As automatic bread machines win a permanent spot on U.S. kitchen counters, food marketers want a slice of the action.
No. 2 flour marketer Pillsbury Co. is expanding distribution of Pillsbury Best Bread Machine Mixes.
The product was tested last winter in department and mass merchandise stores selling bread machines. The mixes this year will be sold in about half the nation's supermarkets, alongside Pillsbury's other baking mixes. Department store distribution will be on a limited basis.
The mixes were created in response to booming sales of bread machines, now estimated by Pillsbury to be in 5% to 6% of U.S. households. As more consumers buy bread machines, they're boosting sales of bread flour, with Pillsbury reporting a 30% rise last year. And yeast sales increased 8.6% to $68 million for the year ended April 24, Information Resources Inc. said.
Some may roll their eyes at the idea of making an automatic bread machine even more convenient. But the Pillsbury mixes serve a growing desire for products that allow consumers to basically pretend they're cooking from scratch.
"People are so busy these days, but they're still feeling guilty they can't provide their families with the same kinds of home-cooked foods mom gave them," said Peggy Stang, associate marketing manager. "This has a lot of appeal."
With the increase in bread flour sales, Pillsbury simultaneously was besieged by calls to its toll-free customer service number. Bread machine owners using Pillsbury flours were looking for even easier ways to bake a loaf or for extra recipe ideas.
"There was a dearth of good information out there, but we could see interest was high," Ms. Stang said.
Frankly viewing the business as a small niche, Pillsbury didn't think the mixes merited supermarket distribution but created a five-pack of individual-loaf mixes.
But after watching holiday sales of bread machines as well as mixes, Pillsbury became convinced the appliance wouldn't go the way of the french fry machines and juicers gathering dust in homes across the U.S.
Ms. Stang said Pillsbury has doubled supermarket distribution goals for the mixes, with a suggested retail price of $1.49 for a single-loaf mix.
Pillsbury's mixes are competing against the nationally distributed Dromedary line from San Francisco-based Specialty Brands, as well as products from regional marketers introduced last year.
Although No. 1 flour marketer General Mills doesn't make a mix, it's flagging packages of Gold Medal Better for Bread flour as good for bread machine recipes.
Pillsbury plans a fall joint free standing insert with Universal Foods' Red Star yeast, and is packing mix boxes into the Pillsbury brand bread machines introduced this year by licensee M.K. Seiko. Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handles Pillsbury's baking mix line.