Consistency reigns supreme. Regardless of the brand, the baker must have consistently good flour that performs throughout the mixing, make up, holding stages (retarder or freezer), baking and packaging stages of the product, according to Dave Krishock, Grain Craft bakery technical support manager.

Flour that fluctuates with protein levels, mixing tolerances, and absorptive capabilities often cannot be corrected in the shorter bench/processing regiment commonly found in the retail bakery.

 “As often said, protein quality may be more important than protein quantity, but quantitively measuring protein quality is often allusive for the retail baker until the final product exits the oven,” Krishock points out. “Building relationships with the suppliers is important for ongoing discussions including changes in protein quality that may be forecasted.”

Consistency and quality. Both factors are even more important now because of the drought that plagued the spring wheat crop, explains Tom Santos, a field sales rep at General Mills Foodservice and part of an esteemed team of dedicated flour experts known as the Doughminators™ who are frequently tapped for their technical expertise with all things flour.

“With pricing at decade-long highs, end users want to be sure their product will perform dependably every day,” he says, pointing out the escalated price of spring wheat because of the drought in Upper Midwest. “We have not seen prices this high since 2012. That is why a top-quality flour that can produce reliable products is so important.

“A retail baker cannot charge a premium price without having a superior product,” Santos continues. “The retail baker must move their prices upward to account for recent flour inflation. By using a premium flour that produces superior/consistent product, the customer appreciates and understands there is no substitute for quality- even a higher price point. At General Mills, we will not compromise on the quality or specs which is so important in this type of market. We will always source the highest quality wheat to ensure our customers get best quality flour.”

Jeff Yankellow, director of bakery and food services sales at King Arthur Baking, points to the overall marketplace need for consistency.

“If I had to nail down one single thing, there is no doubt for me it’s consistency,” he says. “To have accountability and maintain some level of standards you need to dial in your formulas and processes. There will always some sort of variability in the flour, wheat is a product of our environment, and milling is an art and a science. But using a flour with a tight spec should result in consistent flour from batch to batch, leading to consistent baking results.”

No single type of flour is the perfect choice for everyone, Yankellow says. Choosing the right flour not just based on labels such as “bread” or “AP,” but more importantly choosing what works best to get the results you need and want.

“One baker may like more protein for their croissants and other may like less. That’s the beauty of our business, bakers can sell things that represent who they are and their style,” he says.

Be aware that labels such as those mentioned above (bread and AP for example) are not the same from brand to brand, Yankellow explains. Be sure to look at the COA and know more about what you are buying. In the US protein is priced at a premium, be sure you aren’t paying for something you don’t need and alternately don’t be fooled into thinking you are getting the same for less.

Another important factor the market continues to see is the movement to more untreated flours (no bleach or bromate), Santos points out.

Consumer demand

One of the key trends today is information. More than ever, consumers demand to know the practices and processes involved in food production, including flour.

“Along with cleaner labels, I believe consumers are slowly awakening to the need for more information around sustainable agriculture,” Krishock emphasizes. “Farming practices such as no till, crop rotation and using technologies such as precision agriculture, all to try to reduce environmental impacts, increase efficiency and strengthen consistency. With wheat being a major agricultural crop, retail bakers could help encourage the need for such practices through their flour choices, signage, and marketing materials to help educate more of their customers on growers’ commitments to and investments in sustainable agriculture practices.”

Rob Ostrander, director of technical Solutions, Ardent Mills, points out there are important attributes of flour for retail bakeries in today’s marketplace. But they vary depending on the desired result.

“Attributes are different depending on the end result desired. Based on the product – breads, pizza, cakes or cookies – we help bakeries determine the best flour to start with, whether that’s hard or soft wheat,” he explains. “Retail bakeries usually carry a high-ratio cake flour (like American Beauty), an unbleached pastry flour (like White Spray), a bread flour (like Minnesota Girl) and a high-gluten flour (like Kyrol) which provide added versatility and can be used to make a variety of products, such as cakes, cookies, breads, bagels and more.

Retail bakeries also regularly work with whole wheat, rye, and bran or oats that can create more differentiated products, such as multigrain breads.

Retailers can embrace the trend toward better-for-you foods with nutritious plant-based solutions from Bay State Milling. Ancient grains from Bay State Milling are sourced from trusted partners around the world to deliver industry-leading quality, taste and purity.

