Janelle Crawford, DuPont’s strategic marketing lead, presented the results at the Baking Tech Conference held in Chicago at the end of February, noting that clean label has been “generally overemphasized” in the bakery segment.
She said the research had been conducted through several phases last year.
"The first thing we did [was observe] customers shopping for bread at different types of stores.
"The second [was an] online survey with 400 bread consumers to gather more quantitative data around what was driving them to purchase bread.
"We then utilized our sensory science to have consumers come in and evaluate four different commercially available white bread products, so we could understand what product type consumers like,” explained Crawford.
Nutrition facts panel
Results showed that, among all bakery products, sandwich bread or white bread is a “low engagement” category, meaning consumers normally spend less than five minutes in the bread aisle.
“That’s because many of those brands are pre-established… they are well liked and have become an American household staple,” said Crawford.
“[Of the respondents], 81% said they would continue consuming bread and they purchased more white bread compared to a year ago.”
However, Crawford noted “over 95% of consumers never looked at nutrition facts panel and tend to only look at the ingredients list as a point of comparison.
"Clean label is a lot less important to consumers as it is to those working in the industry."
Crawford said consumers were generally "okay with bread that contains ingredients they didn’t know what they were - including certain preservatives."
However, even though clean label may not be on top of consumers’ minds, sales of the category are still growing by 9.9% in the US year-on-year, outpacing frozen entrees and cookies, according to Nielsen’s latest clean label report.
The market researcher noted, among common clean label claims - including “no artificial ingredients," "clean," "simple" and "sustainable” - sustainable posts the highest sales growth at 7.2% annually.
Freshness is ‘paramount’
Crawford said freshness has been the number one priority for years, with some consumers even reaching to the back of the shelf for a loaf as they believe bakers put the freshest items there.
“Freshness is paramount and has various meanings, including softness, moist and good tastes. People don’t usually like bread that is too hard or crunchy.
“To drive future success, [bread] manufacturers should focus on offering opportunities to expand product enjoyment. [Consumers] would love to have better tasting, lower calorie and lower carb bread,” she said.