A year ago, Mekayla Garcia, a stay-at-home mother in San Angelo, Texas, bought a 1999 Breadman bread-making machine at Goodwill for $7, nearly the same price she pays for her weekly loaf of organic bread. She cleaned the machine, searched for the recipe guide online and made white bread that same night.
“I swear by it,” said Mrs. Garcia, 24, who uses the machine to make bread dough, which she then bakes in her oven. She bought the bread maker so she could save money as food prices rise. “The bread is just perfect. And who doesn’t love homemade bread?”
The bread maker — an appliance that mixes, kneads, proofs and bakes bread a loaf at a time — found new fans during the early days of the pandemic, as shoppers worried about food shortages and home bread-baking became a sign of the times. But recent inflation has given the machine another boost. Social media influencers, especially on TikTok, have contributed to the resurgence.
In 2022, U.S. sales of bread makers hit $42 million — 20 percent higher than the year before, said Joe Derochowski, the vice president and home industry adviser at the NPD Group, a market research firm. Since 2020, dollar sales have increased 131 percent, he said.
Hamilton Beach sold out of bread makers in 2020 and 2021, and the company increased production for 2022. Cuisinart said that while sales of its bread makers dipped as the pandemic stretched on, there has been an uptick in the past six months.
“The difference between a trend and a fad is something that saves you money,” Mr. Derochowski said. “Something that saves you money will be a part of your long-term behavior.”
Like so many basic foods, bread is increasingly expensive. The average price per pound in the United States has risen to about $2 in recent months, from $1.40 in 2019, said Miguel Gomez, a food marketing professor at Cornell University, (He noted that the average American eats about 50 pounds of bread per year.)
In September, Miranda Watson, 28, started using her mother’s decades-old Sunbeam bread maker when loaves of organic bread in St. Augustine, Fla., reached $6 to $7 a loaf. Even using organic ingredients, it now costs her only $3 to bake a loaf of white bread. “It’s the most dense, yummy, most delicious bread you’ll ever have,” she said.
Still, bread makers require an upfront investment — most new machines cost anywhere from $60 to $120, though prices can be lower on sale items and secondhand models. And unlike many store-bought breads, loaves made in bread machines have a much shorter shelf life because they contain no preservatives.
Joseph Lee, an entrepreneur in the Boston area and the son of enslaved people, invented the first commercial bread machine in the late 1880s, largely for use in the hospitality industry. The device automated the mixing and kneading of dough.
Today’s bread machines are more affordable than those from the 1990s and more versatile, with settings for artisan breads like gluten-free loaves, cake, jam and yogurt. Mr. Derochowski said the recent jump in sales also reflects many customers’ desire to customize their bread and decide which ingredients they use.
Though secondhand stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army don’t keep specifics on sales of bread makers, some managers at Goodwill stores in the Northeast said they sell quickly when they hit the shelves.
On Black Friday last year, Ellie Pontoriero, 25, decided to buy a new bread maker from Dash for $32 after she saw TikToks about it. At home in Cheyenne, Wyo., she bakes three loaves a week, but has also made cinnamon rolls, pizza dough and bagels. She uses the machine to make strawberry jam, dumping the fruit, sugar, water and pectin into the device and cooking the mixture for 80 minutes.
While it has saved her money, Mrs. Pontoriero said she bought the appliance because she wanted bread with ingredients of her choosing.
Donna Thomas, 67, of Riverview, Fla., who has arthritis in her hands from her job as a mail carrier, appreciates the chance to make her own brioche without kneading. She bought a Curtis Stone bread maker from the Home Shopping Network two years ago because she wanted to make her mother’s recipe for rolls.
Kellie Mendoza, 25, of Chattanooga, Tenn., received a Neretva bread machine for Christmas. She’s now making a loaf a week, including quick breads like cornbread. It’s a small step to her goal of relying less on the grocery store.
“If you want the best stuff,” she said, “you got to make it yourself.”