Bread and grains may take many different forms and serve different functions, but they remain a staple around the world.
The world continues to shrink. People are traveling internationally and experiencing new food and cultures first hand. And if a flight across the pond isn’t in the budget, there’s always the internet. People can feast with their eyes on food from around the world simply by turning on their smart phone.

“In my Instagram feed, I’m watching things that are going on in London, Copenhagen, New York and California,” said Scott Rosenberg, director of marketing and customer service, Lantmannen Unibake USA, Lisle, Illinois, U.S. “And right now, the world is at our fingertips on our phones. It is easy to see what people are eating around the world.”

Ideas are imported and exported easier than goods. There are no tariffs on trends.

“We really do see trends going back and forth across the ocean,” Rosenberg said. “The U.S. has been a trendsetter in the gourmet burger trend by upgrading the hamburger bun. That spread across Europe. A trend moving this way into the U.S. is a greater interest in food quality. We see that influence in the artisan bread market.”

Interest in quality and clean label created a global demand for more unpackaged fresh bread products. An obsession with the ideas of natural, handmade and the distrust of artificial ingredients is changing the perception of healthy food.

In one form or another, grain-based foods remain at the core of most diets around the world.

“Bread is a global staple,” said Kara Nielsen, sales and engagement manager USA, Innova Market Insights. “Grain is a global staple; it always has been.”

Evolving concepts of bread

Exposure to how bread is consumed around the world has widened Americans’ perspective of how grain-based foods can fit into their diets. Mintel’s “Packaged Bread — U.S. — July 2016” report showed that 66% of surveyed respondents enjoy trying new varieties of bread, and 57% like sampling bread products from other cultures or regions.

“I don’t see the American bread aisle changing all that much,” Nielsen said. “But tortillas, flatbreads, matcha buns, Japanese milk bread and classic European pastries like croissants and Danish — these are expanding the category in the U.S.”

Lantmannen Burger
The gourmet hamburger bun represents one trend that the US exported to Europe.
While grain-based foods have a place at tables around the world, the way consumers approach them is often entirely different from region to region.

“In America, health is a big driver for bread consumption, whereas in other parts of the world, flavor is more important,” Nielsen explained.

It’s also worth noting, she said, how much more bread is consumed in other parts of the world compared with the United States. For example, in Europe bread is consumed between 43 (94.7 lbs) and 96 kg (211 lbs) per capita per year while in the United States it’s just a little more than 17 kg (37.4 lbs), according to data from Innova Market Insights.

“When you look at the amount of bread consumed in Europe, it’s a core staple, and it’s not questioned if bread is healthy for you,” she said. “That just doesn’t enter the equation for consumers like it does in the U.S.”

Ideas about quality and form travel as well. People return home from traveling abroad and want to enjoy the bread they ate on vacation at home. Bakers have listened, and consumers are seeing those products in their local supermarkets.

Bakerly, Miami, brings brioche to American consumers with its Family line, offering a brioche spin on sliced sandwich bread as well as hand braided, baguette, burger buns, brioche rolls and chocolate rolls.

“Above being a delicious and most versatile bread, brioche is unique and must follow rigorous baking techniques that have been passed down through generations of bakers,” said Gabriela Grossmann, marketing assistant, Bakerly. “We have perfected this art and are sharing the brioche love with every American consumer.”

Beyond high-quality baked goods, consumers are also thinking outside the traditional bread box.

“Growth in the market is being driven by more versatile and interesting bread varieties such as flatbreads and ethnic breads,” Grossman said.

In the United States, tortilla sales have grown 20% from 2011 to 2016 while consumption grew about 11%, according to Mintel’s “Packaged Bread — U.S. — July 2016” report. Tortillas and other alternative formats such as pita and flatbreads enjoy a boost from other trends as well as a healthy perception and easy eating for on-the-go lifestyles. These bread varieties complement ethnic dishes Americans are seeking out and carry a healthy halo of having fewer carbs and calories than conventional sandwich bread.

||| Next page: Unpackaged and unprocessed |||

Lantmannen mini danish
Lantmannen Unibake USA chose to adapt this mini Danish to the US and two other European countries beacause the flavors would resonate with target consumers.

Unpackaged and unprocessed

At the heart of bakery purchases around the world is a move away from the processed and packaged to the unprocessed and unpackaged. According to Euromonitor’s 2017 report on the U.S. bakery category, packaged leavened bread struggled throughout 2016 with declines in volume and sales.

“The decline of the category reflects the ongoing and growing consumer sentiment against processed foods in favor of more natural ones,” the report said.

Nielsen asserted this also was reflected in popular claims on new product launches.

“Clean label continues to be something reflected in a lot of new product introductions,” she said. “We continue to see more products coming out with no additives, no preservative claims. We’re seeing more organic claims and even more handmade, traditional, artisan and authentic labels.”

Several bread products are filling in this gap: unpackaged leavened bread as well as ethnic bread. While packaged unleavened bread declined by 1% in volume and sales, its unpackaged counterparts grew by 1% in the United States, according to Euromonitor. From a global perspective, the growth of unpackaged leavened bread finds its roots in people’s perception that less processing equals healthier and better quality, two attributes consumers are pursuing around the world.

The idea of what constitutes healthy food moves away from processing and toward ingredients.

“Consumers are increasingly selecting products with natural and short ingredient lists over artificial products, even if elements such as calorie and fat content are higher,” Euromonitor’s report said.

Less-processed, unpackaged bread also is linked in people’s minds to handmade, traditional baking. All of this in turn acts as a signal that an unprocessed, unpackaged loaf of bread is high-end. Bakerly noticed this growing demand for premium artisan bakery products and responded accordingly. Grossman said the bakery’s products are free from preservatives, artificial coloring and flavoring, and high-fructose corn syrup and also contain zero trans fat.

||| Next page: Polar opposites |||

While the American bread aisle is here to stay, the range of bread products is expanding as consumers incorporate ethnic varieties of bread into their diets.

Polar opposites

Health and clean label may be top motivators for buying bread, but in a seemingly contradictory turn, consumers also are gravitating toward indulgent baked goods.

“It seems like every time I open a magazine, there’s an article on donuts,” Nielsen said.

And it’s true that the donut trend is still going strong. Sales are up 3%, according to IRI sales data from the 52 weeks ended July 9, in the U.S. Fresh rolls/bun/croissants are up 2.7%; muffins are up 8.5%; and pies and cakes as a category are up 3.2% while fresh bread sales were flat.

“Indulgence will always be on trend,” Rosenberg said. “We’ve seen increased interest in European-quality pastries around the world. We ship croissants to Korea and Australia. We see a lot of growth in croissants and Danish.”

The same drivers of increased demand for high quality, unprocessed bread also are driving the trend toward indulgence. As people travel to Europe and return home, they bring with them a taste for Old World pastries. Wanting to enjoy the same quality at home is only natural.

In a global food market driven by a concern for health, the growth of indulgent foods may seem counterintuitive. But consumers seem capable of holding both the demand for healthy bread and the urge to indulge at the same time. It’s all about finding moderation. Kolinski attributed this to the very human impulse to cheat.

“People try to do good throughout the week,” he said. “During the work week, they try to be good and healthy, and on the weekend they think, ‘I deserve to do something that isn’t so good for me.’”

As people cross borders and break bread together, their ideas about what makes good bread and how best to eat it will travel with them and continue to evolve. In the United States, that means a demand for higher quality, fewer ingredients and a wider variety to bring the world to their kitchen tables.