The year 2013 will go down in history as the year the “Cronut” was born.  NYC-based Dominique Ansel Bakery created the croissant-doughnut hybrid, and masses of New Yorkers lined up to buy the unique pastry. The concoction is a worldwide sensation, with scalpers hawking the real thing for many times its original purchase price.

Another surprising source of new product news in bakery came out of fast food.  Wendy’s made headlines when it introduced its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. Claimed to be “one of the most anticipated product launches” in Wendy’s history, it signals that the pretzel-bun concept has arrived.

Packaged bakery products were hard-pressed to match either of these efforts, and 2013 shaped up as an average-to-below-average year for innovation in packaged bakery, bread and pastry products. 2013’s highlights included innovation from big brands; growing interest in flatbreads; and bread-based snacks--as well as bakery snack alternatives to candy bars and other less-healthful snacks.


Twinkies and Trends

On the big brand front, 2013 saw the return of Twinkies in July, but not without competition. Taking advantage of the brand’s exit from the market, bakery giant Bimbo Bakeries USA readied Twinkies alternatives via its Sara Lee brand and Earthgrains Baking Company unit. The Horsham, Pa.-based firm launched probably the biggest new product salvo from the Sara Lee brand since Bimbo acquired the business from what was then Sara Lee Corporation in 2011.

Sara Lee Golden Crème Cakes, a ringer for Twinkies, hit the market in the fall, as did Sara Lee Cakes, Cheese Topped Crumb Cakes, Cupcakes, Powdered Donuts and more -- in similar red packaging for a billboard effect, on-shelf.  Another big brand eyeing growth was PepsiCo’s Chicago, Ill.-based Quaker Oats unit. Quaker Muffins, a ready-to-eat product made with real fruit and 11g of whole grains per muffin, hit stores in Apple & Cinnamon and Wild Blueberry flavors.


Flavorful, Healthy Flatbreads

Flatbread-type products were another trend in 2013, as breads picked up on cues in the pizza market -- where flatbread pizzas are a huge source of growth. According to Peter Reidhead, VP of strategy and insights at GuestMetrics, flatbread pizzas account for about 60% of the incremental growth for pizza in the first quarter of 2013.

Flatbreads added to their footprint in the bread aisle in 2013, with launches like Flatout Foldit Artisan Flatbreads, from Saline, Mich.-based Flatout. Flavor inspiration came from bagels (with an Everything variety) and fast food (with a Soft Pretzel). Artisan was a popular word for flatbreads in 2013, with Concord, Ontario-based FGF Brands Inc. launching Stonefire Authentic Flatbreads in Italian Artisan Pizza Crust varieties. 

And, while it isn’t technically a flatbread, Minneapolis, Minn.-based General Mills’ Old El Paso Stand ‘n Stuff Soft Flour Tortillas provides a clever solution for consumers that love to eat tortillas, but don’t like wearing them. These bowl-shaped tortillas are less prone to spillage than traditional tortillas.

Other trends in bread products pertained to healthful ingredients, like ancient grains and sprouted grains. Both are on tap with Abbotsford, British Columbia-based Silver Hills Bakery’s Sprouted Ancient Grain Whole Grain Hot Dog Buns that are made with organic, sprouted Khorasan wheat flour.

Sweet potatoes deliver the added benefit of vitamin A to Alexia Sweet Potato Rolls, a new launch from Kennewick, Wash.-based Alexia Foods, Inc. Other entries played the “less is more” card, like Norwalk, Conn.-based Pepperidge Farm’s Simply Natural Bread, a white bread “made with a few simple ingredients.”

Bread and bakery products may have considerable potential as healthful snacks, since 20% of all meal occasions today are snack-based, says the NPD Group. If so, that’s great news for Stacey’s Bake Shop Bakery Crisps, a savory launch offering “real snacks from real bread” in trendy flavors like Pretzel Bread, from Randolph, Mass.-based Stacy’s Pita Chip Company, a PepsiCo unit.


Brownie Snacks and More

Somewhat sweeter tasting, but straddling the cookie and baked goods line, are Kellogg’s “lightly sweet” Special K Pastry Chips, a Cookies & Crème-flavored sandwich-cookie in 100-calorie pouches. Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg also introduced Special K Brownie Bites, a snack made with real chocolate and also sold in 100-calorie pouches that are ideal for on-the-go consumption. 

