Although the low-carb/no-carb trend put the squeeze on the bread category in recent years, the staff of life is springing back, as evidenced by recent sponsorship activity from baked goods companies.

The fresh bread category has posted only modest growth–dollar sales grew 3.25 percent in the year ended August 12th, according to Information Resources, Inc.–but that has not stopped bread makers from signing a host of new deals.

For example, Bimbo Bakeries USA recently signed three deals for two of its bread brands: the Pac-10 Conference for Oroweat and the Big 12 Conference and State Fair of Texas for Mrs Baird’s.

In addition, George Weston Bakeries Inc. last month partnered with the NFL Chicago Bears on behalf of its Brownberry bread and Entenmann’s baked goods brands, while Lewis Bakeries Inc. secured a new deal with the NFL Indianapolis Colts for Bunny Bread. Earlier this year, United States Bakery’s Franz Family Bakeries inked deals with six minor league baseball teams.

The common objectives of most bread maker sponsorships are standing out in an often commoditized category, establishing relevant retail promotion platforms and gaining on-site sales rights.

Weston Partners With Bears To Build Relations With Area Retailers
The company behind Thomas’ English muffins, Boboli pizza crusts and other well-known brands is using its multiyear, estimated low-six-figure-per-year Bears deal to gain a point of differentiation and build relations with its trade customers.

“Retailers get excited when we can bring them in-store displays and other promotional platforms that create interest from consumers,” said Ryan Allen, account executive for the U.S. subsidiary of Canadian food and retail giant George Weston Ltd.

Success in the Chicago market could lead to similar deals elsewhere, Allen noted.

George Weston Bakeries is leveraging the sponsorship by touting its role as proud partner on packages of select Brownberry and Entenmann’s products, with plans to add the team logo and sponsor status to additional products.

The company will further activate the partnership through cross-promotions with SuperValu Inc.’s Jewel-Osco supermarket chain, which also came on board as a Bears sponsor this year. Weston samples product at the team’s Weber Ultimate Tailgate events, which are sponsored by Jewel, and hopes to create in-store Bears-themed promotions with the retailer.

As part of the sponsorship, Weston also gains a tie-in to the team’s Football 101 Workshop for Women presented by Chase. “It lets us reach our core target of mothers between the ages of 28 to 48,” Allen said.

In addition, the company receives sales rights for Entenmann’s cookies at Soldier Field, in-venue signage and player appearances, said Chris Hibbs, the Bears’ senior director of sales and marketing.

The sponsorship is by far Weston’s largest tie in the Midwest, said Allen, who also manages the company’s relationships with the Northern Illinois Food Bank and other nonprofits.

On the national level, Weston is in its second year of a $100,000-per-year partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The company is touting the tie on specially marked packages of Arnold, Brownberry and Freihofer’s breads; Thomas’ English muffins and Entenmann’s products from September 24 through October 27.

Weston also has partnered with Komen sponsor New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. to offer a pink bracelet by mail in exchange for 2 UPC labels and a minimum $5 donation to the cause. It is touting the offer on pack and through the Web sites of the participating brands.

Selling Sponsorship To Bread Makers
Below, IEG SR outlines what properties need to offer to secure partners in the bread and baked goods categories:

Leverage retail relationships. Properties should rely on the ability of supermarket or other food retailer partners to recruit bread company sponsors.

Indeed, the Bears leveraged the team’s deal with Jewel-Osco to secure not only Weston, but other packaged goods companies that sell through the retailer.

When helping sponsors build retail promotions, properties should provide tickets and other benefits that can be used to drive product purchase. Mrs Baird’s is leveraging its Big 12 sponsorship with a promotion dangling a trip to the Dr Pepper Big 12 Football Championship in San Antonio; to enter, consumers must visit MrsBairds.com and submit an on-pack product code.

Help promote new products. Bread brands are using sponsorship and event marketing to sample and promote low-carb, whole grain and other better-for-you products. Properties should read Milling & Baking News and other trade publications to learn when those products will be launched.

Tie in to brand positioning. When scouting potential partners, properties should look for brands that align with their attributes. Case in point: Oroweat sponsors college sports and running and cycling events to showcase its health, nutrition and active lifestyle brand values.

Build in sales opportunities. Properties that sell food to event attendees or participants should offer to purchase their bread products from the potential partner, or to use their leverage with concessionaires or other third-party vendors to help facilitate sales to those companies. For bread makers that also have products that can be sold directly to attendees–such as pre-packaged baked goods–on-site sales rights also should be included.

Make your property attractive to mobile marketing programs. Bread marketers are increasingly using mobile marketing programs to build their brands and sample product.

Mrs Baird’s is activating its Big 12 Conference sponsorship with the Ultimate Tailgate party at 10 campuses, while Oroweat sponsored the Emerald Queen Casino Taste of Tacoma presented by Click! Cable TV on behalf of its Healthy Grilling Perfected mobile campaign.

Know who to contact. Bread makers largely screen and fund sponsorships out of corporate offices, although deals can sometimes emanate from field marketing budgets.

Advertising and promotions agencies also screen and manage deals. For example, Dallas-based Moroch Partners spearheaded Mrs Baird’s new sponsorships, while Lake Oswego, Ore.-based Beriault Entertainment Marketing reviews and manages Franz Family Bakeries ties.