The Holy Grail for the baking industry is not so much the next magic ingredient or to create some superfood product. It's to improve on the old favorites such that they continue to be favorites yet substantial in terms of healthful ingredients. Maintaining basic product attributes appears to be the key to continue attracting and keeping loyal consumers.
Food marketers seek what matters most in product formulations: claims, label contents and what and how to communicate to consumers. For bakers, some of the messages are pretty straightforward: absence of trans fats, lower saturated fats, fewer calories, lower sugar and, of course, the dual whole grains and fiber messages. While educated consumers have helped drive ingredient selection among processors, success in the marketplace is always reliant on taste, plus and relevant marketing that take advantage of the regulatory climate and behaviors of consumers at large.
Currently, the baked products industry is riding two new marketing rages: Gluten-free and whole grains. Bakers are revamping old favorites by replacement of some or all of the flour with nutrient-dense whole-grain and multi-grain ingredients targeting both fiber content and enhanced nutrient bioavailability.
Replacement reformulating, however, can be formidable. Whole-grain flours do not produce the softness and delicate textures Americans have long associated with premium baked products. This is especially important with children for whom texture is as critical as taste. Children, a primary consumer demographic for bakery products, provide immediate inroads into their family purchasing habits.
"The key to children's loyalty is taste," says Kent Spalding, director of marketing for Barbara's Bakery, (www.barbarasbakery.com) a Petaluma, Calif.-based manufacturer of healthful kid-friendly cookies, snacks and breakfast products. "Colorful packaging may attract children, but taste brings them back."
Barbara's products satisfy even the strict health criteria of Marion Nestle, Ph.D., food activist and professor at New York University in New York city. This is because the company's products are made from natural, minimally processed ingredients without highly refined sugars, and contain no preservatives, trans fats or artificial ingredients.
One enticing approach for incorporating whole grains comes from bakers at Kellogg's Kashi Co. in La Jolla, Calif., (www.kashi.com). Kashi's TLC cookies ("Tasty Little Cookies"), including Happy Trail Mix, Oatmeal Dark Chocolate and Oatmeal Raisin Flax, are the first in the category to feature seven whole grains, yet remain "taste indulgent."
Kashi formulators cleverly used sesame seeds to richen and shorten the otherwise harsh and dry texture of the blended mixture of hard red winter wheat, oats, rye, triticale, long grain brown rice, barley and buckwheat. Exudates of whole rolled oats lend a smoother mouthfeel.
One of the biggest pushes toward consumer-keyed whole-grain acceptance can be credited to the Whole Grains Council, a part of Oldways Preservation Trust (www.oldwayspt.org), Boston. The food-issues think tank president, Dun Gifford, credits the group's Whole Grain Stamp program for successfully educating retailers and convincing consumers of the benefits of whole grains on overall health. It gave processors an immediately identifiable hook for hanging the whole grain message on. The stamp now appears on nearly 1,200 products.
Mary Jo Shultz, vice president of quality assurance and regulatory affairs at Dawn Food Products Inc. (www.dawnfoods.com), Jackson, Mich., cautions that whole grains which are not enriched according to federal standards may offer lower amounts of vitamins and minerals than their refined but enriched counterparts. Schultz says, "Consumers of all ages rely on foods for their vitamin/mineral balance. Whole grains may have higher levels of minerals, but in some formulations might have less nutritive value because they are not always as bioavailable as refined flours.
Unenriched whole grain flours also do not offer folate and iron. The enriching of white flour with the minerals, as well as folate, has helped prevent birth defects and malnutrition in generations of children.
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance/sensitivity is one of the fastest growing dietary concerns in America today. According to research data, although fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population have been medically restricted from ingesting gluten, the category has taken off enormously. Thousands of gluten-free products have been released in the past two years alone, and sales, climbing by double digits, are approaching $750 million annually.
With nearly 30 years experience milling and producing high-quality, wholesome grains and grain products, Milwaukie, Ore.-based Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods (www.bobsredmill.com) is well known for its successful marketing of less mainstream grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, amaranth, spelt, kamut and flax. The company has a dedicated testing facility also to test all products labeled 'gluten-free' in adherence to a strict standard of less than 20 parts per million.
Laval, Quebec-based Glutino Food Group (www.glutino.com) offers more than 100 gluten-free products, including frozen breads and bagels, baking mixes and ingredients, cereals, crackers, breakfast bars, skillet meals, flavoring blends, pastas, cookies, frozen entrées and pizzas. Glutino is now one of the largest and fastest-growing gluten-free food companies in the world.
Under its Gluten-Free Pantry brand, Glutino recently added ready-to-bake cookies to its substantial line-up. Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough Delights are made from chocolate chips and brown rice flour and the Buckwheat Raisin variety is packed with raisins and buckwheat flakes. Both products are sold in the frozen food section and include 12 cookies on each tray.