  • Amaranth is light beige in color with an earthy, peppery flavor profile that provides balance in a variety of grain-based applications.
  • Buckwheat adds an earthy, nutty flavor and brown color to a variety of grain-based foods including noodles, pancakes, breads and sweet goods.
  • Millet is typically among the most cost-effective ancient grains. It has a neutral, slightly sweet flavor and is great for sweet or savory applications like breads, pasta, pizza, tortillas, cookies or cereals.
  • Quinoa has a mild, slightly nutty flavor profile making it easy to add nutrition to grain blends, baked goods, salads, bars, snacks, hot cereals and cold cereals.
  • Sorghum flour has a mild, wheat-like flavor profile, great for breads, cookies, cakes, bars and snacks.
  • Spelt Flour has a mild flavor profile. Perfect for pan, flat and hearth breads, buns, rolls, pizza, tortillas, pancakes and multigrain formulas.

Specialty additions

Ardent Mills recently completed the acquisition of substantially all the business assets of Firebird Artisan Mills, a leading gluten-free, specialty grain and pulse milling company. Over the next several months the Firebird Artisan Mills brand and products will be fully integrated into Ardent Mills as the company continues to bolster its emerging nutrition offerings. 

“As we partner with our customers in the specialty ingredient and gluten-free space, we continue to strengthen our capabilities with a portfolio of solutions that our customers depend on and trust,” said Angie Goldberg, chief growth officer, Ardent Mills. “Integrating the Firebird Artisan Mills products and expertise into Ardent Mills will maximize the synergies in our offerings and enhance the customer experience.”

The acquisition builds upon Ardent Mills’ existing specialty ingredient and gluten-free solutions; provides additional supply chain assurance; and bolsters capabilities in Ardent Mills’ leading R&D, technical, food safety and quality assurance teams.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in our growth strategy this year and are very excited to add the Firebird Artisan Mills team to the Ardent Mills family,” said Dan Dye, chief executive officer, Ardent Mills. “Together, we will continue to bring nutritious solutions to our customers and communities.”  

Organic moves

Nature’s Path, an organic breakfast and snack food company, has acquired a majority interest in Anita’s Organic Mill. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Founded in 1997 and headquartered in Chilliwack, BC, Anita’s is a miller and manufacturer of organic whole grain flours. The company sources organic grain from farmers across Canada, which is then stone-milled onsite at its facility in Chilliwack. Anita’s Chilliwack facility also houses a retail and bulk packaging plant, as well as an on-site bakery that serves as a test kitchen for education and development.

“We have been a customer of Anita’s Organic Mill since 2015 and have been using their flour in some of our top-selling products, like our Heritage Flakes and Flax Plus cereals,” said Arjan Stephens, general manager of Nature’s Path. “Throughout our relationship, we have been continuously impressed by the quality of Anita’s flour as well as the company’s passionate commitment to always being organic.”

Jayda Smith, co-owner and general manager of Anita’s, highlighted the “many synergies” between Anita’s and Nature’s Path.

“Just like Nature’s Path, we have dedicated ourselves to always being organic and non-GMO,” Ms. Smith said. “We also share a commitment to sustainability, by making products that are good for both people and the planet. We could not be more excited about this partnership, and the future growth it represents for Anita’s.”

Anita’s said it will retain its own distinct branding and join the Nature’s Path family of brands, including Love Crunch, EnviroKidz and Que Pasa.

“For 35 years, Nature’s Path has been a trailblazer in the world of organic food,” said Taylor Gemmel, co-owner and president of Anita’s. “And even though it has grown to be a global success story, Nature’s Path has never deviated from its mission: to always leave the earth better than they found it. We are confident our new partnership will help take Anita’s to the next level, while staying true to our roots.”

On the horizon

ADM, a global leader in nutrition that powers many of the world’s top food beverage, and health and wellness brands, recently released its second annual list of global consumer trends, many of which impact the flour sector.

Based on in-depth research from ADM’s proprietary Outside VoiceSM consumer insights platform, ADM provides a breakdown of each growth space poised for takeoff in the new year. These insights are used by the world’s leading consumer brands to fuel product innovation.

“Consumers today continue to navigate a tumultuous environment that has uprooted every aspect of their lives,” explains Brad Schwan, vice president of category marketing for ADM. “This has led forward-thinking brands to develop new solutions purpose-built to help consumers establish a sense of normality for themselves, their families and their pets. We’re seeing everything from foods, feeds and beverages that promote gut health to plant-based meat and dairy alternatives to biodegradable packaging.”

Below are the key consumer trends fueling current and future global growth that point the way for ADM’s innovation, renovation, and development platforms.

Nourishment for the Whole Self 

Consumers want to be more proactive about supporting their mind and body through a balanced approach to diet and lifestyle. While this is a long-term trend, the recent global pandemic has placed renewed interest on mental well-being, with many looking for more effective ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Wholesome nutrition is one important way consumers are looking to support their holistic well-being. In fact, ADM Outside VoiceSM finds that 37% of global consumers expect the snacks they eat to improve their mental well-being.

