Baking quickly emerged as one of Americans’ favorite pastimes during the pandemic, and some supermarket operators are looking to keep the trend alive with online and in-store classes.
Although home baking has clearly subsided from its 2020 peak, observers see a lingering interest in the activity, which they say is helping buoy retail sales of baking ingredients.
In a report published earlier this year called “Home Baking: Trends and Opportunities,” research firm Packaged Facts predicted that retail sales of baking products would continue to increase in the coming years as more consumers enjoy it as a hobby. The firm projected average sales gains of 1.2% annually through 2027 for all baking products.
“Sales of baking products will be higher in 2027 than in 2019 as a result of more consumers taking up home baking as an activity in the longer term after initially baking more during the pandemic,” the report concluded.
A shift to higher-value baking products, such as specialty flours and sweeteners, will also have a positive impact on sales in the coming years, according to the report. The report also predicted that partially prepared baking items such as dough, shells, and crusts would experience the fastest gains as consumers will continue to seek out convenient options for “semi-homemade” baked foods.
Baking and socializing
Some retailers added baking classes during the pandemic, which served both to satisfy customer interest in baking and create opportunities for social interaction.
“We see a lot of interest in our baking classes,” said Cheray MacFarland, director of community and marketing at City Market, a hybrid co-op supermarket with two stores in Burlington, Vt. “During the pandemic we were able to step up our online class offerings to provide members and customers with points of connection at an extremely isolating time.”
The retailer supported customer interest in sourdough baking by working with a local baker who teaches “sourdough 101” classes, for example. One of City Market’s employees, a baker who goes by the moniker “The Pie Guy,” also began giving online pie-making demonstrations.
“As we’ve moved to a mix of in-person and online classes, we still see strong interest in baking,” said MacFarland. “As a co-op, while we certainly hope that our classes bring folks into our stores to buy the ingredients they’re learning to use, we also value the opportunity they provide to connect our community with new skills, unfamiliar foods, global cuisines, and one another.”
City Market saw about a 15% growth across its baking categories, post- vs. pre- pandemic, she said, although sales in baking categories have mostly remained flat since 2021.
Innovation and new items in the category during the past few years have been dominated by the rise of gluten free, MacFarland said, citing increased demand — and more available product options — for non-wheat flours and baking mixes.
MacFarland noted that sales of baking categories tends to be very seasonal, with sales rising during the fall and winter and then a lull in spring and summer.
“Our promotions tend to follow these seasonal trends, with dedicated displays during colder months,” she said.
Sourdough classes and more at PCC
PCC Community Markets, meanwhile, has a team of baking experts who offer a variety of baking classes year-round, both for adults and children, said Sephi Coyle, director of culinary education at the Seattle-based chain. She agreed that the pandemic sparked renewed interest in baking with sourdough.
“Baking classes have always been popular, but we’ve seen an uptick in interest for sourdough,” she said, noting that PCC offers two-day workshops on the topic multiple times each year.
Baking classes include some on French pastry, including classes on croissants, macarons, and eclairs, for example, and other classes include pie-baking, gluten-free baking and working with chocolate. On the schedule this fall are classes for children on autumn baking and Halloween treats, a two-day sourdough workshop, a French pastry workshop on eclairs and cream puffs, and more.
During the pandemic, PCC Community Markets saw sales of baking items spike as much as 80% over 2019 sales.
“While this consumer behavior predictably rebalanced after the world gradually began to reopen in 2021, PCC continues to experience a sustained lift of baking items that are approximately up 30% over 2019,” said Noah Smith, grocery merchandiser, PCC. “This illustrates that consumers are continuing to bake at home significantly more than they had previously.”
PCC has also introduced several locally grown and milled premium specialty flours in its packaged sets, and plans to roll them out in its bulk sections at value price points.
“Many consumers are quite knowledgeable in what they are looking for in baking flour, so at the co-op we now include wheat varietal, protein content, and ash info in our bulk signage,” Smith said.
Sales of baking gadgets level off
Fairfield, Ohio-based Jungle Jim’s International Market also reported that customer interest in home baking appeared to have spiked during the pandemic, but has since settled back down. Sales of items such as bread makers rose sharply, according to a spokesperson for Jungle Jim’s cookware department.
“We have since seen these sales level off as most people have already purchased the gadgets required,” the spokesperson said.
The retailer incorporates some baking lessons into its cooking classes, although most focus on the main course, said Leigh Barnhart Ochs, director of Jungle Jim’s Cooking School.
“Every class usually incorporates some dessert,” she said. “Encouraging our customers to take a class brings out a chef and baker’s side of themselves they didn’t know was there.”
The retailer also seeks to promote home baking with an expansive assortment of ingredients, said Zack Cobb, creative director, Jungle Jim’s.
“Various products stretch from our grocery department to our international selection,” he said.
Data from NIQ (formerly NielsenIQ) shows that overall, sales of baking ingredients have largely followed the pattern of other center store categories, with units down even though dollar sales have risen on some items. Sales of many baking ingredients spiked in 2020, then slid back toward pre-pandemic levels.
Unit sales of bread mixes, for example, were up 14% in the 52 weeks through July 4, 2020, then fell between 3.5% and 4.6% in each of the following three years. Inflation in the latest 52-week span, however, helped drive dollar sales up 10.5% in the category, to $173.5 million, despite a 3.8% dip in unit sales, compared with the preceding 52-week period.
Cake mix followed a similar pattern, with unit sales down 0.5% for the 52 weeks through July 1 of this year, but dollar sales up 13.1%, to $517.9 million, compared with a year ago.