Brownie-inspired snacks could be a real opportunity going forward, as a more wholesome alternative to candy bars. Indeed, Betty Crocker Caramel Brownie is packaged in a wrapper (like a candy bar) to put brownies “in play” as a new on-the-go snack -- so much so, that General Mills distributes the product exclusively to convenience stores.

Indulgent, bakery- and pastry-type snacks picked up on major trends coming out of foodservice channels. While cupcake mania may be abating, Archer Farms Cake Balls draw on cupcakes for inspiration, with a frozen chocolate and vanilla cake snack bathed in dark or white chocolate.  Tino’s Cupcake Singles Filled Cupcakes from O’Fallon, Mo.-based Cupcake Creations Bakery are swirled with frosting and offered in flavors like Blazing Blueberry, Nutty Turtle and Snappy Strawberry. Also spinning the cupcake concept is Sugar & Plum Ch-Up Cake confection, a snack that looks like a cupcake, but the cake is replaced with solid Belgian chocolate.  It is new from Forty Fort, Pa.-based Sugar Plum Chocolates.

Red velvet was red hot in 2013 in cakes and desserts, influencing launches like TastyKake Limited Edition Red Velvet Vanilla Iced Cupcakes from Philadelphia, Pa.-based Tasty Baking, and Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts Limited Edition Frosted Red Velvet Toaster Pastries. Also going the red velvet route is Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, with its new Marie Callender’s Cakes, in flavors like Red Velvet, Carrot and Double Chocolate. These frozen mini-cakes are ready to eat after 12 seconds in the microwave.

Truly unique products in packaged bakery and dessert products were more numerous outside of the U.S. than inside. Pillsbury’s Gluten Free Thin Crust Pizza Dough in a margarine-like tub is an exception. And, Canada’s Country Harvest Veggie Bread (with carrots, spinach and more) from East Toronto-based Weston Bakeries is a near exception.

One of 2013’s stranger innovations came from Tokyo-based Monteur Co.’s Monteur Pastry, which offers a line of pastries in varieties intended to match one’s blood type, like Type A (Tiramisu Éclair).  Apparently, some Asian consumers believe blood type may have connections with personality -- one possible explanation for a blood type-specific pastry.


For the Cookie Jar

Turning to cookies, 2013 new product launches were slightly above 2012’s levels, and excitement from successful concepts, such as breakfast biscuits, provided new innovation possibilities.

In 2013, breakfast biscuits became more cookie-like, with East Hanover, N.J.-based Mondelez’s launch of Nabisco belVita Soft Baked Breakfast Biscuits, said to deliver 20% of the daily value of fiber. Kellogg answered the original belVita with Kellogg’s To Go Morning Biscuits, offering “the whole grains, vitamins and minerals of cereal in a biscuit.” 

2014 already looks like a big year for the breakfast biscuit concept, as General Mills joins the party with Nature Valley Breakfast Biscuits, offering long-lasting energy in Honey and Blueberry flavors.

Other healthful interpretations of the cookie came from Seattle-based Milkmakers, LLC, with its Bumpboosters Pregnancy Cookie, packed with protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for a “mom-to-be.”  Rawxies Raw Cookie Snack is a heart-shaped cookie described as raw, vegan, gluten-free and soy-free, sold in flavors like Banana Nut Bread and Mint Chocolate Chip from Kansas City, Mo.-based Rawxies.

The trend toward “cleaner” ingredients could be seen in launches like Keebler Simply Made Cookies, which advertised the “same simple ingredients that you’d find in your pantry,” such as sugar, butter and wheat flour.

Monk fruit has emerged as a new, natural low-calorie sweetener to watch.  In 2013, it hit packaged cookies with Koochikoo Sugar Free Cookies from Seattle-based Koochikoo.


Say it with Seasonal

Soft formats, seasonal flavors, indulgent fillings and mix-in ingredients powered cookie innovation in 2013. Some launches feature combinations of these elements, like Pepperidge Farm Dessert Shop Soft Dessert Cookies.  These dessert-inspired soft cookies debuted at various points in 2013 in limited-edition, seasonal flavors like Pumpkin Cheesecake and Strawberry Cheesecake.  “Dessert reimagined” is the tagline for the introductions.