Plant-based Lifestyles 

A flexitarian approach to eating has become mainstream as consumers look to functional, wholesome, plant-based nutrition to support healthy, environmentally friendlier lifestyles. In fact, it is expected that alternative proteins will very likely account for 11% of the total protein market in 20352. This is being fueled, in part, by COVID-19, which has accelerated interest in plant-based, as a health-forward alternative for consumers who are paying close attention to their body’s nutritional needs. Food and beverage brands, in response, are broadening the landscape of nutrient-dense plant-based options for consumers, aiming to meet their growing demand for products that are sustainable, health and wellness oriented and safe.

Microbiome as The Root Of Wellness 

Awareness of the microbiome as central to wellness has grown over time. Data from ADM Outside VoiceSM indicates that 58% of global consumers are aware of the potential benefits that bacteria in the digestive system can have on their overall health. Today’s consumers are looking for foods, beverages and supplements that support gut health and overall well-being. Linked by consumers to immune function, aspects of metabolic health and even mood, mental acuity and feeling energized, consumers’ approach to supporting a healthy gut is evolving from reactive (seeking foods to alleviate discomfort) to proactive (tailored and customized pre-, pro- and postbiotic solutions), as they strive to achieve greater empowerment over their personal health and well-being.

Clean & Transparent Sourcing 

Consumer demand for ‘clean label’ products, which they consider to consist of real, kitchen-level ingredients, has become table stakes. Today’s shopper is consistently searching for foods and beverages containing real, simple ingredients that can help promote a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. This has led to a desire for transparency across the entire product lifecycle, from how it’s made to how it’s packaged, and beyond. This is especially true during COVID-19, with consumers placing an increased emphasis on learning where their food comes from and trying to ensure the health and safety of themselves, their families, their pets and their communities. As consumers become more sophisticated in their understanding of the products they consume, 58% of global consumers say they will be more attentive to locality claims as a result of COVID-195.

Sustainable Goodness 

Consumers see sustainability as a moral imperative as they connect it to what is right and ethical, their community and the environment. In fact, 47% of global consumers say they are now more attentive to sustainability claims5. This has sparked demand for ethical production and sustainable sourcing practices – such as regenerative agriculture and carbon negative production to protect the food supply of the future. Brands are responding by taking positions on environmental matters, aiming to reflect their commitments to increasing the sustainability of their production and distribution systems.

Advanced Renewables & BioSolutions 

Today’s consumers are more conscious of the environmental impact of their consumption and the food system at large, with a specific focus on the use of finite materials and physical waste. With 38% of global consumers being willing to pay more for products made with sustainable materials5, conscientious consumers are paying close attention to seeking out food, personal care and home care products that support the needs of their families, the environment and their local communities. And, consumers increasingly believe that companies should take greater responsibility for reducing waste and energy use from development to disposal.

Each of these growth trend spaces represents an opportunity for forward-thinking brands eager to maintain relevance with today’s consumer. ADM, a global powerhouse in human and animal nutrition, is positioned to provide these brands with the insights and novel solutions needed to meet consumer needs as they evolve in today’s ever-changing marketplace.

Online traction growing

Another key development brought on by recent events include the acceleration of the online marketplace for breads and bakery products.

Mercatus, a leading provider of grocery eCommerce solutions, is now offering the Instacart Connect integration to its retail clients. The integration is yet another way that Mercatus is helping grocery retailers improve their online grocery experience.

The new Mercatus integration with Instacart Connect enables Mercatus-powered grocery retailers to tap into the Instacart fulfillment infrastructure to pick, pack and deliver orders, without giving up control over the customer relationship. Now, consumers can go directly to their preferred grocer’s eCommerce site to place their orders, instead of going through the Instacart marketplace for their delivery service.

Behind the scenes, the order is placed and then routed from the retailer-owned site to Instacart, which dispatches an Instacart shopper to pick, pack and hand off (or deliver) the order to the customer. In doing so, Mercatus combines the grocer’s owned commerce channels with the labor flexibility of the Instacart fulfillment workforce — all while giving grocers more control over the shopping experience and, more importantly, the ability to retain the customer relationships they’ve worked so hard to foster.

“We know that building digital connections that result in a more-lasting customer loyalty is vital to ensuring grocers have a healthier, more valuable eCommerce proposition,” said Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO, Mercatus. “Grocers that own the customer connections and control more elements when a customer shops online, like assortment, pricing, promotions, upsells, time slots and customer service, are in a much better position to create stronger bonds via a more seamless experience.”

The new fulfillment capability uses Application Programming Interface (API) software to integrate Instacart Connect with the Mercatus grocery eCommerce platform. It is another example of how Mercatus offers grocers choice and flexibility, along with a range of capabilities that help them build an authentic brand experience that they control.

