Story by Maggie Glisan
KANSAS CITY, MO — Enthusiasm for baking sourdough at home may have petered out since its heyday during the stay-at-home days of the pandemic, but interest in artisan bread remains strong among people looking for fresh, crusty, rustic loaves.
“I think the average customer is a lot more educated in terms of what artisan baking is,” said Ellen King, co-owner and director of baking operations at Chicago-based Hewn, a bakery located on the city’s North Shore that specializes in made-from-scratch breads. “The pandemic really helped expose people to sourdough bread, and I think customers have a better understanding of why it’s important to come to an artisan bakery that works with local farmers to source their grains.”
Bary Yogev, co-owner and head baker of Liv Breads in Millburn, NJ, said he thinks consumers have a greater appreciation for sourdough and artisan bread after their own bread baking experiences at home during lockdown.
“People realized the process is not as easy as you think,” he said. “Maybe you had the time to grow a starter of your own … and kill one of your own. When you’ve tried and failed, you understand the value of a good quality sourdough bread from a bakery.”
The global artisanal bakery products market is growing, with a value of $95.13 billion in 2022 and an expected growth rate of 5.7% between 2023 to 2030, according to Grand View Research. Macro trends like clean label, holistic health and sustainability all play a factor and are key attributes that make artisan breads appealing to consumers. According to the Life Through the Lens of Bakery 2023 survey from the American Bakers Association, 69% of respondents said a company’s commitment to responsibly sourced ingredients will influence their purchasing decisions.
“Our customers are looking for products that are good for them and good for the planet, and our breads deliver on that,” King said, noting that consumer demand for sustainability is part of what’s making it possible for artisan bakeries to be profitable.
“Our bread isn’t cheap to produce,” she continued. “We’re working directly with farmers rather than getting commodity pricing. It also takes a long time to train our staff on how to make the bread. Customers see the value and are more willing to spend the money on high-quality artisan bread on a weekly basis. They believe in this kind of bread and have made it a part of their lifestyle.”
As a result, artisan bread clubs and subscription programs are also growing in popularity as consumers prioritize fresh, small-batch bread as part of their everyday diet. For example, Liv Breads has a monthly bread club — available for pickup or local delivery — in which members receive a rotating variety of staples, seasonal specials and off-menu favorites.
While some bakers are keeping their focus on more traditional loaves and rolls, others are taking risks with bold flavors and unexpected ingredients. In San Francisco, Azikiwee Anderson of Rize Up Bakery is turning heads with a bright purple ube loaf featuring the buzzy yams from Southeast Asia. Other unique offerings include the “K-Pop” Loaf, made with gochujang, toasted sesame, roasted garlic and scallions, and the Masala Pan Loaf, stuffed with onion, turmeric, cumin, curry leaves, cilantro and chile peppers.
But as much as the unique flavor profiles may rack up likes on Instagram, Yogev said what people really care about are the basics. “At the end of the day, our customers just want great bread for making a sandwich or spreading with butter,” he shared.
This story has been adapted from the June | Q2 2023 issue of Craft to Crumb. Read the full story in the digital edition here.