Sweet Tooth Substitutes

Consumers with special dietary needs can have their cake and eat it too. Premium baking mixes ranging from frozen gluten-free cookie dough to low-allergen muffin mixes and organic cake and brownie blends are bringing the fresh-from-the-oven experience to shoppers with a host of dietary requirements. As the demand for specialty dessert mixes increases, retailers are shifting sets to accommodate additional

Consumers with special dietary needs can have their cake and eat it too.

Premium baking mixes — ranging from frozen gluten-free cookie dough to low-allergen muffin mixes and organic cake and brownie blends — are bringing the fresh-from-the-oven experience to shoppers with a host of dietary requirements.

As the demand for specialty dessert mixes increases, retailers are shifting sets to accommodate additional SKUs. Some choose to merchandise alternative mixes alongside conventional products, while others have created special sections for their premium selections.

Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., has done a little of both. At the chain's North Muskegon, Mich., store, organic and gluten-free baking mixes are shelved together in a “Healthy Living” section within the baking aisle.

Brands stocked there include organic varieties from Nature's Path and Dr. Oetker, and organic and gluten-free mixes from Bob's Red Mill and Hodgson Mill.

“We typically mix our organic products in with mainstream products throughout the stores, but some of our locations have organic baking items in the Healthy Living section,” said Frank Guglielmi, spokesman for the Meijer chain. “Our gluten-free items are also merchandised there, and we hang signs that say ‘gluten-free’ to help call them out to shoppers.”

Meijer has steadily increased its selection of alternative baking mixes in recent years. As more products become available, it will add to its selection, said Guglielmi.

Specialty mixes continue to proliferate. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, the number of organic, low/no/reduced allergen and gluten-free baking products entering the market has risen significantly over the past few years.

In 2008, 167 organic, 136 low/no/reduced and 109 gluten-free baking items were launched during the first six months alone.

Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, has received an abundance of consumer requests for organics and gluten-free mixes, said Lori Willis, spokeswoman for the chain.

“Customers are checking labels more so than ever before,” she said. “There seems to be a greater desire now to know more about what we are eating and feeding our families.”

Organic baking mixes carried there include Dr. Oetker, Arrowhead Mills and Bob's Red Mill. To accommodate all of the new gluten-free items, the retailer has begun including a gluten-free baking section in its new and remodeled stores, said Willis.

The demand is greater at Spartan Stores nowadays, too.

“It's amazing to think where we were only 10 years ago, and to see how many major companies now have offerings that are organic and natural-based,” said David Marcus, category manager for the Grand Rapids, Mich., chain. “As the American diet and research in this arena continues to evolve, the growth of the category and the needs of consumers will increase.”

Greater product availability may also build awareness of food allergies.


The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Milwaukee, reports that at least 11 million Americans are affected by food allergies.

Of those, some 3 million are intolerant to gluten, which is present in wheat, rye and barley, a condition known as celiac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. Only 5% of people with celiac disease are aware that they have the condition.

As more people are diagnosed with food allergies, retailers will need to carry more food products that address these issues, said Carl Richardson, a Rochester, Mich.-based bakery and marketing consultant.

“As more people become conscious of their own personal allergy problems, retailers will need to meet the increasing demand,” he said.

All of Spartan's stores carry a full set of gluten-free baking mixes. They include products from Bob's Red Mill, Arrowhead Mills, Gluten-Free Pantry, Pamela's Products, Namaste Foods and Maple Grove.

“In our D&W Fresh Markets, these items are either in the organic/natural aisle or integrated in the baking aisle,” said Marcus. “In many of our Family Fare, Glen's and Felpausch stores, they are in the organic aisle and in a section in the store just for gluten-free goods.”

Matt Cox, marketing manager for Bob's Red Mill, Milwaukie, Ore., believes that shoppers don't just want healthful items. They want convenient products like baking mixes that will lead to quality results.

“Consumers can expect the next generation of gluten-free mixes to be more convenient to prepare and as delicious as any conventional mix,” he said. “Consumers will love that, because they've endured some pretty awful products and lack of selection over the years.”

Bob's Red Mill currently markets gluten-free brownie, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookie mixes, to name a few.

Schnucks' primary brand is Bob's Red Mill. Other gluten-free brands there are Pamela's, Gluten-Free Pantry and Hodgson Mill.

“We also carry Cherrybrook Kitchen baking mixes, which don't just include gluten-free,” said Willis. “They also have other allergen-free mixes, like peanut-free and dairy-free.”

While the demand for these desserts is there, the category is still in its infancy. As it grows, there are several things retailers can do to boost sales.

Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn., suggests highlighting healthful baking goods to make them easier to spot.

“One of the best things retailers can do is create awareness within the shelf set,” he said. “Ideally, they can use shelf tags or other types of POP materials, especially if they tie into other healthy food signs hung throughout the store.”

Richardson recommends segregating such sweets.

“They tend to get lost in the mix when stocked with other baking products,” he said. Plus, people who want organics or allergen-free desserts don't want to spend time sifting through the vast sea of sugar, spice and everything nice. They want to quickly and easily find their favorite foods and move on, added Richardson.

Along with locating exact items, shoppers have also shown concern for price points. Both organic and allergen-free baking mixes are more expensive than conventional concoctions. As a result, retailers must work closely with food makers to offer incentives that keep consumers coming back for more, said Taft.

“Organic and other alternative products have a role in categories such as baking mixes, but manufacturers and retailers need to be more careful about pricing differences vs. mainstream offerings in the category,” he said.