With the option to use Instacart Connect to build up their fulfillment program while directing shoppers to their own site powered by Mercatus, retailers are better able to develop more meaningful connections that are more than simply a functional or transactional relationship. And for resource-strapped grocers, the integration with Instacart enables them to meet surging demand at peak times without heavy investment in onboarding and expanding their existing in-store team. 

Survey Says

The U.S. online grocery market generated $8.6 billion in sales during November, which includes $7.0 billion from the pickup/delivery segments and $1.6 billion from ship-to-home, reported the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey fielded November 29-30, 2021. The 6% sales gain over last year’s $8.1 billion was driven in large part by an increase in the active shopper base, especially in Mass.

“Even as total online grocery sales increase, some conventional and regional grocers have reported softer sales performance during November, which is why looking at the broader eGrocery market is so important for identifying specific opportunities for improvement,” said David Bishop, Partner at Brick Meets Click. “For example, not offering pickup is likely to weigh on sales growth. Failing to attract early-stage family households can affect growth prospects, and if the shopping experience isn’t comparable to Mass rivals, that’s definitely hurting performance.”

Share of totaly weekly grocery spending up to 14%

Online grocery sales captured less than 2% of the total weekly grocery spending in the U.S. pre-COVID; now, as of November 2021, the share was seven times larger at nearly 14% on a national level and remained between 11% and 15% throughout 2021.

Monthly user base becomes larger and more stable 

During November 2021, nearly 69 million U.S. households bought groceries online, whether a full basket of goods or just a few items, representing a 15% jump versus last year.

One-third of these monthly active users (MAUs) are in the 30 to 44-year-old age group; this group has grown over 25% since November of last year and now represents more than half of all MAU growth on a year-over-year basis.

Sales and orders continue to shift from ship-to-home to pickup and/or delivery 

Pickup’s dominance, which began in 2020 shortly after the start of the pandemic, continued. The segment grew dollar sales 29% versus last year, far outpacing Delivery’s growth of 6% for the same period.

Together, these two methods accounted for 81% of dollar sales in November 2021 compared to 73% of total sales a year earlier, while Ship-to-Home sales plummeted 27% in the past 12 months, reflecting changing buying patterns.

AOVs rebalance versus pre-COVID: Pickup & Delivery AOVs grow while Ship-to-Home shrinks  

The weighted average order value (AOV) across all three receiving methods was $71.12 in November 2021; this was driven by an AOV of $86.30 for delivery, $83.44 for pickup, and $42.03 for ship-to-home orders.

Although spending per order dropped across all three segments versus last year, only ship-to-home saw its AOV dip below pre-COVID spending levels by 6% while AOVs for delivery and pickup each remained 15% or more above those levels.

Order frequency holding steady, averaging 2.6+ orders/month

Since January 2021, the average number of orders placed by MAUs has consistently ranged between 2.66 and 2.83, and November 2021 continued this trend with MAUs placing an average of 2.68 orders.

All market types reported lower order frequency except for Large Metro markets which held steady. However, the variability that monthly order frequency experienced during 2020 has lessened in 2021, declining by 60%, indicating that online grocery buying behaviors are becoming more entrenched.

Cross-shopping between Grocery & Mass/Supercenter: Big growth in Mass MAU base

The share of Grocery’s monthly active users who also placed at least one online order with Mass during November 2021 was 23.5%, a slight pullback versus the prior month but 280 basis points higher than last year.

For these households, more than two times as many cross-shopped with Walmart compared to Target.

Part of November’s decline in cross-shopping may be related to the surge in MAUs buying from Mass providers, which grew by 13 million households over the last twelve months. In contrast, Grocery gained just over 4 million households.

Repeat intent challenges: Grocery still lags Mass

The likelihood that a monthly active user will order again from the same online grocery service in the next month landed at 58.3% for November 2021, up 110 basis points from the prior month but down almost 25 percentage points compared to November 2020 when new COVID cases were higher and growing more rapidly, and vaccinations had yet to be administered.

Throughout 2021, repeat intent rates performed within a tighter range, but at a lower level than the 2020 peak. This could cause headwinds for growing AOVs because spending per order typically increases between 6% and 20% as a customer uses a service more often.

Grocery’s repeat intent rates continued to lag those of Mass retailers like Walmart and Target, and the gap grew from 4% the prior month to over 9% for November 2021.

This widening gap, along with a slightly lower cross-shop rate, may highlight reasons for Grocers to be experiencing higher customer churn in their MAU base than Mass retailers. 

“Although the market that grocers compete in today is fundamentally different, my advice remains the same,” said Sylvain Perrier, president and chief executive officer, Mercatus. “Understand why your customers shop with you in-store and know what they value most from the experience. Take this insight, work with your online partners to emphasize your key points of differentiation online by offering a shopping experience that is tailored to the shopper’s purchasing preferences.”