PHILADELPHIA -- Supermarkets may be missing an opportunity to meet consumers' rising demand for "good bread."
That's what Mona Doyle, president of The Consumer Research Network here, believes. Doyle's organization surveyed hundreds of supermarket shoppers across the country. Respondents said they wanted good, crusty bread in their supermarkets and they backed up those statements with assurances that they were willing to pay more for a such a product.
In research conducted in May, Doyle's group found that 55% of the 500 supermarket shopper-respondents said they wished their supermarkets carried "good, crusty bread." The survey participants particularly decried the quality of bread that's currently offered in their supermarket in-store bakeries and they added comments indicating they would be willing to pay more for "good" bread.
They also commented on the bakery's use of substitute ingredients such as margarine and coconut oil instead of real butter and cream; they said the result was a tasteless and disappointing product.
"A whole segment of the population that associates quality of life with super-premium ice cream and locally grown organic produce has added good bread -- flavorful, textured, delicious bread -- to their quality-of-life references," said Doyle.
"There's a surge in the number of consumers looking for products made with real butter, real cheese and real vanilla, even if it costs extra," she added.
Doyle stressed that many of the survey respondents made it clear in their comments that they were willing to pay a premium price for a good loaf of bread.
"A bakery that would offer European-quality bread and baked goods -- even if I could find one -- can charge me 50% to 100% more than the supermarket bakery down the street and I will gladly pay it and make a special trip to his location," said one respondent.
Others said their in-store bakeries offered bland, so-so bread.
Doyle said she was surprised at the emotion questions about the in-store bakery evoked. The bakery questions were part of a questionnaire that covered other fresh-food departments in the supermarket as well. But none of the other answers showed as much feeling as the ones regarding in-store bakeries, she said.
She pointed to one response that said, "Regarding supermarket bakeries, I have just two words: forget it," and another that said, "The baked goods in my in-store bakery are uniformly disappointing. Bread with any kind of a crunchy crust has become a figment of my imagination."
Doyle said supermarkets may think they're filling a demand, but they're not. They're not offering breads that are up to customers' expectations, she said.
"I think consumers are becoming more educated, more exposed to different products. They know good bread exists because some bread shop has got them to pay $4 or $5 for a loaf of really delicious bread and they liked it," Doyle said. Later, they may see bread that looks good in their supermarket bakery but doesn't measure up in taste and texture, she added.
"Supermarkets need to watch what's going on in their neighborhoods so they can make sure their product is as good or better than what someone else is offering," Doyle said.
She also said bread -- good bread, that is -- has recently emerged as a popular "take-with" item.
"People are taking bread instead of cake or cookies when they're invited to a friend's or relative's house for dinner. It's healthy and it's less expensive than cakes or cookies," Doyle said.
The fact that consumers are looking for bread that uses "real" ingredients like butter and cream doesn't contradict their constant search for healthy products, Doyle theorized.
Indeed, she said, consumers' wanting authentic rather than ersatz ingredients in their food fits right in with what they are thinking about health.
"And they figure bread is healthy. It's a license to eat something delicious that's also good for them," Doyle said.
One respondent agreed, saying "if we are going to use up calories on bakery products, they really need to be worth it!"