The bakery space is a complex place to occupy in 2019. Consumers still crave sweet treats, yet an increasing aversion to sugar threatens the longevity of many of our old favourites.
Home-baking, especially, is on a continuous decline. According to Kantar research, the average shopper has made just 13 home baking trips in the last year – 2.2% down on the year before.
Combined, these evolutions serve as something of catch 22 for many bakery specialists. So when customers demand healthy, sugar-free snacks that still hit that sweet spot, where do you begin?
It appears there’s no quick fix. Superfood Bakery founders Ksenia Tkacheva and Tania Vynokurova were experimenting with free-from variations of their favourite baking recipes long before they launched their company in 2017.
“It was very much an outdated category, with a lack of innovation and natural ingredients,” Tkacheva tells Food Spark. “It needed more challenger brands and we are one of them.”
The pair saw their company grow 300% in 2018, and raised £250,000 from a group of angel investors at the turn of the year – most of which will go towards supporting current and upcoming launches with nationwide retailers.
The brand, which offers natural, vegan, gluten- and dairy-free products carries out hundreds of tastings per year to determine its ranges.
“Being free-from is no longer enough. Products in this space need to taste delicious, as well as being natural,” notes Vynokurova.
“We have seen the demand for the healthy indulgence boom in the free-from aisle [particularly] over the past 12 months,” adds Tkacheva. “Consumers are searching for products that use natural, high-quality ingredients and unrefined sugars to create sweet treats that they needn’t feel guilty about!”
The pair believe Superfood’s varied range is key to its popularity across broad consumer groups, but that their chocolate-flavoured products, such as the Joy Makers Brownies and Spirit Lifters Cookies, will always please the mass market.
“People love indulgence no matter which dietary lifestyle they lead,” says Vynokurova.
“We’ve found that our best-selling products are the most indulgent SKUs. When it comes to sweet offerings in the free-from category, consumers still undeniably want a decadent experience, but they’re increasingly searching for products that will provide them with a dose of healthier indulgence.
“The healthy indulgence trend has really transformed the way brands are using ingredients and has created the opportunity to explore alternative sugars, specialist flours such as chickpea and tigernut, and egg replacers such as aquafaba (chickpea water) or flax egg to create vegan bakes.”
Making baking easy
The co-founders are both unsurprised and undeterred by the decline in home-baking and hold high hopes of revitalising the category.
“People are baking less often because it’s a hassle and because they don’t trust widely-available brands of baking mixes,” adds Vynokurova. “These have earned a reputation for being unhealthy and containing preservatives… We love inspiring our customers to customise their mixes: whether it’s raspberry pancakes with coconut yoghurt and berries, or brownie bites with chocolate ganache.”
The pair are keeping quiet on future production lines, but admit they have a few new mixes in the pipeline.
But where next for the bakery space? Can traditional sugary brands survive in this new age of health-conscious consumers?
"I try not to read too much into trends as it would make it difficult to innovate,” reveals Tkacheva says. “However, we certainly can’t ignore the no-sugar trend, which has had a massive impact on the industry as a whole. Currently, sugar substitutes such as xylitol or stevia do not possess the same chemical properties as sugar and, as such, fail to deliver on taste in the baked product.
“Brands showing innovation around unrefined sugars and sugar alternatives will certainly be key in safeguarding the future of the category.”
Vynokurova predicts natural products within the space will continue to gain their share of presence on the shelves.
“With the awareness around reducing the consumption of animal products, more bakery products will be made vegan,” she says. “The taste profile of free-from products will also improve to compete with their traditional counterparts.”