Bread Makes a Comeback

By Suzy Badaracco, Foodable Industry Expert

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The interest in whole grains and single grains has risen for years now despite the fact these bread categories have been unwarranted villainized in the past. Its birth parent is a Morph which is characterized by cousins all vying for the spotlight. With this particular birth, the first cousin was Whole Wheat and it rose to fame back in the 1970’s. The first disruptive cousin on the block was then Whole / Multi Grain which took over the spotlight in 2005. Then in 2007, Single Grains stole the spotlight but was ousted in 2008 by Ancient Grains. Global Grains stepped into the scene around 2010 but was a bit of a wallflower until 2012 when it decided to stand on the table, put a lampshade on its head and start dancing (much to the amusement of the other cousins).  

In 2014 there are now hybrids such as Single, Global, Ancient Grains – the poster child is of course Quinoa. The way one knows a Morph is occurring is because the current cousin in the spotlight does not kill off the previous cousin – it just steels a bit of the focus. With a Morph, one can play with all the cousins since they are all still on the playground together. For example, whole wheat bread is still available just as Quinoa or any other single grain. You are just changing allegiances as the cousins push and pull at each other. This one has a cool health claim, that one is part of a hip flavor trend, and so forth.

How Consumers Now Feel About Gluten-Free

The grains have now allowed global and regional breads, who have been patiently waiting, to come back to the table. As consumers become more experimental and educated about grains, the fear that has been instilled in them by various unhealthy diet trends is finally fading. Bread is also making a comeback as consumers are now turning away from gluten free trend. Consumers are beginning to understand it is a medical diet and it is neither more healthful or for weight loss. According to Packaged Facts, the gluten-free (GF) market has peaked. And in the past two years, it has failed to attract new users. Just 35% buy GF foods believing they are healthier (the #1 reason) down from 46% in 2010. Those buying GF products thinking they are higher quality fell from 24% in 2010 to 18%. Consumers who think GF is a gimmick doubled (11% to 24%); 20% say GF is a fad.  As the market turns towards those who must remain medically gluten-free, growth rates are projected to drop to 10% in 2012-15 and 7% in 2016-17.

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Symphony IRI reports that gluten-free’s growth rate in 2012 was cut by more than half its 2009-2011 growth with sales performance at 8.8% in 2012 vs. 21.2% 2009-2011. NPD reports that gluten-free growth remains small. About 28% of adults 18 and older reported they are avoiding gluten, a 1-percent increase since 2010.

Researchers have also uncovered that gluten purchases are not always intentional or desired. Hartman was the first to discover this when they reported that 53% who bought gluten-free did not know the product was gluten-free and had no intention of buying gluten-free. Packaged Facts too found that 31% of consumers said some products that they buy for other reasons happened to be marked gluten-free however, gluten-free was not a desired quality.

More recently, both Mintel and NPD reported another 1% drop in gluten and wheat protein avoidance by consumers. Other diets using the grain category as a scapegoat have adversaries hot on their trail as these diets are criticized for lack of nutritional content and variety, among other flaws. As this misinformation is corrected and consumers become educated on the use of a gluten-free diet – the number of consumers abandoning the diet will rise. Gluten shaming by consumers, a rare occurrence, is also contributing to this downsizing.

Grains on the Rise 

The single, global, and ancient grains, and breads made from them, rise in media attention and consumer interest as they have strong backing from clinical health researchers. Tied to lower obesity rates, better heart health and cognitive function, improved blood glucose levels – they cannot be kept down for long. On the familiar and historical side of the trend, look for oats, popcorn, quinoa, pretzels, whole grain tortillas, biscuits, and brioche to grace the table. For those looking for a bit more adventure – try chia, sprouted grains and rice, non-wheat noodles, freekah, savory pancakes, faro, hemp, grits, buckwheat crepes, teff, kamut, and kaniwa.

The global and regional breads encountered today on the dinner table, in restaurants, and in the grocery store are tied closely to the authenticity trend. The type of bread must be regionally or historically accurate to that recipe’s origins for it to resonate with consumers. Bread is just reinventing itself and evolving as its lateral moves keep it fresh.