- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

CHICAGO (AP) Sara Lee wants to take over a decades-old duty moms have carried out for children slicing the crusts off white bread. The consumer goods giant is touting its new IronKids Crustless Bread as a fresh-from-the-oven idea, coming soon to a bakery shelf near you.

The product, being introduced at the supermarket industry's annual convention in Chicago starting tomorrow, will be a bit of an upper-crust loaf. Sara Lee is selling it for about 75 cents more than the price of crusted bread, or $2.59 to $3.39 for a 16-ounce loaf, depending on the market.

In an era when convenience tops U.S. shopping lists, Sara Lee figures enough consumers will turn over the extra dough. It's spending nearly $10 million to roll it out, making it the bakery group's biggest product launch yet.

The crustless target group: families with children under age 12.

"Is everyone going to pay for it? No," said Matt Hall of the St. Louis-based Sara Lee Bakery Group. "But convenience and simplicity are important consumer needs right now. Consumers told us they'd be willing to pay a premium for this product. Twenty years ago, they probably wouldn't have paid for it."

Might that change have something to do with Americans loafing more and preparing food less?

Not exactly, according to Sara Lee. Mr. Hall cited more prosperous times and increased daily stress as the key ingredients.

Market research suggests this is no half-baked idea.

The fastest-growing area of the $5.6 billion bread industry is the super premium segment, encompassing everything from French-style to roasted garlic to rosemary and olive oil bread and beyond. Also, a similar product that Sara Lee introduced in Spain in 1999 has generated stellar sales.

Besides, even Krusty the Clown knows little children don't like bread crusts a knowledge Smuckers acted on recently when it introduced the crustless peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

Sara Lee acquired IronKids a leading brand of white bread in the past decade that advertises itself as having the fiber of whole-wheat bread last year when it bought Earthgrains Co. The deal made the company the second-biggest fresh-bread maker in the nation.

Crustless Bread is made at a Sara Lee bakery in Paris, Texas, where crusts are removed by an automated slicer. In the "decrusting room," baking pans are larger and cooling time is twice as long as it is for ordinary bread. The rejected crusts are used for croutons, bread crumbs and other products.

The product already is available in southern states, the Midwest and Arizona and will be stocked by July throughout Sara Lee's fresh-bread system, which covers all U.S. regions except for the Northeast and Florida.

Food industry experts think the bread has a chance to rise.

"Almost any way you can successfully innovate yourself from a private label makes sense," says analyst John McMillin of Prudential Securities Inc.

"This isn't rocket science but it's a good idea."

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