Celiac.com 06/01/2012 - Even as gluten-free bread continue to rise, sales of traditional wheat-based bread are falling across the globe.

Photo: CC--rprataAccording to Paul Hetherington, a 20 year veteran of the Baking Association of Canada, the plunge is driven by numerous factors, including recent dietary shifts away from wheat and toward gluten-free diets by people who are not adverse to gluten.

One example, major Canadian baked goods manufacturer, Maple Leaf Foods Inc., recently reported first quarter adjusted earnings of just 11¢ per share, down from 18¢ last year, and well below the 16.8¢ predicted by analysts.

Maple Leaf president and CEO, Michael McCain, says that the decline was due to a 73% drop in adjusted first quarter earnings by the company's Bakery Products Group, which fell from $12.2-million in 2011 to $3.3-million this year.

McCain said that his company is experiencing a fate shared across the industry as “fundamental bread consumption is down.”

Maple Leaf’s net earnings decreased to $800,000 compared with $10.5 million last year, as the company’s adjusted operated earnings dropped 20% to $40.5 million.

To counter the trend, Maple Leaf plans marketing initiatives to grow sales and to focus on the health benefits of bread and target growth categories, such as English muffins and bagels, he said. The company also expects to benefit from lower commodity costs, including wheat, to improve margins later in the year.

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