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Healthy, artisanal options revive consumer interest in bread

4 min read


(Photo: Caro Wallis/Flickr Creative Commons)

Amid the low-carb craze and fervor for gluten-free items, bread and other bakery products have managed to find a foothold with premium formulations that offer great taste, health benefits from whole grains and an artisan feel that appeals to today’s consumer.

Consumption of bread and baked goods has been on the decline, but dollar sales of in-store baked goods rose steadily from 2008 to 2010, mainly due to higher prices, according to a 2013 report on in-store bakeries from Packaged Facts.

“U.S. consumers remain fixated on health and wellness across virtually all product categories, and in-store bakery goods manufacturers have responded with products that are healthier but still indulgent and tasty…Whole wheat, whole grain and multi-grain products have proliferated, and manufacturers continue to use ingredients that both deliver benefits many consumers have to come expect, and help differentiate one product from another,” consultant Tom Pastre wrote in the report.

This trend is echoed in the packaged breads sector, which has seen consumers cutting back on white breads and seeking out whole grain and multi-grain options. More than half of consumers in a 2013 Packaged Facts survey agreed that they were cutting back on their white bread consumption, but only 23% said the reason they were cutting back on bread was because of concerns about gluten.

While many consumers continue to subscribe to low-carb or gluten-free diets, others appear to be phasing certain breads back into their diet as more healthy, whole grain options become available. A recent survey by the Whole Grains Council found that 64% of Americans have increased their whole grain intake “some” or “a lot” in the past five years.

“While it is true that some consumers have become wary of white flour, or even carbohydrates in general, the reality is that both white flour and whole grains are part of an overall healthy, balanced diet,” said Don Trouba, director of marketing for flour-milling company Ardent Mills.

Since 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have included a recommendation that adults consume at least three servings of whole grains each day. In 2010, the guidelines were updated to include a recommendation that Americans limit their consumption of refined grains.

A growing number of whole grain and multi-grain bread options are available in all categories, from packaged breads to small neighborhood bakeries. Artisan bakeries around the country have been gaining a following for their selection of hearty loaves made from scratch with heirloom grains and locally-sourced flour, which appeal to consumers looking for wholesome products with short ingredient lists.

“The formulas are simple; you can see the ingredients that foods are made with. You can see doughs being worked by hand in a local bakery. In fact, you may even know the baker who made your bread by name. This ‘closeness’ is very appealing because the consumer believes it to be trustworthy,” Trouba said.

Restaurants are revamping bread baskets with items like the cranberry walnut bread made with oats and whole wheat flour at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando in Orlando, Fla., Nation’s Restaurant News reported. Gourmet toast offerings, with high-quality toppings spread on housemade breads, are continuing to prove popular on menus after the trend swept across the US last year, according to a recent Washington Post article.

Taking a cue from artisan bakeries, foodservice outlets and big food brands are introducing more items with whole grains. Ardent Mills is beginning to see more interest from foodservice companies in its Ultragrain flour, a whole grain flour with the texture and appearance of traditional white flour, Trouba said.

While whole grain breads with the smooth, uniform texture of white bread will appeal to consumers who are switching out white for wheat, there is a growing demand from more adventurous consumers for bakery items made with sprouted grains and ancient grains such as amaranth and buckwheat.

“We continue to see the influence of clean label, artisan, health, and a desire for new and adventurous flavors drive bread and bakery in the future,” Trouba said. “From an ingredient perspective, this leads to organic flour, sprouted grains, whole grains and ancient grains, often in simpler formulations.”


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