KANSAS CITY, MO — When COVID-19 put the world on lockdown, pan­icked consumers stocked up on flour and yeast and started kneading. As a result, baking staples saw exponential growth, with sales of baking yeast up 457%, baking powder up 178% and flour up 155%, over the previous year ending March 28, 2019, according to Nielsen data. Print sales for bread cookbooks in the United States also grew 145% for the nine months ending September 2020. And ac­cording to Kristen McLean, NPD book in­dustry analyst, the at-home bread baking movement could have staying power.

“Bak­ing offered a comforting escape, and yeast suddenly became more difficult to find than toilet paper,” she said. “Sales of bread cook­books are still well above 2019 levels, and given that the pandemic is still with us, the trend could be sticking around for a while.”

Even if the popularity of at-home baking bread continues in a post-COVID world, signs indicate the increased interest in the bread category — particularly artisan and craft-style — could provide opportunities on grocery store shelves as well.


In a December 2020 episode of the American Bakers Association (ABA)’s Bake to the Future podcast, Robb MacK­ie, ABA president and CEO, interviewed Fred Penny, president, Horsham, PA-based Bimbo Bakeries USA (BBU). The discussion recapped 2020 and looked forward to 2021, and the conversation suggested that this is the year to build on consumers’ renewed appreciation for baked goods.

Penny pointed to the change in consum­er behavior as one reason for the lift in a category that was previously struggling to grow. “The big shift to food consumed at home — as opposed to away from home — clearly has driven the category signifi­cantly. And one of the big questions we’re asking ourselves is, ‘How much of that shift is going to be sustainable?’”

The growth in the bread category as a whole indicates that consumer interest for artisan products in the grocery store could be an area for growth and innovation. Nielsen data shows that the artisan bread take-and-bake category is up almost 40% against a year ago, as compared to pre-COVID when the category was growing at a rate of 7%.

“Consumers are realizing that take and bake is the next best thing to homemade. When they want bread, they want that sensory experience, even if they don’t have the time to make it themselves.”


“Consumers are realizing that take and bake is the next best thing to homemade,” said Chris Prociv, VP of marketing and innovation, La Brea Bakery. “When they want bread, they want that sensory experience, even if they don’t have the time to make it themselves.”

More and more bakeries are beginning to capitalize on artisan bread’s potential. In October 2020, Rustik Oven expanded its artisan bread line nationwide. The bread — available in Sourdough, Artisan White, and Hearty Grains & Seeds — is made using a traditional European baking process and is Non-GMO Project verified and made with­out artificial colors or flavors.

Other large commercial baking com­panies have expanded into the artisan space as well. “For so long, we heard our consumers’ feed­back over the struggle of choosing between the superior quality of bread from their favor­ite local bakery and the longer shelf life and convenience of bread from a grocery store,” said Jessica Grane, marketing director, pre­mium and artisan breads at BBU. “Thanks to our signature baking process, we’re proud to bring this unique offering to the artisan bread category and offer our fans the taste that they love in a more convenient way.”


And taste reigns in terms of consumer buying behaviors. According to a 2020 Kearney Food Trends Survey, 80% of con­sumers reported that taste was the top factor in deciding whether to try a new food trend, followed by price (61%) and health (55%).

“I believe we’re going to have a demand for things that just taste better,” Negaro said. “We have people who have tried better-tasting bread in the past 12 months, and they don’t want to go back. But they want that high-quality product in a way that’s easily accessible.”

Have You Read