Bagels are important for quick Yom Kippur spreads, but the year-round bagel market is also booming.
For generations, Jewish families have enjoyed a weekend of bagels with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and other sides. It’s also the same spread often associated with breaking the fast of Yom Kippur, the great Jewish holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement, which ends this year at sunset Thursday.
But bagels are now likely to be consumed by Americans of all faiths, including those living outside of Jewish-centric markets like New York City. Bread can be found not only in traditional bagel stores, but also in fast food restaurants and supermarket aisles. New bagel businesses, from bakeries to restaurants, are also opening up everywhere from Connecticut to Colorado.
“I think the bagel is considered more of an American comfort food than a Jewish food these days,” said Jay Rushin, CEO of H&H Bagels, the New York-based bagel chain with nearly 50 years of history. . H&H recently announced that it is launching a national franchise program, capitalizing on the growth it has experienced in recent years, with sales volume that has doubled since 2014.
Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that America is experiencing some sort of bagel boom. The IRI market research says grocery sales of fresh bagels – think brands like Thomas and Sara Lee – grew 11% to $ 1.2 billion in the 12-month period ending early August.
Tim Grzebinski, an IRI analyst who specializes in baked goods, says the COVID-19 pandemic likely helped accelerate the bagel boom, as it’s a time when Americans turned to all that comforts them. And the bagel – a carbohydrate-rich, chewy treat – naturally fits that bill.
Grzebinski also says it should come as no surprise that Americans are embracing a food product that was once broadly defined as âethnicâ fare. The history of the bagel is the story of many articles that have crossed the mainstream, he notes.
âLook at the tortillas,â Grzebinski said, adding that the Mexican wrap is now more popular than hot dog buns and burger rolls.
True, bagel makers say their customers have gone far beyond the traditional or connected Jewish population in New York City.
Audrey Gebhardt notes that when she started Decent Bagel, her bagel business in the Colorado ski town of Nederland, she figured she would make extensive use of New York City transplants in the area. But she’s found that almost everyone craves a good bagel – at least at the local farmers market where she sells.
âLast weekend we made 25 dozen and they sold out in an hour and a half,â said Gebhardt, who will soon be opening a physical Decent Bagel store.
Gebhardt respects tradition – which means she prepares her bagels the traditional way of boiling dough before baking it, a method that helps give bread its signature chew. It also offers bagels in the classic varieties: plain, salt, sesame, poppy and all.
But some food industry professionals and consultants claim the bagel boom has been fueled by those willing to think outside the box and create bagels and spreads in countless different flavors, arguably expanding the appeal of breadcrumbs. They also sometimes eschew the boil methodology, making this a milder bagel that may convince those who find the standard type a bit too dense for their liking.
A bagel and burrito combo
The Einstein Bros. Bagels, which has over 700 branches, leads the way. Its menu is innovation-driven, with bagel varieties ranging from Asiago cheese to apple cinnamon. It also offers a number of bagel sandwiches – there’s a new bacon, a queso, and an egg – and even featured a Bagelrito, like in a bagel-burrito hybrid.
âIt was really popular,â said Einstein’s marketing director Alex Rodriguez of Bagelrito, which was on a limited time offer.
Stephen Zagor, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School specializing in the restaurant industry, said the bagel also benefits from being so easily adaptable in terms of flavors and styles.
âIt’s neutral when you need neutral and there is a point of view when you need a point of view,â he said.
Aromas like cinnamon-grape date back to the 60s
Of course, bagel innovation isn’t entirely new. Jacob Remes, a New York University professor who studies modern American history and has researched the evolution of the bagel, notes that bagels in non-traditional flavors like onion and cinnamon-raisin are going back to the 1960s and played an early role in expanding the bagel market.
He said the switch to sweeter varieties made particular sense because of how bagels, with their telltale hole in the middle, look like donuts. âSo we expect them to taste a bit like donuts,â he said.
Remes admits he’s a traditionalist who only likes soft, salty bagels. And indeed, many in the bagel world denounce some of the attempts to make bagels that look very little like bagels.
But don’t count Sam Silverman among them. He is the founder of Brooklyn BagelFest in New York, which returns for its second edition in October. Silverman says the continued evolution of the bagel is a good thing and he welcomes all kinds of bagel producers to his event.
âI’m all about pushing the limits. There’s no bagel bridge too far, âhe said.