CHICAGO — Shelf staples were the star of the grocery world.

It’s long been referred to as a staple of life, but in 2020, bread added new meaning to the old adage.

As consum­ers came face-to-face with the unbe­lievable nature of a global pandemic and a range of associated unknowns, they demanded the basics — with bread returning off-the-charts results thanks to the 24/7 efforts of commercial bakeries throughout the world.


Practically overnight, calls for bread reached unprecedented highs, culmi­nating in an 11.8% increase in dollar growth during 2020, a 4.2% change versus 2019. Sales in the bakery department reached $37 billion, a 5.2% positive gain over 2019 and $1.7 billion in abso­lute dollar gains, according to the new report, IRI Total vs. Integrated Fresh, powered in partnership with IDDBA.

Lockdowns and primal behaviors trig­gered by fears of an unknown virus caused people to turn away from the perimeter and return in droves to the shelf-stable safety of the center store, creating unbelievable demand for a variety of bread items. Chica­go-based IRI recorded dollar sales growth of center-store buns/rolls at 16.4% and center-store bread at 9.9%.

“The revival of the sandwich and a variety of accompanying bread products came to the rescue with breads and buns/rolls leading center-store growth.”


As consumers navigated the new normal of work- and school-from-home mandates, households of all sizes quickly recognized they would now need to produce meals, including snacks, throughout the day, as most dining-out options became largely unavailable.

In response, some took up the challenge to learn or revive cook­ing and baking skills. For others, the stress of the unknown and increased home-bound time left little energy to create from-scratch options for every meal.

Even food-centric social media saw a shift away from aspirational and destination-fueled food pics to more sedate and wholesome snaps of pantry-inspired and tried-and-true family favorites.

In hopes of minimizing extraneous decision-making, many consumers also chose to stick with a dedicated shopping list and a commitment to less-frequent store trips, but this dili­gence quickly culminated in meal plan­ning fatigue. The revival of the sand­wich and a variety of accompanying bread products came to the rescue with breads and buns/rolls leading center-store growth. IRI also cited growing appreciation for the versatility of tortillas/wraps/flatbreads, which are in use during multiple dayparts as well as for snacking, with a 13.2% change versus a year ago.


In its two-part 2020 Food Study Special Report, Hunter Integrated Marketing & PR compared consumer responses at the height of the pandemic to nine months later in December. In both reports, Hunter found many consumers used the same brands and products they always have. This found 71% reporting the use of the same brands and products in April 2020 and slightly fewer — 65% — in December.

Discovery of new brands and prod­ucts rose 7% between April (45%) and December (52%), and rediscovery of products registered a mere 1% differ­ence, toggling between 15% in April and 16% in December. Lower sales of private label bakery products, as recorded by IRI, also speak to the pref­erence for beloved brands.

Although 2020 was certainly not a beloved year, the commercial baking industry seized it as a moment for transformation and an opportunity for growth.

Have You Read