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Bakers Convention: Retailers Seek Innovation, Collaboration

AVENTURA, Fla. — Top executives from IGA and Whole Foods Market last week urged wholesale bakers to emphasize innovative products that reflect an understanding of the needs of both the retailers and their consumers.

“Commercial bakery products appear to be largely undifferentiated, and our independent retailers question how many suppliers are really necessary to supply their stores,” said Mark Batenic, CEO of IGA Inc., in remarks to the American Bakers Association Convention here.

“What we need at IGA from the bakeries is innovation,” he said, defining that as “exciting new items that are good for you.”

John Elstrott, chairman, Whole Foods Market, told the same group that understanding his company’s structure was essential to growing business with the natural food chain.

Whole Foods has some 350 stores across 12 regions, and each of the 12 is independently run and customized for local and regional needs.


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“We’re looking for you to help us find our weak spots, to fill a need,” he said. “Ask us which products we’re searching for. You may get various answers, depending on which region you’re dealing with.”

Addressing the topic from the foodservice side was Richard Junge, head of the innovation of new bakery products at McDonald’s Corp. He outlined the company’s strategy, including commitment to choice for consumers, nutrition, and product innovation and development.

The convention included a panel of industry and consumer experts who assessed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the commercial baking segment at a time when it’s faced challenges along with Center Store in supermarkets. These hurdles have been pinned on everything from growth of niches such as gluten free to continued momentum for the low-carb trend.

Read more: Independents Carefully Mold Scratch Bakers

“A lot of people think low carb is gone and dead,” said Steve French, managing partner, Natural Marketing Institute. “It’s not dead at all.”

Todd Hale, senior vice president, Consumer and Shopper Insights, Nielsen, said bakers need to adapt to changes spurred by shifting demographics, such as the need for smaller packs and higher fiber content for older shoppers.

Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight, Mintel, said health often means “no bad stuff” to consumers, so bakers should streamline ingredient lists to address this.

Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian, author and TV personality, said more consumers want baked goods to include ancient grains, which they perceive as healthier than wheat or rice.

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