Wheat Bread Sales Surpass White for First Time

July 09, 2010

Has so much talk about the intake of high glycemic index foods and complex carbohydrates affected white bread consumption?

Has so much talk about the intake of high glycemic index foods and complex carbohydrates affected white bread consumption?  Although one iconic brand of white bread takes a strong nutritional position today – that it has as much fiber as 100% whole wheat bread, and that two slices have as much calcium as a glass of milk – a demand shift has already occurred within the bread category.

For the first time ever, dollar sales of fresh wheat bread have surpassed the sales of fresh white bread in U.S. supermarkets, according to Nielsen LabelTrends data (prepackaged, UPC-coded products only).

Here’s how it happened statistically: Both the white and wheat bread segments are significant and approach the $2 billion mark in supermarket dollar sales. Wheat bread, however, has overcome a more than $200 million sales gap in the past four years to overtake white bread. Higher annual growth rates in 2007, 2008 and 2009 culminated in an even sharper contrast during the latest 52 weeks ended June 12, 2010, the LabelTrends data showed.

In this most recent period, white bread sales in supermarkets declined 6.6% to $1.90 billion, on a 2.6% equivalized unit volume decline (16-ounce basis). By contrast, wheat bread dollar sales edged up by 0.8% to $1.99 billion, on a 3.7% EUV increase.

Indeed, wheat bread was the only bread segment of those identified and tracked by LabelTrends to post any gain at all in this period. Rye, oat, multi-grain, pumpernickel and barbecue segments all declined in the latest 12 months. So did the fresh bread category overall in supermarkets – down 2.8% to $6.49 billion, on a 0.1% EUV dip in the period.

But white bread was the largest segment to take such a high-percentage loss in this period. Time will tell if the nutritional positioning taken by this one major brand can help to reverse the category sales trend.

How did the wheat gain itself break out? There’s a sizable distinction between the ‘wheat with whole grain’ classification, and the ‘wheat without whole grain’ classification. A 3.9% rise in dollar sales of ‘wheat with whole grain’ breads drove that classification to $1.07 billion in supermarkets, on a 7.6% EUV boost, the data showed. By contrast, a 2.6% downturn in dollar sales of ‘wheat without whole grain’ claim slid that classification to $924.0 million, albeit on a 0.3% EUV rise, reported LabelTrends.

In three of the past four years, the growth rate of ‘wheat with whole grain’ breads far outpaced that of the ‘wheat without whole grain’ breads.

When shoppers place bread in their cart, several companion products they buy on the same trip suggest that young families that eat breakfast and dairy products regularly are frequently the purchasers. Spectra data for the 12 months ended June 23, 2010, reveal, for example:  disposable diapers and training pants (114 index where 100 is average); breakfast food and dough products (both 111 index); cereal and table syrups (both 110 index); milk, cheese, butter and margarine (all 109 index).


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