Today’s consumers want it all. Flavor, quality and variety are givens. But to be successful, bakers must also often deliver things like convenience, healthfulness, a clean label and a commitment to social responsibility — just to name a few.
Add to that a rising labor shortage and more product recalls, and the baker’s job becomes even harder.
But with challenges come opportunities. Bakers and supplier partners who are able to check multiple boxes for demanding 21st century consumers will separate themselves from the pack and ensure their relevance in today’s crowded marketplace.
JoAnn Rupp, global market insights manager for Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion, has identified eight trends that will be the big change drivers in the baking industry heading into 2020 — trends that will affect the greatest number of people, from bakers and food manufacturers to retailers and consumers.
Keep these in mind as you plot your strategies for success in the coming year:
Ethical and Responsible Consumerism
Driven by political and societal changes that have shifted consumer mindsets toward more conscious buying habits, this trend will only get bigger. Consumers are looking for products that look, feel and taste authentic. Transparency and trust are important factors driving purchase decisions for many consumers, and bakers will need to ensure they’re meeting these demands by being clear about which ingredients are included and, perhaps more important, which ones aren’t. Consumers want products that contain “real” ingredients they can recognize and that don’t include things like artificial flavors or colors.
As globalization continues, we expect to see more of the world’s populations condensed into urban cores. This movement will present a challenge to bakers, who will have to quickly adapt to meet the evolving needs of an increasingly diverse customer base. Finding ways to serve more customers, more quickly, will require them to find convenient solutions that allow them to save time, control product quality and continue to ensure product freshness.
Food Safety & Regulation
An increasingly complex network of global supply chains has made monitoring food safety and adhering to regulations a greater challenge than ever before. As ingredients and components are concentrated among fewer suppliers, product recalls will continue to increase in scope. A number of concerns will be top of mind for many bakers, including ensuring adequate preservation of their products, complying with regulatory changes and meeting the labeling requirements of clean label, organic certification and non-GMO products.
Circular Economy (Environmental Sustainability)
Younger consumers in particular are seeking out products that have strong sustainability messages, including sustainably sourced and fair-trade ingredients, as well as compostable packaging and materials made from renewable sources. Bakers will need to ensure that they’re effectively communicating their sustainability practices to consumers via packaging or website information in order to win these buyers over. According to Corbion’s research on consumer shopping habits, the return on this investment is increased sales from customers who say they would not only pay more for products from companies focused on sustainability, but they’d also purchase a product more often if its packaging was compostable or used little or no plastic.
As consumers become more aware of food ingredients as they relate to overall health, we’ll continue to see a trend toward products fortified with protein and fiber sourced from vegetable-based flours, seeds and grains. Additionally, we’ll see more items featuring vitamins, vegetable-based ingredients, fruit infusions, and ancient and specialty grains. Bolstered by ongoing research into the effects of certain foods on health conditions like cancer, heart failure and digestive issues, consumers are turning to food as a makeshift medicine cabinet. While this may cause bakers to see a drop in some categories due to low-sugar or low-carb diets, they can still deliver products consumers want by utilizing fermented foods and ingredients that consumers associate with better gut health, and gluten-free products that deliver on the eating experiences they’re seeking.
With four different generations of shoppers (Gen Zers, Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers), bakers have a wide range of shopping habits to cater to. Across all generations, consumers want their shopping experiences to be quicker and their products to be fresher. On-the-go meals, snacking options and mini meals are all trending upward, in some cases making up nearly 40 percent of a store’s footprint. Consumers short on time are turning to online shopping with home delivery or using food delivery apps to satisfy their need for quick, easy and convenient food options. In the face of all these changes, it’s imperative that bakers understand how each generation of consumers shop, purchase and use their products in order to respond to these changes in real time.
As information is more readily available to consumers online, they can more quickly review pricing, product quality and brand information, and even make purchases on the go. Accordingly, bakers need to ensure their delivery systems are equipped to transport products safely and quickly in order to achieve maximum freshness on the shelf. Failing to do so could mean that items in the bakery category might fail to remain staples. A shrinking skilled labor force is pushing bakers toward the use of more advanced technology that’s capable of completing tasks general laborers once did. The use of these new manufacturing technologies is streamlining production processes in pursuit of increased profits and innovation, but bakers will need to ensure they maintain a human connection throughout the product development process to continue to formulate simpler and safer products.
Greening Alternatives (New Tastes/Adventurous Eating/Taste and Texture Revolution)
Manufacturers trying to differentiate their products from competitors are crafting elevated versions of ordinary products and creating plant-based products. Once reserved for vegans and vegetarians, these plant-based items are catching on with mainstream consumers looking for new tastes and healthier options. With the arrival of better technology, bakers are able to deliver these more adventurous eating experiences, all while tapping into ethnic varieties and global flavors. These same trends are being echoed throughout the food and beverage categories, where freshness and taste continue to be key indicators for consumers. In the baked goods category, consumer sentiment places texture experiences above even ingredient lists, with the most appealing ingredient qualities being softness, moistness, crusty toppings, chewiness, creamy fillings, crispiness and tenderness.
One of the common themes among many of these trends, Rupp added, is a bigger focus on ingredients, quality and sustainability.
“Consumers are reaching for more artisan-style products that contain ancient or sprouted grains, fruits or herbs,” she said. “These products feel more authentic to them and may feature more interesting flavors than some of the traditional baked goods they’re used to. Because these items tend to focus on the quality or source of their ingredients, they also tend to be clean-label products as well.”
Corbion research shows that consumers are asking for items with familiar ingredients and the exclusion of artificial ones because they view these products as less processed or harmful. The demand for healthier, more nutrient-rich baked goods, Rupp said, has encouraged bakers to formulate products that fulfill consumers’ dietary needs.
“The result of these efforts has been an increasingly diverse offering of products with increased fiber or protein content, low-carb options, or items that omit gluten-containing flours in favor of alternatives like chickpea, soybean or pea.”
The increased attention on ingredient and product quality has consumers paying more attention to which foods they put into their bodies, not only because they’re more aware of how these foods might affect their health, but also because they want to support companies that mirror what’s important to them.
To that end, Rupp said, manufacturers are including more information on their packaging that highlights their sustainability efforts, from renewable agricultural sources, to fair-trade practices, to compostable packaging.
Between ever-changing consumer demands, a tight labor market and other forces beyond bakers’ control, the future of the industry is a challenging one. Tapping into these and other trends will be critical for those businesses looking to thrive in this new competitive environment.