CHICAGO — A new IRI report shows fewer consumers shopping on the outer aisles of the grocery store and predicts 2020 center sales will settle down. But 2021 brings more predicted growth for health and wellness products.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the game as far as consumer behavior – and some goods became shining stars while others fell out of the spotlight. There was major buzz around the center aisles’ empty shelves, but the perimeter of the store told a slightly different story last year.


Throughout 2020, the in-store bakery saw an overall dollar sales increase, but growth for in-store buns/rolls just didn’t happen like it did in the center store. The IRI report states buns and rolls saw a decrease of 3.7% and declines in average items per store, as many bakeries made the difficult decision to eliminate bulk grab-and-go items in the perimeter.

The perimeter experienced overall losses due to mandated department closures, reduced bakery staff and fewer — and smaller — gatherings and celebrations.

However, one bright spot in the perimeter was bread at a 6.5% increase in dollar sales as consumers looked for fresh and par-baked organic, artisan and craft-inspired breads to add an element of special to the mundane.

“IRI predicted bakery innovation focused around nutrition and health could be a successful differentiator for bakers throughout 2021.”


But since consumers drastically reduced time spent in the grocery store and kept to the familiar center aisles, browsing the perimeter bakery for freshly baked breads became a risk many shoppers chose to avoid. Time spent inside the store was instead largely characterized by stocking up on shelf-stable and frozen items, while many people opted to stay out of the store altogether with click-and-collect online shopping and home delivery options.

Still working and schooling at home, consumers have been generating new demands when it comes to size count and packaging for baked goods. IRI saw large velocity increases among center-store bread and buns/rolls, driven by more consumers who were spending more money per trip. New shopping habits have also given rise to stock-up buying as shoppers make fewer trips to the store, according to Tim Grzebinski, IRI principal, client insights for dairy and bakery.


Ongoing rollout of the vaccine and the possibility of additional stay-at-home orders this year will drive consumer focus on health and immunity, which could create another uptick in 2021, though certainly not at 2020 levels. IRI predicted bakery innovation focused around nutrition and health could be a successful differentiator for bakers throughout 2021.

Whether in search of the tried-and-true, health-and-wellness or simple indulgence, consumers will look for the best returns from their purchases. Wholesome, clean label and nutrient-rich bread products — especially those made with a transparency of ingredients, processes and people — will be well-positioned to keep them top-of-mind for consumers in the months to come.

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