White bread's got a new, hearty competitor in whole wheat, according to the Chicago Tribune. For the first time, whole wheat bread has been outselling America's iconic sandwich-maker. The article says messages about heart health and other dietary benefits have helped consumers choose more nutritious breads.

The article sites data from the Nielsen Company, stating that white bread is "still ahead in volume, but the margin is shrinking." Whole wheat bread outsold white bread by $100 million dollars over the past year.

Additionally, consumers are beginning to ponder health benefits along with cost when choosing bread. The most inexpensive breads have seen steady sales while expensive breads aimed at “niche consumers” have claimed a big market share. Words like "whole grain" and "natural" often come with a higher price tag and have nevertheless become the hottest sellers.

The Tribune goes on to explain that the middle-priced breads are having a hard time with the current bread market, citing several major players who have shown decreasing sales. According to the Tribune, Sara Lee's bread (a mid-priced bread) had previously been "the second-highest grossing bread brand at grocery stores behind ... Pepperidge Farm," but was surpassed by Nature's Own. The story says the Sara Lee Company is planning to launch a whole grain bread and other products to keep up with "evolving trends."

According to the Tribune, American bread consumption is expected to "remain flat," which means bakers will be competing for customers seeking popular whole grain breads. The story describes customers' struggle with labels that have "gotten confusing;" they've come to rely on the visible grains in the bread when making their choices.

As companies fight for brand loyalty among new groups of consumers, marketers have analyzed what drives people to select certain loaves. The perception of wheat breads as “healthy” and a flurry of promotional coupons have encouraged customers to sample new bread brands. An interesting phenomenon is that shoppers don’t necessarily care about bread being affordable, according to the story. The story cites Francisco Reduello, a Euromonitor industry analyst, who says, "People are going to continue to buy bread, and some consumers are going to buy for function, with a high added value."

Wheat surpasses white in sliced bread sales
Whole wheat beats white bread sales for the first time.