Bakery foods, especially baking ingredients, were one of the first categories to experience COVID-19-induced consumption gains in 2020. Last spring brought shelter-in-place orders and they unleashed a once-in-a-lifetime stampede for home baking supplies.

About one month into the pandemic, Nielsen reported a 410% jump in yeast sales for the four-week period ended April 11, 2020. Flour, sugar, and baking powder also saw waves of COVID-19 panic buying. For a brief time, banana bread baking ranked as one of America’s top leisure time activities.
But enthusiasm for home baking did not necessarily translate into robust new product launch activity in 2020. 
Bakery food processors had their hands full grappling with ingredient supply issues, which may have contributed to a 23% decline in new bakery food launches (outside of cookies and crackers) in the USA for the first 11 months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Cookie and cracker launches were off 19% during the same period.

Better Breads & Mixes
Looking more deeply at individual categories, it is interesting to note that momentum for brioche-style bread carried over from 2019 into 2020. In fact, launches of bread and bread products featuring this fluffy texture nearly doubled 2018’s count.

Among products figuring into that mix were new brioche breads from Three Bakers Gluten Free Bakery, Moskow, Pa.; Flowers Foods (Nature’s Own brand) and Trader Joe’s.
Part of the appeal of brioche bread is its rich taste and texture aided by liberal use of butter. The latter resonated with Oroweat Country Style Salted Butter Bread (Bimbo Bakeries USA), which featured a co-branded move with Land ‘O Lakes butter as a signature ingredient. Also tapping indulgence demands was Bimbo’s Sara Lee Artesano Potato Bakery Bread, a thick sliced and richly flavored sliced bread.

Other breads proceeded in a “better for you” direction. Bimbo Canada, Toronto, made plant-based protein a selling point for its new Stonehill Bakehouse Naturally Fermented Honest Wellness Plant-Based Protein with 11 Whole Grains Bread.

Campbell Soup’s new Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Breakfast Bread leveraged intrinsically healthful ingredients such as berries, sunflower seeds, raisins, oats, and poppy seeds. Daily Kneads Bread, Minneapolis, offers Whole Grain Vegetable Breads that showcase vegetables such as beets, carrots, spinach and red pepper. The Sweet Beet variety features a whopping four and one-quarter cups of vegetables in each loaf. 
Vegetable ingredients—especially cauliflower—replaced grain ingredients. B&G Foods introduced Green Giant Cauliflower Breadsticks, which contain real cauliflower and are gluten free. B&G also introduced Ortega Cauliflower &Corn Taco Shells, which replace some corn content with cauliflower.

Chickpeas and sweet potato also showed potential. Banza, Detroit, Mich., is known for its chickpea-based pasta but it launched a box of two frozen pizza crusts as “Banza The Crust Made From Chickpeas.” BFree Foods, Dublin, Ireland, had a busy 2020 with several US introductions including Sweet Potato Wraps. They’re high in fiber and also contain beetroot and carrots as ingredients.

For the record, baking ingredient makers showed where things may go next. Last year saw African ingredient and foods wholesaler Iya Foods, North Aurora, Ill., add Fonio Flour and Tigernut Flour to its product line. Made from West African grown fonio grain, Fonio Flour is a plant-based, gluten-free food similar to rice flour. In other news, Just About Foods, San Diego, introduced an Organic Chickpea Flour that can substitute for up to 25% of wheat flour in recipes.

The keto trend and its emphasis on carb cutting impacted baking ingredient innovation in 2020. King Arthur Baking Company, Norwich, Vt., said its new Keto Wheat Flour Blend leveraged the fast-growing keto diet trend with just 4g of net carbs per serving.

For that matter, Keto baking mixes were indeed a bright spot for new products. Miss Jones Baking Company, Emeryville, Calif., introduced grain-free Keto & Paleo Muffin and Cupcake Mix. Foodstirs Inc., Los Angeles, introduced an Organic Keto Chocolate Cake Mix; and Conagra Brands also launched a Duncan Hines Keto Friendly Birthday Cake Mix in a single-serving cup.

The “mug cake” concept matured and moved in new directions in 2020. Duncan Hines Mug Cakes Brownie Mix extended the concept to brownies. Conagra Brands also extended the concept to Mrs. Butterworth’s Breakfast For 1 Pancake Mix, including a Cinnamon Roll flavor. Knouse Foods Co-Op Inc., Peach Glen, Pa., even tapped the popularity of slow cookers with its Lucky Leaf Scoop Cake Slow Cooker Kit—including Blueberry & Lemon Cake varieties.

Sweet Escapes
Ready-to-eat pastry and sweet goods innovation got help from some big names. 

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. moved its signature restaurant offerings into the supermarket with Mini Crullers and Bites. This past December saw The Hershey Company introduce Reese’s Snack Cake, soft baked chocolate snack cake topped with smooth peanut butter cream and dipped in milk chocolate. 

MomoMillk LLC is the famous New York City-based dessert and bakery chain doing business as Milk Bar. That popular brand went to retail stores in 2020 with Birthday Truffle Crumb Cakes sold in a two-pack wrapper in the refrigerated case.

Frozen pies are a quiet and often overlooked category. However, Conagra Brands hopes to change that with new offerings such as Marie Callender’s No Bake Thaw & Enjoy Pies in non-traditional flavors like Chocolate Brownie Cream Pie and Confetti Birthday Cake Crème Pie. 

