Wandering the mean streets of New York, it’s clear that the low-carb diet craze of a few years ago has long since been forgotten. Despite rumours of a resurgence, it seems like almost everyone rushing around Manhattan is either munching on a bagel or clutching an artisan loaf.
According to Euromonitor, value sales of baked goods in the US grew by 2% in 2007 to approach US$44 billion. In New York, coffee chains such as Starbucks have a strong presence, but independent bakery shops are also a common sight, selling sandwiches and sweet treats to eat in or take away, alongside bread and large cakes for eating at home.
The trend for artisan breads is noticeably more developed than the UK, with almost all the bakery shops I came across offering a staggering range of European-style loaves. Euromonitor estimates that more than half of all bakery sales in the US come from artisan products.
Balthazar Bakery, in downtown Manhattan, is a good example of the trend. It sells focaccia, ciabatta, pain au levain and pain de siegle (made with rye flour), to name but a few, from a small shop designed to resemble an old-fashioned Parisian boulangerie. It also supplies several other retailers in the city, including the bakery section at the famous Dean & Deluca food hall.
Here you can find loaves such as organic spelt and seven-grain bread, which are stacked up to achieve an Aladdin’s cave effect - a display style that is popular throughout bakery shops in the city. At around $4 (£2) for a small a loaf, it’s obvious that New Yorkers are willing to pay extra for something special.
Amy Scherber of Amy’s Bread also supplies Dean & Deluca. She says that customers at her four bakery shops in the city want a ’full service’ of bread, breakfast items, coffee and sandwiches, as well as treats and snacks. "Customers also expect highly educated staff, fast service and reasonable prices. They have high expectations and demand quality," she says.
Scherber’s best-selling products include French baguettes, Rustic Italian and Country White, which are made with unbleached flour. Small loaves (225g) and dinner rolls are also popular with a high percentage of single households in the city.
Independent bakeries continue to be dominant in New York, because of the tough trading conditions, she adds. "People shop locally and don’t want to walk very far. The big chains find it hard to operate in NYC. The rent is too high, margins are too low, staffing is difficult and distribution is a huge problem. So the smaller bread stores are what you find, along with some upscale retail grocery stores."
These ’upscale’ grocery stores include Whole Foods Market, which has four stores in Manhattan, each with its own in-house bakery, and Fairway Market, which, alongside sourdoughs and rye bread, offers Jewish products such as babka (a type of cake) challah bread and around a dozen types of bagels including ’flagels’ (flat bagels), Russian pumpernickel and mini bagels.
The Bread Alone bakery stall at the Union Square farmers market is also a popular destination for upmarket bread, selling organic sourdoughs, spelt loaves and focaccia, which are made in the company’s wood-burning oven at its bakery in the Catskills. It all adds up to a city that has obviously fallen back in love with the loaf.