RBA 2000

WASHINGTON -- Fad diets can eat into bakery profits but population changes and trends that are in high gear right now can also drive in-store bakery sales.That's what Judi Adams, president of the Wheat Foods Council, told attendees at the Retailer's Bakery Association's in-store bakery executive conference here March 24 and 25. The conference preceded the Laurel, Md.-based RBA's Marketplace 2000 conference

WASHINGTON -- Fad diets can eat into bakery profits but population changes and trends that are in high gear right now can also drive in-store bakery sales.

That's what Judi Adams, president of the Wheat Foods Council, told attendees at the Retailer's Bakery Association's in-store bakery executive conference here March 24 and 25. The conference preceded the Laurel, Md.-based RBA's Marketplace 2000 conference and expo held here March 25 to 27.

"Two-thirds of the world's population that has ever reached the age of 65 is alive today. That's a statistic that impressed me. It says something about the size of the aging market, which has health concerns. We ought to be targeting it, particularly with whole-grain products," Adams said.

Actually, people of all ages in America are becoming more and more health-conscious. So bakery executives need to be thinking about how to tap into the opportunities those trends present, Adams said.

Whole-grain breads have not been played up enough as a healthy, functional food, and a tremendous source of fiber, she said.

"Wherever you go, you find that fad diets are on the rise and that is affecting grain consumption. We need to do work on that," said Adams, stressing that whole-grain breads could be a boon to the in-store bakery. They're healthy and also are convenient to eat, she added.

Not everybody is on Dr. Atkins' high-protein diet, and what's more, an increasing number of people are looking at foods' positive aspects. In particular, consumers are actively seeking food products that will boost their immune systems and prevent cancer, Adams said.

"In a recent survey, for the first time, health benefits outpaced harm associated with food, from the consumer's perspective. The percentage of people in a 1999 survey who said they checked labels for no-nos dropped to 55% from 65% in 1990," the Wheat Foods Council executive said.

Instead, she explained, consumers have begun to examine labels for health benefits.

In recent research cited by Adams, 53% of consumers said they were eating specific foods for specific health benefits. That same research showed that those most likely to do so fit this profile: ages 45 to 74, Asian or Hispanic women, college graduates, income over $50,000.

Combine that data with the booming aging population and the increase in the Hispanic segment of the U.S. population and it spells big opportunity for sales of functional foods/nutraceuticals, Adams said.

The research also showed that 22% of survey respondents linked fiber to the prevention of colon cancer and 10% linked fiber and grains to the prevention of heart disease. But Adams explained that most respondents associated fiber with fruits and vegetables, particularly broccoli, and not with whole grains.

Thus, there is at least an opportunity to tout the fiber content of whole-grain breads and other baked products, she said. The success of functional foods has been charted in the dry grocery aisle for the most part, and in the dairy aisle with cholesterol-lowering margarine.

Indeed, functional foods, which have been defined as "foods that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition" or "a manufactured food for which scientifically valid health claims can be made," showed the strongest growth of any food products from 1998 to 1999, Adams said. Last year, the category had a sales jump of 13% over the previous year, compared with traditional grocery sales, which inched up by 1% to 2% during the same period, she pointed out.

"That's the good news, but the bad news is that wheat-flour use has dropped for the past two years. Most Americans are eating only 6.7 servings of grain products a day when the recommended number is 11. And, among children, less than 50% eat the correct number of grain servings a day," Adams said.

Additional research that Adams cited has shown that the top health concern among Americans is cancer. And 31% of consumers surveyed in the study said they would "definitely" and 72% said they would "probably" buy foods that help reduce the risk of cancer.

In another survey, 51% of marketing executives predicted that cancer-prevention benefits would soon be the biggest food-label claim, Adams said.