Also tweaking flavor tradition was Flowers Foods, which introduced Tastykake Scoop Shop Cookies and Cream Brownies. They give the traditional brownie a round shape with a crunchy cookie and creme topping. Another company having fun with flavors High Road Craft Brands, a Marietta, Ga., company known for its chef-driven approach to foodservice ice cream. Last fall saw the company expand its retail presence with High Road Craft Bakery Brownie Stuffed Cookie Dough. It’s a bake-and-serve cookie with a brownie center.

In the Cookie Jar
Cookie and cracker innovation sagged in 2020, but the year had its highlights. 

Milk Bar once again made news with unique items such Compost Cookies (with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, chocolate chips) and Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies. Campbell Soup’s Pepperidge Farm formulators took inspiration from new hot drink-inspired flavors for the Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookie line. Some of these new offerings Amaretto Hot Cocoa and Caramel Macchiato.

Mash-up flavor innovation gave us innovations such Nabisco Chips Ahoy Cookies with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, from Mondelez International. Too Good Gourmet, San Lorenzo, Calif., introduced Cinnamon Roll Iced Donut Cookies, which blend elements of cookies and donuts in one indulgent offering.

Speaking of flavor indulgence, Oreo’s limited time flavor parade continued in 2020. Since the brand went “all in” on limited time flavors in 2012 with the launch of Birthday Cake Oreo, the brand has released 65 flavors, per The New York Times.

Last year saw the debut of Oreo Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Watermelon Oreo, Blueberry Pie Oreo, and Fruity Crisp Flavor Crème Oreo (the latter with a crème filling speckled with colorful rice crisps). Mondelez’s limited time flavor push for Oreo is working as sales of Oreo cookies overall have climbed 12% during the last three years, The New York Times reports.

Other cookie brands are taking notes as the ranks of “seasonal in/out” cookie launches have swelled during the past few years. As recently as 2016, limited time offerings only accounted for about 8.4% of total cookie innovation in the U.S., per the Innova Database. That number nearly doubled to 16.1 % through 11 months of 2020.

It's probably easier to make the case for indulgence than health during a pandemic, but that did not stop cookie makers from hitting some “better for you” notes. Grocery retailer ALDI said its new Elevation Protein & Probiotic Mini Cookies support “digestive health, immune health and protein utilization as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle.”

Bett3r Brand’s Bett3r Keto Delights Keto Collagen Cookies were one of a handful of new cookies that featured collagen—as much as 10g of collagen protein—as an ingredient. Sweetwell USA LLC also wen the collagen route with Double Chocolate Cookies with Collagen. Both companies’ lines also illustrated what was to be a top diet trend in cookies in 2020 – keto-friendly.

Keto or ketogenic cookies were almost unheard of in the U.S. prior to 2017. Since that time, their ranks have exploded. According to the Innova Database, keto cookie launches more than doubled from 2019 to 2020 and have increased ten-fold since 2018, though that is from an admittedly small base. Nobody knows how long the keto trend will last; for now, the sky seems to be the limit.

Last year saw Lenny & Larry’s LLC introduce a three-item Keto Cookie line with flavors such as Chocolate Chip. In other moves, SuperFat LLC introduced four SuperFat Keto Cookie Bites; Nush Foods introduced four Keto Safe cookie varieties; and Summit Naturals introduced three keto-friendly flavors of HighKey Mini Cookies. 

In one other interesting (non-keto) move, Ben and Jerry’s introduced Limited Batch Gingerbread Cookie Dough Chunks, which show the potential of cookie dough as a snack that’s moving closer to the mainstream. These chunks are sold in the freezer section of the supermarket, but are not intended to hit the oven. Instead, they’re intended to be eaten straight from the bag for consumers who cannot keep themselves away from cookie dough when baking cookies.

Gone Crackers
Cracker makers had a quiet 2020. Mondelez worked in new flavors and ingredients for its top selling Triscuit brand. New Triscuit Avocado, Cilantro and Lime Crackers capitalized on growing love for all things avocado while new Triscuit Tzatziki celebrated the popularity of the Greek dip.

Campbell Soup’s Pepperidge Farm Goldfish brand demonstrated new ways of increasing plant-based ingredients. The brand’s new Goldfish Veggie Crackers use ingredients such as tomatoes and carrots. Each serving of the Sweet Carrot variety crackers is said to contain one-third of a serving of carrots.

Last fall also saw RW Garcia, Scotts Valley, Calif., expand its line of veggie-forward organic crackers. Two new items—Organic Kale and Organic Everything—join a line that also boasts Sweet Beet, Sweet Potato and Lentil with Turmeric varieties.

Elsewhere, Mondelez went in a more “craveable” direction with its focus on cheese for the Ritz brand. New in 2020 were Ritz Cheese Crispers Potato and Wheat Chips in Cheddar and Four Cheese and Herb flavors.

Tom Vierhile is vice president, Strategic Insights, North America for the Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights and has over 20 years of experience in new consumer packaged goods reporting and analysis. Tom holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from St. Bonaventure University and an MBA from the State University of New York at Buffalo.  Follow him on Twitter at @TomVierhile.