The global market for sweet pastries (a category that includes products such as croissants and pain au chocolat) continues to expand, as the world recovers from the pandemic. With consumers becoming ever more demanding, bakers and manufacturers have been experimenting with new formats, shapes and flavors, while indulgence remains a key driver of purchasing behavior.
By Jonathan Thomas
However, the sector must contend with perceptions that sweet pastries have negative health associations, such as being high in calories or sugar. Demand for sweet pastries is also strongly influenced by the prevailing eating patterns, as well as the recovery of the eating out of home market.
The Importance of Breakfast
Breakfast is considered to represent the most important eating occasion for sweet pastries such as croissants, pain au chocolat, Danish pastries, etc. However, it is important to note that they are eaten at other times of the day as well – for example, they represent an attractive form of snack for some people, while they can also be consumed as a dessert.
Prior to the pandemic, the way people throughout the developed world ate breakfast was undergoing huge changes. Many consumers – especially in the younger age groups – gravitated towards more flexible and portable forms of breakfast, especially if they had to commute to work or led especially time-pressured lifestyles. This led to the emergence of trends such as ‘deskfasting’, i.e. workers eating breakfast at their desks on a regular basis. However, with the pandemic having dramatically increased the number of people working remotely for at least part of the time, it remains to be seen whether deskfasting regains its former pre-eminence in regions such as Western Europe and North America.
The pandemic and its effects upon daily lifestyles have had a major impact upon the breakfast habits of people within the world’s developed regions. In the US, for example, a study of more than 1,000 adults undertaken by the retailer Bob Evans found that 70% of consumers continued to eat breakfast most days, even though their daily routines had been altered. Consumption of certain foods such as bacon, sausages, pancakes and waffles, all increased during lockdown periods. The US also has a sizeable market for breakfast foods, given that around two-thirds of all consumers make it a high priority to eat first thing in the morning during a typical working week. Nevertheless, sweet pastries face stern competition as a breakfast option in the US market, where the most popular choices are cereals and eggs.
In the UK, the number of in-home breakfast occasions rose by 747 million in the year ending May 2021, mostly because people were staying inside for most of the time. No commuting to work or school meant that mornings became less rushed – for this reason, more consumers switched from quick and convenient products such as cereals to cooked foods, e.g. eggs and bacon. That said, a 2021 study into UK breakfast habits carried out by Lakeland Furniture revealed that cereal was the favorite choice, cited by 29% of respondents. This figure decreased to 22% for toast and 14% for porridge, with pastries mentioned by less than 2% of consumers. In countries such as the UK and the US, therefore, sweet pastries appear to represent occasional items of indulgence for breakfast with most people, rather than a regular option.
Sweet pastries represent a popular breakfast option in many Western European countries, with France one notable example. However, their popularity is considerably more limited in the Scandinavian countries, where many people are inclined to eschew sugary products first thing in the morning. In this part of Europe, items such as bread and crispbread (often topped with cheese, eggs or vegetables) tend to carry more appeal as breakfast options.
It is also worth remembering that many people tend to skip breakfast altogether, which further inhibits potential growth within the market for sweet pastries. A study of more than 2,000 UK adults by Currys PC World in 2020 found that 20% of consumers admit to regularly skipping breakfast, a habit more ingrained amongst the younger age groups. Reasons given included a lack of time, as well as breakfast not fitting in with people’s diets. That said, the same research found that 20% of people in the UK considered breakfast to represent the most important meal of the day.
A similar situation exists in the US. The Bob Evans research mentioned previously found that a large percentage of people skipped breakfast. Of those that did, 32% blamed a lack of time, while 29% claimed they never felt hungry enough first thing in the morning.
The Food-to-Go Market
Another major driver of the sweet pastries sector is the performance of the food-to-go (FTG) market, which is significant in regions such as Western Europe and North America. Prior to the pandemic, more consumers were eating out on a more frequent basis, with breakfast occasions one of the main beneficiaries. However, this growth within the market came to an abrupt halt during the pandemic from 2020 onwards. Not only were foodservice establishments such as cafes, coffee shops and pubs closed, but also people were mostly working from home.
In the post-pandemic world, there are signs of recovery within the FTG market in the UK. In 2021, there were 7.4 billion out of home visits to FTG outlets, which compares with 11.4 billion two years earlier. In value terms, the market was worth GBP16.2bn in 2021, which equates to 76% of its pre-pandemic level. The fact that many of the sector’s major operators have ambitious expansion plans suggests further recovery is likely, notwithstanding the recent political and economic turbulence affecting markets such as the UK. Greggs, for example, intends to increase its network from 2,100 outlets to 3,000 by opening 150 new sites per annum for the next few years. For companies such as Greggs, drive-through and out-of-town locations (e.g. in retail parks) are becoming increasingly profitable venues.
You can read the rest of this article in the September-October issue of European Baker & Biscuit, which you can access by clicking here.