With an increasingly health-conscious U.S. population and a bread industry that looks immensely different from what it was just a few decades ago, it may come as a surprise that Wonder Bread is still around.
In fact, it makes up a sizable portion of its parent company Flowers Foods' overall portfolio, alongside Nature's Own and Dave's Killer Bread, Flowers Foods' two most popular brands.
"Typically, when a brand has been around for a long time, the default assumption from consumers is this brand has to have a certain level of quality, otherwise it wouldn't be around for a hundred years," said Stephens equity research analyst Jim Salera.
From January to mid-August 2023, according to data from Circana and Stephens, the brand's sales surpassed $300 million, and about 55 million loaves of Wonder Bread were sold. Wonder Bread's 2022 sales totaled $484 million.
"We have seen Wonder actually gain a moderate amount of market share — about 20 to 30 basis points plus or minus — versus pre-pandemic," said Consumer Edge analyst Connor Rattigan.
Nonetheless, those numbers are a fraction of what they once were. In the first half of the 20th century, white bread accounted for as much as 30% of the American diet.
The rise of industrial white bread mirrored World War II-era fears of immigrants, many of whom owned small bakeries at the time.
Factory-made bread was touted as clean and "untouched by human hands."
"It's a time when you see newspaper headlines saying, you know, dangerous bakeries menace the city and germs lurk in your bread. And there's all this kind of huge fear-mongering about dangerous bread from small bakeries — except when you look, no one's actually getting sick or dying from bread," said Aaron Bobrow-Strain, professor of politics at Whitman College and author of "White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf."
By the 1960s, eating whole grains was a symbol of the counterculture.
"Industrial Wonder Bread-type bread was everything that the counterculture was against. It was corporate. It was chemical. It was bland. It was white. And so it was essentially the establishment or 'the man' in bread form," said Bobrow-Strain.
But during the following decade, Americans put a more concerted effort into eating healthier, and whole wheat bread began to become an integral part of their diet.
Since then, that change in bread purchasing behavior has become even more pronounced: Healthier alternatives and artisan breads now dominate the market.
While Wonder Bread has somewhat fallen out of favor, people do still eat white bread, and Wonder Bread remains a profitable part of the Flowers Foods portfolio.