Beige apocalypse: Why have bread volumes nosedived in the past five years in the FDMx channel?

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Breakfast cereals Wheat

Why have bread volumes nosedived in the past five years?
Pound volumes of bread & rolls, ready-to eat breakfast cereals and wheat-based cereal bars have plummeted in the past five years in the US food, drug and mass channel as shoppers spurn ‘beige’ center of store categories, according to new data.

SymphonyIRI data supplied to FoodNavigator-USA by ConAgra Mills covering pound volume changes in key grain-based categories in the food, drug and mass merchandise channel excluding Walmart (FDMx) shows the following declines (calendar year 2011 vs 2006):

  • Bread/Buns/Rolls                         -9.1%
  • Ready-to-eat Breakfast Cereal      -8.2%
  • Hot Cereal                                   -8.5%
  • English Muffins                            -5.3%
  • Rice Cakes                                  -19%
  • Tortillas (soft, shelf stable)           -7.9%
  • Crackers                                     -0.9%

Pound volumes of total breakfast cereals are down 8.2% from 2006 to 2011 and total breads/buns/rolls/muffins/bagels are down 9.1% from 2006 to 2011.

The number of loaves of bread sold in FDMx channels slumped 11.3%

bread-istock-Sourav Chowdhury

Meanwhile, volume data looking specifically at loaves of bread sold in the US from 2006 to 2011 in the same channel shows an even sharper 11.3% decline, with just under 3bn loaves sold in the FDMx channel in 2011 versus almost 3.4bn loaves in 2006.

The data shown below are in millions of units (ie. loaves) sold.    

  • 2006    3,357
  • 2007    3,241
  • 2008    3,135
  • 2009    3,118
  • 2010    3,101
  • 2011    2,978
  • 2012 - In the 52 weeks ending July 8, 2012, bread sales were 2,895 million units

Oat-based granola bars up 16%; wheat-based cereal/breakfast/snack bars down 19%

On a more positive note, pound volumes of granola bars (mostly oat based) were up 16%, although cereal/breakfast/snack bars pound volumes slumped 19.2% (this sub-group is more wheat based).

Meanwhile, pound volumes of pasta were up 1.7%; rice mixes/ bulk rice up 1.3% and popcorn (kernel, microwave) up 0.9%.

ConAgra Mills: These product categories are suffering from the '50 shades of beige' phenomenon

Sheluga: 50 shades of beige

Commenting on the data, ConAgra Mills director of commercial insights David Sheluga told FoodNavigator-USA: “These product categories are suffering from the '50 shades of beige' phenomenon, as America’s diet slowly shifts from a meat-and-potatoes based European diet, to a more modern, colorful, multi-textured, multi-flavored diet influenced by Asian and Latino foods.

"These product categories are traditional ‘center of store’ categories. The center of store has struggled in recent years for a variety of reasons.  By comparison, the perimeter of the store has gained popularity as fresh, colorful and interesting products are introduced. 

"Millennials generally stick to the perimeter of the store and shun the center of store and singles of all ages are more likely to shop the perimeter, while family households tend to shop the center of store. But America’s share of family households is slowly shrinking.

Meanwhile, consumers aged 50+ are increasingly eating out at breakfast, he added: "Much of the growth has been in breakfast visits, competing head on with breakfast cereals, toast, hot cereal and English muffins that the 50+ consumer would have eaten at home."

Foods that are rising in popularity are easily held in one hand, while the other hand holds a smartphone

In today’s on-the-go society, he said, "foods that are rising in popularity are easily held in one hand, while the other hand holds a smartphone.  This is why granola bar sales are soaring, while products requiring a bowl, like breakfast cereal, or products requiring preparation steps, like breakfast toast, are declining."

Wheat-based foods in decline

Meanwhile, consumption of wheat-based products is in decline, he said.

"Per capita consumption of wheat flour fell rather steeply from 2000 to 2009. By comparison, per capita consumption of corn flour based products and rice-related products grew from 2000 to 2009. 

"In the 1980s and 1990s, 80% of our grain consumption was due to wheat based products. Today, it has fallen to 69%, while corn flour and rice products are now 28% of our grains. The remaining 3% are oats, rye, barley, and a couple of others, according to USDA's economic research service.

"It is pretty clear that the rise in corn flour related foods are driven by the rise in our Latino population and its influences on our popular foods.  The rise in rice consumption is Asian and Latino food related.  By comparison, European-origin wheat foods are on the decline."

The Atkins Diet never really went away 

One contributing reason (among many) for the decline in wheat consumption, he speculated, "is the continued connection to carbohydrates and carb avoidance eating patterns".

He added: "The Atkins Diet never really went away for consumers and continues to have strong influences on consumers food choices even today."


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