While conventional baking mixes are on the decline, new offerings with alternative flours and improved packaging may help boost a category ripe for reinvention.
It’s been a tough time for traditional baking products. “The high sugar content, dirty ingredient [panels], and bad nutritionals are driving conventional declines, not to mention that fewer people are baking due to time constraints,” says Rachelle Maitland, category manager, KeHE.
According to Mintel’s latest report, “Baking Mixes, US January 2016” total U.S. sales of baking mixes declined in 2015 by 3.4 percent to $4.1 billion and are forecast to continue declining through 2020. Experiencing the steepest fall-off, according to Mintel, will be bread and cookie mixes, and cake and pastry mixes.
Helping to combat declining sales, says Maitland, are product options that are natural and organic, allergen-free, and those that fit special diets like Paleo and vegan. She points to a recent report from research companies SPINS and IRI, showing that “natural products were up 9 percent and specialty products were up 4 percent.” In the specialty baking mixes category specifically, 18 percent of consumers reported purchasing these products in 2016, up from 16 percent the year prior, according to “Today’s Specialty Food Consumer 2016,” an annual report from the Specialty Food Association and Mintel (see highlights starting on p. C1). Purchasing is fairly consistent across age groups, but highest among millennial specialty food consumers.
“Products that address increasing consumer concerns towards packaged and processed foods, artificial ingredients and preservatives, and showcase a more attractive deck with ingredients like non-GMO ancient grains, proteins, and pro- and pre-biotics, will help give the category the push that it needs,” Maitland adds.
Understanding the Consumer
More than four in 10 people say they use baking mixes because they are faster and easier than baking from scratch, notes Mintel’s report, but younger shoppers are looking at baking mixes for something beyond speed.
“Millennials are more apt to say they use baking mixes not only because they enjoy baking but also because it represents a fun activity,” explains Maitland.
New and interesting flavors are also key for millennials who are known for being adventurous in their food choices. Mintel’s “The Millennial Impact: Food Shopping Decisions–US, September 2015” report notes that millennials are significantly more likely than other groups to say they are the first among their friends to try new food products.
Another strong consumer base is families, who also gravitate toward boxed mixes. “Baking mixes tend to sell steadily across the board but perform best with families with small children, especially around the holidays, according to Andrea K. Cook, grocery category manager at Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets, with locations in Indiana and Kentucky. She also says she looks for eye-catching packaging, unique flavor profiles, and on-trend options to build the category.
Beyond traditional mixes, flours themselves are driving some interest in at-home baking, especially those made with nuts, alternative grains other than wheat, and other innovations like coconuts, bananas, or coffee. Alternative flours offer options for those with gluten intolerances or who are drawn by their healthful, better-for-you connotation. These products are taking off whether as part of a mix or on their own.
Here is a deeper look at some trends experts have cited that will give the baking mix category potential to get out of its slump.
A Better Ingredient Panel. Clean, organic ingredients that accommodate specialty dietary needs and those that meet Paleo guidelines are hitting home runs in the baking category.
“[It’s] probably the single greatest driver of interest in mixes,” says Nina Palazzolo, category management coordinator for Wheatsville Food Co-op, Austin, Texas, who says there was a definite interest in alternative flours like those from Anti-Grain, a company that makes organic and non-GMO flours from fruits and veggies like pumpkin, squash, and apple.
With consumers thinking ingredients like soy, sugar, and even sugar alternatives like stevia are ‘out,’—and ancient grains such as emmer, farro, and kamut ‘in,’—they are seeing healthier alternatives in the baking aisle that are in line with their lifestyle choices.
Protein-enriched mixes with either beans or whey are also gaining traction. Palazzolo says mixes like FlapJacked Protein Pancake and Baking Mix made with whey protein isolate, and Birch Benders Paleo Pancake & Waffle Mix are definitely on customers’ radar at Wheatsville.
