Sweet goods: Navigating shifting consumer needs

When times are tough, people crave comfort foods.

That’s Food Marketing 101. But during the COVID outbreak, putting that knowledge into practice has proven to be a bit more complicated.

Take sweet goods. The category was doing just fine before the pandemic, but now it’s doing even better. Sales of commercial sweet goods are up 5% compared to the same time last year. Donuts, muffins, pastries, you name it — stressed-out Americans need some sweet comfort.

But the ways in which people are buying sweet goods, and what they’re buying, has changed.

They’re not buying donuts from open-air donut cases in grocery instore bakeries, for example. Instead, they’re buying more pre-packaged and pre-portioned products.

And as shoppers make fewer trips to the supermarket, manufacturers are placing more emphasis on products that can stay fresher longer in people’s pantries.

To help with these new needs, central kitchens and commissaries have stepped in to give instore bakeries increased access to skilled bakers, wider varieties of flavors and baked goods, and more packaging capabilities.

Snack attack

 Even before COVID, the rising popularity of snacking was changing how sweet goods are marketed and consumed. The boredom many people are battling during the pandemic has only made snacking more prevalent.

According to data from Lenexa, Kan.-based Corbion, in 2020, snacking has made up 7% of all eating occasions. That’s up from 4% in 2019.

“Food and beverages that are ready to eat have become more popular during the pandemic, with afternoons and evenings — occasions in which boredom plays a stronger role — being the most common dayparts for snacking to occur,” said JoAnn Rupp, Corbion’s Global Market Insights Manager.

Many consumers who, pre-COVID, relied on the instore bakery for their sweet goods are now taking their business to the center-store bakery aisle. A September report from GlobalData Sector Landscapes revealed that 29% of consumers were purchasing fewer instore bakery items.

But instore bakeries are beginning to bounce back and adjust, Rupp said. In an effort to bring back customers who are otherwise trying to keep their shopping trips brief, instore bakeries are now focusing on sturdier packaging, cleanliness and freshness in their products.

During the pandemic, many consumers turned to baking as a way to relive dishes that are old family favorites. But with some people heading back to work, there will be a surge in demand for sweet goods as they seek out traditional, nostalgic or cultural favorites within the bakery.

Beyond indulgence

When it comes to sweet goods, consumers are looking for a variety of traits to satiate their desires.

In addition to indulgence and comfort, consumers want smaller package sizes in order to suit a wider variety of occasions, from individual snack times to smaller gatherings.

Convenience is also important, and being able to source a baked good from almost anywhere — from their local coffee shop to convenience stores, instore bakeries and more — ensures consumers can locate these goods anytime a craving strikes.

And even when indulging, consumers are still concerned about nutrition. Two of their top concerns are sugar and weight management. Three in five U.S. consumers say they’ve cut back on sugar, according to Innova Market Insights.

According to a 2018 Corbion Proprietary Consumer study, 67% of consumers said that better-for-you options in the sweet goods category were important to them; 45% wanted a wider variety of healthier sweet baked goods options from instore bakeries; and 36% wanted more choices in the pre-packaged bakery aisle.

“In reviewing current better-for-you packaging claims, which included statements like ‘made with real ingredients’ and ‘made with recognizable ingredients,’ we found that consumer interest spiked to 74% when manufacturers used these new front-of-packaging claims and 174% when they were used in conjunction with existing claims already found on the packaging of sweet baked goods,” Rupp said.

Keeping it fresh

Consumers are also looking for a certain level of freshness in the products they buy. Because freshness is such a large part of a consumer’s perception of a baked good, Corbion recognizes how important solving for this challenge is, especially for instore bakeries.

“It’s why we’ve focused on trying to create solutions that help manufacturers achieve lasting freshness, like our Ultra Fresh® Sweet enzyme solution, which provides several days of extended freshness for in-store bakery products, and up to 45 days of extended freshness for packaged goods,” said Kathy Sargent, Corbion’s Global Innovation Director.

It’s great for consumers, who can purchase a sweet baked good from their local store or bakery with the confidence that it’s going to last until their next shopping trip. But Ultra Fresh Sweet is also great for manufacturers who want to reduce food waste caused by stales and unlock the additional selling opportunities that come with having fuller shelves. 

High-tech help

Corbion’s Technical Services Team is available to help manufacturers solve their most challenging formulation problems. By making their work as easy as possible, bakers can more readily focus on creating the delicious, fresh, on-trend baked goods that consumers expect.

The Corbion team, comprised of more than 80 people, offers troubleshooting tips and technical insights to bakers in order to keep their operation running as smoothly as possible. Even during the pandemic, the company’s experts are able to provide remote support seven days a week.

Corbion’s expertise covers a wide range of applications, with experts in pan and artisan breads, buns, bagels, tortillas/flatbreads, icings, cakes and more. The Technical Services Team can help increase profitability by supporting new product launches, resolving formulation problems and optimizing process efficiencies. Manufacturers can submit their questions directly to the team via its dedicated service page, and someone will reach out as soon as possible.

Meeting manufacturer goals

There’s no denying that the needs of consumers are intrinsically tied with the needs of manufacturers, Sargent said. Achieving freshness, quality, great taste and texture are all traits consumers want in their sweet goods. However, these qualities also have a big impact on a manufacturer’s bottom line, because they directly correlate to factors like stales and food waste, moistness and resilience.

That makes it critical for bakers to have effective ingredient solutions that help them solve for these challenges and allow them to create consistent, quality sweet baked goods. But they also need expertise to help guide them through the sea of ever-changing consumer demands, food trends and regulatory information.

“That’s where we come in,” Sargent said. “Corbion has the proven expertise and resources to provide not only the most effective baking solutions, but the experience and knowledge to achieve a manufacturer’s toughest goals.”

Whether it’s a shorter ingredient list, a unique or nostalgic eating experience, formulating for special dietary needs or simply delivering an indulgent baked good, Corbion can help guide its customers through this process.

 The SweetPro™ Advantage

Corbion created SweetPro™ to help food manufacturers deliver fresh, great-tasting sweet goods to their consumers. SweetPro™ helps improve the overall quality of layer cakes, muffins, mixes and mixed toppings.

By increasing valuable shelf life, improving moisture retention, providing aeration and emulsion stability, and promoting fat reduction without compromising on taste, SweetPro helps bakers provide consumers with a consistently delicious eating experience.

It does that by protecting the consistency, handling and storage stability of finished sweet baked goods, while also allowing bakers to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils and reduce saturated fat.

“In everything from baking ingredients and mixes to cakes, pastries, snack cakes and frozen dairy products, SweetPro can help manufacturers solve their toughest challenges related to freshness, moistness, resilience, tenderness and shelf life,” Sargent said.

And when it comes to inclusions, SweetPro helps keep these ingredients from sinking to the bottom or drying out end applications. And Corbion can customize this solution to fit a manufacturer’s needs, such as achieving a certain texture or tolerance.