Seasonal flavors have become huge for Mondelez’s Oreo brand, as 2013 saw several new, limited-time seasonal flavors for Oreo. Lemon Twist, Rainbow Shure Bert! and Watermelon were three limited-edition additions to the Oreo family in 2013, each with vanilla-flavored cookies that have proven ideal for flavor-filling experimentation. 

Ready-to-bake cookie dough also went seasonal or limited time, with General Mills’ Pillsbury limited-edition Pink Lemonade Cookies packaged in a “chub,” and Solon, Ohio-based Nestle Baking’s Nestle Toll House “Cookie of the Year” Triple Chip Cookie Dough.

Other flavor inspirations took cues from confectionery products, baked goods and more.  Nabisco Chips Ahoy! Sweet ‘n Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Salted Caramel Chunk flavor picked up on the salted caramel flavor that was a top candy, snack and dessert flavor in 2013.  Chips Ahoy! Made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups draw from one of the confectionery market’s top brands, while Chewy Chips Ahoy! Brownie Filled Chewy Soft Cookies adapt the lava cake-like concept to chocolate chip cookies with a brownie interior.


Want a Cracker?

2013 was far from a record year for new cracker products, but what the market lacked in pure numbers it more than made up with healthful new ingredients, ethnic-influenced flavors, packaging improvements and more.

Whole food ingredients were a big story in 2013, paced by brown rice, sweet potato, ancient grains and more. Mondelez uses “real food ingredients” for its Triscuit Brown Rice & Wheat Crackers in flavors like Tomato & Sweet Basil and Savory Red Bean.  Brown rice, almonds and seeds, such as millet, flax and quinoa, ended up in Blue Diamond Almonds Artisan Nut-Thins Cracker Snacks from Sacramento, Calif.-based Blue Diamond Growers. Sweet potatoes and spinach appear in Back to Nature Sweet Potato & Cinnamon Crackers and Spinach & Roasted Garlic Crackers, both from Madison, Wis.-based Back to Nature Foods.

The growing use of so-called “real food” ingredients bears watching. According to Datamonitor’s “2013 Global Consumer Survey,” 52% of Americans found the prospect of a “product naturally high in nutrients” to be “very appealing,” compared to just 18% that found a “product that has added nutrients” to be appealing. Fortification through the use of “real food” ingredients is probably here to stay.

Another way to market a more healthful cracker is to base it on a type of bread that is viewed as healthful. Pita bread fits the bill and was the inspiration for Keebler Town House Pita Oven Baked Crackers, from Kellogg. Kashi Garlic Pesto Pita Crisps, another cracker based on pita bread, claims to be fiber- and whole grain-rich.

The popularity of popped chips, such as Popchips, a brand which rose from $6.5 million in sales in 2008 to more than $90 million in early 2013, impacted cracker development in 2013. That resulted in hybrid, cracker-chip-like launches—such as Dare Breton Popped! Air Popped Crackers (made with a blend of ten supergrains) from Spartanburg, S.C.-based Dare Foods; and Kellogg’s Special K Cracker Chips Baked Snacks.

Cracker flavors tapped Hispanic foods, beer and more for ideas in 2013. Elmhurst, Ill.-based Sunshine Biscuits turned up the heat with Cheez-It Zings Baked Snack Crackers in flavors like Chipotle Cheddar. Lime is often associated with Hispanic foods and found a home with Nabisco Lime Wheat Thins, available for a “limited time only.” Even craft beer figured into the mix, with Cincinnati-based Daelia’s Food out with Beer Flats Crackers in Pilsner and Porter flavors.

There were signs in 2013 that cracker packaging may be changing for the better. Kellogg’s Sunshine Biscuits unit introduced Sunshine Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers in rectangular, re-sealable plastic tubs, a huge improvement over paperboard boxes, from a freshness perspective. Cheez-It also unveiled the Slam Dunk Bag, a bag with a zipper opening across the front, rather than the top of the bag, to capitalize on social snacking occasions. 

Snacking is not only a huge part of social gatherings; 49% of Americans say they tend to snack more during social occasions, says Information Resources, Inc.