Sprouting an 18 percent gain, specialty or artisan bread was the fastest growing segment over the past two years in the $16-billion U.S. bread market, according to a recent Mintel International report. Overall, bread recorded a slight sales growth of 4.9 percent from 2001 to 2003. A mature category with near total market penetration, future growth in bread sales will only result from an increase in multiple purchases and varieties.

Multifaceted flavors and health-promoting ingredients are influencing product innovations. Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) shows that fortified, soy-based and low-sodium products that enhance bread’s naturally healthful properties are among trend drivers. Additionally, more low-carb and low-sugar entries have been rolled out since January 2004.

The Specialty and Artisan Bread Movement
From 1998-2003, U.S. retail sales of specialty/artisan bread increased 23 percent at constant 2003 prices. These breads currently have an 11 percent market share and are expected to lead in product innovation, allowing manufacturers to cater to niche demands. This segment is a likely vehicle for premium flavors and health-oriented ingredients that add texture, as well as vitamins and minerals.

Specialty and artisan breads also satisfy consumers’ desire for international ingredients and flavors such as Mediterranean and Asian, which contributed to sales growth in 2003. Other popular flavors added to bread include specialty olive oils, fresh herbs, cheeses such as feta, goat and gorgonzola, olives, garlic, tomatoes, onions and peppers.

According to Mintel, specialty bread is most widely eaten by those aged 35-54. This age group also indicated the greatest frequency of shopping at supermarket bakeries or specialty stores for bread.