At Canyon Market, San Francisco, Calif., products with better-for-you organic ingredient panels are what move off the shelf. “They do the best,” says grocery manager Jean Greenfield. She highlights Miss Jones Baking Co. for its organic approach and Cherryvale Farms for its easy-to-prepare, non-GMO-certified mixes that encourage consumers to add their own fresh ingredients.
“Now that companies are starting to use non-GMO and organic ingredients in the mix, people feel better about consuming these types of products like cakes and muffins, especially if they are going to give them to their kids,“ she continues.
Game Changing Gluten-Free. According to Mintel, consumers are more likely to view the consumption of gluten-free products as a contributing factor to their overall wellbeing, causing the category overall to trend upward. The company’s report, “Gluten-Free Foods, US 2015,” notes the category has experienced growth of 136 percent from 2013 to 2015, reaching estimated sales of $11.6 billion last year. With over one-quarter (27 percent) of gluten-free food consumers looking for gluten-free labels on food packaging, gluten-free food sales exploded from 2.8 percent of total food sales in 2013 to 6.5 percent in 2015.
“The surge in interest in gluten-free and sheer availability of so many exotic and ancient grains, has given the category a slight boost,” says Rich Proctor, purchasing director at Hart’s Local Grocers, Rochester, N.Y. Proctor does big business with Farmer Ground Flour, which features locally grown and ground organic flours. The store offers varieties like amaranth, rye, and kamut. “Baking mixes that use gluten-free grain flours like Zemas Madhouse do very well,” he adds.
“Gluten-free is more on the public radar and has been a game changer for this category,” says Jay Hovenesian, buyer at Debra’s Natural Gourmet in West Concord, Mass. “We see a demand for ancient grain flour like millet and teff and if they are non-GMO, even better.” The store has 50 SKUs of baking mixes, all of which are gluten-free, says Hovenesian.
According to Rainbow Blossom’s Cook, while the natural food industry has always been a resource to those with lifestyle needs, there has been a surge in variety over the past five years. “Gluten- and nut-free options especially have become more accessible and affordable during this time,” she says.
Packaging Evolution. Many retail leaders and packaging professionals agree that clean and innovative packaging with appetizing pictures that accurately represent the finished product will resonate with consumers, and help give the category the push that it’s been waiting for.
“The baking category is ripe for reinvention,” says Jenn David Connolly, creative strategist, owner, Jenn David Design, San Diego, Calif. She notes fresh imagery and design will ‘liven up’ and bring new energy to this lagging category, helping to distance it from the traditional, homey, and dated look of yore.
“Packaging is important to illustrate the end result of what the mix will make in an engaging, appetizing way that motivates the consumer to be excited about the process and final product. But it also needs to foster trust and safety in an unfamiliar product, as well as communicate ingredients and certifications clearly,” says Indianapolis, Ind.-based designer Eric Kass. He says mixes that do this right include Miss Jones Baking Co., Williams-Sonoma’s Tyler Florence 5-in-1 Baking Mix, and Briaura Artisan Foods.
With conventional mixes traditionally known for being laden with artificial ingredients, promoting clean ingredients and health aspects where applicable on packaging is key. But, of course, the product still has to be good. “Miss Jones Baking Co. and Cherryvale Farms not only do a good job by having a great, healthful mix, they also hit a home run with their packaging—just looking at the box makes you want to eat it,” Canyon Market’s Greenfield adds.
More major manufacturers will offer products that match changing consumer expectations that include more organic and simplified ingredients. Frostings, a complement to the category, will also continue to get better, according to Mintel. Simple Mills recently launched certified-organic frosting made with coconut oil and sustainable palm shortening that is non-GMO, dairy- and soy-free, and low in sugar, while on the conventional level, Pillsbury’s Purely Simple line of cupcake and frosting mixes have no artificial ingredients or preservatives.
Retailers share which products are flying off shelves.
