Bakers Journal

The Final Proof: April 2013

April 5, 2013
By Stephanie Ortenzi

There’s never been a better time to shine a light on bread’s nutritional value

There’s never been a better time to shine a light on bread’s nutritional value

Even though he uttered it back in May, the news from Maple Leaf’s CEO Michael McCain is still ringing in our ears. Big numbers will do that. Adjusted operating earnings for the company's bakery product group fell 73 per cent in the first quarter of 2012. Sales have slumped globally, and our largest bread companies are the worst hit. Here’s what some of them are doing to fight back.

Maple Leaf, which owns Canada Bread, got busy enacting McCain’s ideas for a comeback: marketing to drive sales, focusing on nutrition, and targeting growth categories such as English muffins and bagels.


Firstly: the marketing. In November, the company’s Dempster’s brand got a new TV spot called Bread Farm that showed farmers pulling loaves of Dempster’s bread out of the ground as if they were many nutritious bunches of carrots. It’s a great spot, but we need to see it more.

Secondly, a digital campaign featuring comedian Gerry Dee was released in early February. He plays a counter person at a juice bar preparing smoothies for a lineup of customers and adding a slice of bread to each drink. Dee is hilarious, and so are some of the customers’ faces, but it doesn’t make me want to choose bread over fruit, and that’s a choice we want our consumers to feel they have. One customer actually curses him out. When does an unhappy customer look good on a brand? I think the company’s getting bad advice with this spot. In this case, I believe Dempster’s web campaign is more effective than the video.

Thirdly, Dempster’s has strived for compelling marketing online. Three pages on gives consumers powerful reasons for feeling good about eating their bread. And they do it by measuring the bread against the usual suspects of good nutrition – fruits and vegetables.

The pages show how one slice of Dempster’s whole wheat bread has the same vitamins, minerals, calcium and iron as two medium apples. That same slice of bread has the same calcium, fibre and carbs as one apple, but 10 per cent less sugar. It also has the same vitamins and minerals as one cup of broccoli or carrots, and the same fibre as a half cup of cooked asparagus. Not to be outdone, one slice of whole wheat whole grain bread has the same iron and calcium as a half cup of broccoli and twice the fibre.

When you’ve got a slice of bread that can KO carrots, broccoli and apples, you’ve got a compelling reason to feel good about eating bread, and this is precisely how to get bread sales back on the rails. These pages get at the heart of what’s eaten away at consumers’ feelings about eating bread. I hope we see this great content as a TV ad.

Weston took a different and great tack. The company launched new products in November: flatbreads from the Flat Oven brand, and a gluten-free product line under the President’s Choice label. The give-them-what-they-want approach is the ultimate fail-safe.

By comparison, I spoke to three other large bakeries with slightly different profiles.

Ace Bakery’s hallmark has always been its promise to keep its breads free of preservatives and artificial ingredients, but it has also always had variety as a strong suit in its predominantly artisanal-style bread line. Ace reports continued sales growth and a philosophy around innovation. “It’s the life blood of any consumer foods company,” says president Lee Andrews. “Our focus is to continue to innovate into products that consumers demand.”

At Cobs Bread, marketing manager Debbie Roque reports “positive sales numbers.” The company’s white loaf represents only 20 per cent of its offerings. If white bread is the loss leader in the current market, Cobs has the equivalent of an ideally diversified portfolio, where one stock sells lightly, but the big picture is balanced by a group of strong performing stocks.

In Moncton, Fancy Pokket is seeing strong sales and phenomenal expansion. Specializing in ethnic breads, CEO Mike Timani says, “We haven’t felt the downturn, because ethnic breads are popular these days.” But, he’s quick to point out that there’s no resting on one’s laurels. “We still have to follow trends,” he says. “People are looking for healthier products and other grains,” but he warns his peers to stay away from multiple-ingredient labels. “People want a clean recipe,” he says.

In an industry where the ghost of Atkins is still lurking – many say the disdain for carbs is still strong – it’s time to shine light on the inherent nutritional value of bread. It won’t be enough that we deliver on health benefits. We need to come across with solid content of value, as Dempster’s has done. And people want to hear it, because despite many perceptions, people love bread. They want to eat it, but feel they can’t. That’s the sweet spot where the marketing needs to land and influence the sale.

Stephanie Ortenzi ( is a Toronto-based food marketing writer.

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