrates as the devil incarnate can breathe a sigh of relief that 2011 did not bring about any such black swans. Still, 2011 will go down as a slightly off year for baked goods, with declines in some categories outweighing gains in other categories.

While the year may have been somewhat flat for product launches, it was literally flat for many of the products. One legacy of the Atkins fad was less bread, and 2011 was a good year for flatter, thinner breads. Pepperidge Farm Bagel Flats, Arnold Sandwich Thins Naturals, Arnold Artisan Ovens Flatbread and Thomas Breakfast Thins Rounds all are indicative of the trend.

2011 did have its innovation highlights, including Suncore Products Inc.’s WhoNu? Nutrition Rich Cookies that likely prompted some double-takes in supermarket cookie aisles (see article, “Snacking Market Far from Saturated,” page 85). Nearly identical in appearance to Kraft Foods’ Oreo cookie, WhoNu? is something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. These cookies have “as much calcium and vitamin D as an 8-oz glass of milk” and “as much vitamin C as a cup of blueberries.”

The rationale for this introduction comes from the realization that kids are going to snack regardless of what anyone wants or thinks. Nutrition researcher Barry Popkin, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, notes that the average child is downing nearly 600 calories a day solely from snacks. Yet, despite this snacking, kids’ diets are low in vitamin D, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber–nutrients offered in WhoNu? cookies.

The quest for a more healthful cookie also motivated Food System Inc. to launch an unusual new cookie called the Muffkie. A cookie baked in a muffin pan (hence the “Muffkie” brand name), this cookie is the first to list pistachios at the top of the ingredient list.

While this might dazzle pistachio lovers, the prominence of an expensive ingredient like pistachios comes at a cost. The suggested retail for a 12-oz pack of cookies is $8.99, higher than some may expect. Then again, cute branding and a wealth of pistachios might be worth paying the premium.

Digestive Health Rising

Innovations in the bread aisle were spotty in 2011, but at least one struck a number of health chords: Orlando Baking Co.’s Orlando True Grains Wheat Bread contains probiotic cultures said to support digestive health and help maintain the immune system–novel claims for the category. Probiotics are common in products like yogurt, but have been virtually nonexistent in the bread category.

The Seed’licious variant of Orlando True Grains Wheat Bread ups the health ante with a combination of flax, sunflower, chia and millet seeds; all chosen for taste, texture and nutrition. Newer types of seeds—such as chia, as well as blends of different seeds—have become a new way to innovate in baked goods.

Showing that bread isn’t the only sector to borrow ideas from yogurt, Metsovo Baking Co.’s YoGo Greek Yogurt Cake taps into the recent Greek yogurt mania. (Greek yogurt is so hot that this style of yogurt accounted for nearly 26% of all U.S. yogurt launches in 2011 vs. around 9% in 2008, according to Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics.)

In YoGo’s case, Greek yogurt provides an unusual flavor, though one that is also “good for you” since a single low-fat cake has only 100 calories. Metsovo claims YoGo cakes create a “satisfying equilibrium between the health conscious and the sweet tooth cravings.”

Like many food categories, baked goods tend to split along health and indulgence lines, with fans going either way. This helps explain 2011’s launch trends that saw three of the four major sectors of bakery products lose ground. An exception was crackers, which posted a new products increase in 2011 with numerous offerings in the category focused on health.

Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics reported the debut of 287 new cracker products in the U.S. in 2011, vs. 259 new product SKUs for 2010. This 10.8% increase in new products easily outpaced other baked goods sectors.

Of the other baked goods sectors, the combined “cakes and pastries plus morning goods” category fared next best, just by coming in flat with the exact same number of new product launches in 2011 as in 2010. Cookie introductions dropped by 19.5% overall compared to 2010, and launches of new bread and rolls products decreased by 19.4% in 2011, vs. the prior year.

Gluten Free Fall

Walking a fine line between health and indulgence was a key baked goods theme for 2011, perhaps because some of the air has gone out of the gluten-free bubble. The percentage of “new cakes & pastries” plus “morning goods” flagged as “gluten free” peaked at 11% of launches in 2009, before dipping to 9.6%, then finally 0.9% of introductions in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

The decline in “gluten free” was not quite as pronounced for bread and rolls, but “peak” gluten free for the category seems to be in the rear-view mirror at this juncture. In 2011, 5.4% of new bread and roll launches in the U.S. were gluten free, quite a drop from the 13.8% of launches proclaimed to be gluten free as recently as 2010. A similar decline affected crackers, where 8.7% of 2011’s U.S. launches were gluten free, down nearly half from the 16.9% of launches that went that way in 2009.

Whether this is a momentary dip or the start of a major drop remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s probably not wise to go to Vegas and throw down chips on “gluten free,” as these may be the first signs of product proliferation and consumer fatigue taking its toll.

Recent evidence shows consumers possibly are tiring of the avoidance game. A 2010 Datamonitor consumer survey found 63% of U.S. consumers were more interested in hearing about what to eat, rather than what not to eat. One explanation is the tendency of health and nutrition experts to flip-flop like presidential candidates. Globally, 61% of consumers believe experts contradict each other over what foods are “good for you,” per a 2011 Datamonitor global consumer survey.

Some products seem to be “walking the walk” when it comes to flavor with a “better-for-you” hook. One example is Garden Crunch brand crackers, a French import marketed by Terrafina LLC. Promoted as the first cracker made with more than 50% of its content from vegetables, Garden Crunch comes in Beetroot-Shallot and Carrot-Cumin flavors.