Jay Hovenesian, Debra’s Natural Market,
• Authentic Foods Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix
• Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Teff Flour
• Namaste Foods Gluten-Free Muffin & Scone Mix
• Zemas Madhouse Foods Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
Rich Proctor, Hart’s Local Grocers, Rochester, NY
• Bob’s Red Mill Organic Kamut Stone Ground Flour
• Farmer Ground Spelt Flour
• Pamela’s Gluten-Free Cornbread & Muffin Mix
• Zemas Madhouse Foods Sugar Free Peruvian Sweet Potato Pancake & Waffle Mix
Andrea Cook, Rainbow Blossom, Louisville, KY
• King Arthur Ancient Grains Flour Blend
• Freedom Foods Ancient Grains Pancake Mix with Quinoa
• Simple Mills Almond Flour Vanilla Cake Mix
Nina Palazzolo, Wheatsville Food Co-op, Austin, TX
• Anti-Grain Flours (Apple, Squash, Sweet Potato, Pumpkin)
• Birch Benders Paleo Pancake & Waffle Mix
• FlapJacked Protein Pancake and Waffle Mix
• Pamela’s Grain and Gluten-free Nut Flour Blend
• Simple Mills Baking Mixes
New Mixes and flours
Find innovation in these new products.
Bob’s Red Mill Paleo Baking Flour. A grain-free blend that includes almond, organic coconut, and tapioca flours. Use to create Paleo-friendly baked goods from cakes and cookies, to muffins, to flatbreads. bobsredmill.com
Cherryvale Farms Oatmeal Cookie Mix. Add fruit puree and oil to make this Non-GMO Project Verified cookie. cherryvalefarms.com
Enjoy Life Brownie Mix. Made with teff, flax, and sprouted rice, this gluten-free baking mix has 5 grams of protein per serving and contains probiotics. enjoylifefoods.com
The Invisible Chef Jelly Belly Candy Cane Swirl Cake. This mint Dutch chocolate and vanilla marbled cake with a candy cane flavor twist is a fun addition to holiday baking. theinvisiblechef.com
Marx Pantry Coffee Flour. Made from dried and ground coffee cherries, this gluten-free flour can be used in baked goods in combination with other flours. It’s iron- and antioxidant-rich and each tablespoon is roughly equivalent in caffeine content to a third of an average cup of black coffee. marxpantry.com
Pamela’s Grain and Gluten-free Nut Flour Blend. This grain-free flour is Paleo-friendly and a mix of almond, coconut, walnut, and pecan flours. It is certified gluten-free by GFCO, and GMO Project Verified. Wheat-, grain-, dairy-free, with no sugar and 4 grams of protein per serving. pamelasproducts.com
Pereg Banana Flour. The high starch content in this flour means bakers can use 30 percent less banana flour than wheat flour to make favorite recipes gluten-free. Made from peeled, ripe bananas. Gluten-free and Non-GMO Project Verified. pereg-spices.com
Simple Mills Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffin Mix. Made with almond flour, this mix bakes up a low-sugar muffin (5 grams) with 4 grams of protein. Paleo-friendly, Non-GMO Project Verified, dairy- and soy-free. simplemills.com
Sticky Fingers Bakeries Chocolate Chip Gluten-Free Scone Mix. Made with rice flour and a hint of buttermilk and sea salt, these not-so-sweet treats are perfect for kids and adults alike who are mindful of gluten in their diets. stickyfingersbakeries.com
Stonewall Kitchen Carrot Cake Mix. This mix bakes up the iconic dessert moist and flavorfully with a combination of carrots and spices, and rich cream cheese frosting. stonewallkitchen.com
Zemas Madhouse Foods Ancient Whole Grain Black Bean Brownie Bites. Endurance grain teff and antioxidant-rich cocoa team up with protein-laden black beans, and a trio of super seeds—flax, hemp, and chia. Gluten-free, free of the top eight allergens and Non-GMO verified. zemasfoods.com
Related: Product Roundup: Paleo Power; Healthier, Basic Products Spur At-Home Baking.
Photos: Mark Ferri; Food Styling: Leslie Orlandini; Props Styling: Francine Matalon–Degni
Nicole Potenza Denis is a contributing editor to Specialty Food Magazine.