Lentil flour forms the heart of another such example in Mediterranean Snack Food Co.’s Mediterranean Baked Lentil Crackers. And, another rising trend is the use of sprouted grains as a healthful ingredient. Sprouted grains have been around for milleniae, but new techniques to control the sprouting process on a commercial basis are fairly recent. Sprouted grains are attractive, because they are believed to be easier to digest than unsprouted whole grains; sprouting also is thought to increase the bio-availability of vitamins and minerals contained in the grains.

Although new products featuring sprouted grains do not openly claim nutritional superiority, launches are edging up, aided by rising interest in whole grains. In 2011, Trader Joe’s launched Sprouted Whole Wheat Fiber Bread sliced bread with organic sprouted whole wheat berries, dates and raisins. Maria and Ricardo’s Tortilla Factory Co. came out with a Super Burrito size of Sprouted Grains Wraps, made with organic sprouted spelt and barley.

Fruity Goodness

Fruit is getting a closer look, as shown by Kraft Foods Nabisco brand Newtons Fruit Thins, an extension of the popular Newtons brand closer to a traditional cookie than a Fig Newton. Featuring real fruit, Fruit Thins contain whole grains and come in flavors such as Blueberry Brown Sugar and Cranberry Citrus Oat. (For more statistics on Nabisco’s new Newton Fruit Thins, see “Snacking Market Far From Saturated,” page 85.)

Another trend to watch is the rising influence of the salty snack category on bakery product innovation. Examples include Orograins Bakery Products Inc.’s Thomas’ Mini Pretz-a-Bagels soft pretzel bagels, positioned as part pretzel and part bagel and sold in the bread aisle. Targeted for snacking, they offer “soft pretzel taste in a bagel shape.”

A new generation of so-called “cracker chips” offers the best of all worlds for cracker bakers—a cracker-like alternative to potato chips. Although cracker chips have been around for a couple of decades, a pair of 2011 introductions suggests this could become a new battleground in 2012. Kellogg’s new Special K Cracker Chips Baked Snacks offer a guilt-free alternative to chips with a snack that’s “not quite a cracker, and not just a chip.” Made with potatoes and brown rice, the chips are lower in calories than standard potato chips: 27 chips are just 110 calories. Pepperidge Farm Inc.’s Baked Naturals Cracker Chips are built on a blend of corn, flour and wheat and have 65% less fat than the leading potato chip. Both brands seek to emulate the yearly double-digit sales gains and success of Princeton Vanguard LLC’s Pretzel Crisps, a brand sold in the deli aisle that came out of nowhere to become one of the snack industry’s fastest growing brands.

Not to be left out, indulgence, fun and flavor paced more than a few of 2011’s baked goods product launches. Arnold Foods Inc.’s new Cinnabon Cinnamon Bread with Cinnamon Bursts features flavor-packed bursts for an unusual taste experience. Seasonal flavors present unique opportunities to capitalize on changing flavor preferences; something Pepperidge Farm did with its Pumpkin Spice Swirl Bread.

Brownies were a popular treat in 2011, with Nabisco Oreo Brownies Creme Filled Brownies a highlight. Not a brownie in the classic sense, these baked snacks have a cream-filled center and striped white icing for added indulgence and visual “pop.” Also going the brownie route was Ticklebelly Desserts Co.’s Brownie Pop, a “brownie” on a lollipop stick. Somewhat more conventional were General Mills’ Pillsbury Brands Sweet Moments Bite-Size Chocolate Chip Brownies, an offering sold ready-to-eat in the refrigerator case.

Lava-type desserts with a liquid center around a cake exterior proved to be an adaptable concept for baked goods. Pepperidge Farm’s Milano Melts Cookies offer a “velvety soft heart of rich chocolate creme,” while Walmart’s Great Value Filled Muffins apply the concept to a popular morning treat.

As for fun, few baked goods top Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Sandwich Bread in the iconic goldfish shape. If this approach works, maybe 2012 will bring additional shape innovations to bread.


The International Scene

Functional bakery products are still a novelty in the U.S., although they appear to be a bit more established overseas. In particular, bakery products geared toward the cholesterol-lowering opportunity could be a sign of things to come. In Italy, Barilla’s Alixir brand has been pursuing this opportunity, as well as digestive health, since 2007, and added cookies with barley betaglucans to its lineup in 2011. The up-and-coming beta-glucan ingredient is said to capture cholesterol during digestion and slow down the absorption of cholesterol, aiding heart health.

The UK’s New Leaf Food Group is pursuing a similar opportunity with a betaglucan-containing variant of its The Classic Crumpet crumpets product. With the top-selling branded chol-esterol-reducing drug Lipitor commanding around $8 billion in sales a year in the U.S. alone, the opportunity for packaged food products to address cholesterol control could be sizeable.

Flavor and ingredient innovations oriented around novel fruits or grains also offer U.S. bakery producers some lessons. In Brazil, Grupo Bimbo’s Nutrella Vitta Sliced Bread is offered in an unusual Açai with Banana variety, marking the debut of the açai superfruit into the sliced-bread market. In Russia, Khlebnyi Dom Angliyskiy Zavtrak (Bread House English Breakfast) Sliced Bread was launched in an aloe vera flavor, another first for sliced bread, utilizing a flavor more common to beverages.

The use of so-called “ancient grains” in baked goods has been trending up in recent years in the U.S., but there is still plenty of room for innovation here. Terrium Sugar Free Cookies with stevia hit the market in Chile in 2011 in a unique Quinoa Cinnamon flavor. Though it is an expensive ingredient difficult to grow outside of certain mountain regions of South America, quinoa’s appearance in baked goods around the globe has doubled since 2007, according to Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics. pf