Convenience, premium products, wellness, nostalgia/comfort and global flavors are driving trends in the U.S. bakery industry, according to the San Francisco-based Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts.
"Despite economic challenges, baked good sales have grown in the last few years," says CCD's CEO Kimberly Egan. "Consumers continue to connect with affordable baked goodness for the comfort it delivers, a comfort experience that now comes in many more varieties, shapes and sizes to meet everyone's needs."
"Since the 2008 recession, we have seen a trend [of] consumers seeking out affordable indulgences," says Amy Clark, director of snack marketing for Hostess Brands (www.hostessbrands.com), Irving, Texas. "Recent trends in the restaurant industry, like gourmet mac & cheese and red velvet cupcakes, are trickling down into the grocery aisles. Consumers want to satisfy a craving for comfort food, so they want the ‘real thing' but in a smaller portion they won't feel guilty about."
Major U.S. bakery companies include Hostess Brands (which just filed for bankruptcy protection) and Flowers Foods, plus the U.S. operations of Mexico's Grupo Bimbo. And there are some 2,800 smaller commercial bakeries with combined annual revenue of about $3 billion, according to Hoovers. The commercial side of the industry is concentrated: the 50 largest companies generate 75 percent of revenue. But the retail side is highly fragmented: the 50 largest companies account for only about 15 percent of revenue.
But all are working to meet the conflicting issues of enjoyment versus the growing problem of obesity. "Obesity has been a major concern over the years, especially for the [edible] oils business," says Dilip Nakhasi, director of innovation at Bunge North America's (www.bungenorthamerica.com) Bradley, Ill., facility.
"In the early 90s, everyone said, ‘Let's get the fat out of products; make them fat-free and low-fat and we'll address it that way,' " he continues. "It didn't work because the industry didn't reduce the amount of calories, so consumers continued consuming the same number or even more than they did before. [At the same time] taste, texture and quality were badly impacted in baked goods, because if you take the fat out of the system, the product won't deliver the qualities we all look for."
Nakhasi says fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, but actually it is an important component on our diet. "The challenge for us was to take out the bad fat, and add healthy fat without losing the taste and texture of the product. We had to go back and look at the chemistry to understand how standard triglycerides function and behave, and how we could substitute healthy fatty acids [and even] phytosterols, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and CLAs [conjugated linoleic acids].
"We developed structured lipids, including essential fatty acids coming from canola oil, which have low saturates, more polys and more monos, and combined them with medium-chain triglycerides, which provide cardio health benefits and burn like carbohydrates. We combined them to get a process of interesterification or randomization, where we build the structured lipids."
But how could this be dialed into a functional product for bakery? "We took the next leap in that direction by including in shortening beneficial phytosterols that reduce LDL cholesterol," he says. "With Phytobake, you can make muffins, biscuits, cakes, croissants, even pizza, while consuming a decent amount of phytosterols for your heart health. In 2010 IFT gave us an innovation award for Phytobake."
Then there's the issue of mouthfeel in low-fat products. "A new normal may be just around the corner where product developers start with the goal of producing a delicious lower-calorie and healthier product, even though the product will not necessarily be labeled as low or reduced fat," says Janelle Litel, marketing director at Gum Technology Corp. (www.gumtech.com), Tucson, Ariz. "More products will be developed that have a rich, moist mouthfeel, but are still low in fat."
Gum Technology, naturally, works mostly with gums to lend this mouthfeel to low-fat products. A key solution is Coyote Brand Fat Replacer, designed to reduce fat in a wide range of applications. "It can be used to replace up to 50 percent of butter, shortening or margarine in baked goods like cookies or cakes, while providing texture and adding fiber into the system," she says. "This translates into products with lower cholesterol and/or trans-fat content."
But her company is exploring another route. "Gum Technology and Fiberstar Inc. (www.citir-fi.com) have combined their expertise and ingredients to develop a new generation of texturizers, called Hydro-Fi, that combine Coyote Brand hydrocolloids and Citri-Fi citrus fiber. One of the new texturizers, called Hydro-Fi CXA-0823, helps bind water to create a moist cake with great texture and mouthfeel. It also improves emulsification and can replace up to 50 percent of eggs in cakes."
Healthy and indulgent not mutually exclusive
"We're seeing a couple of trends tied to what we're calling healthy indulgence," says Beth Peta, bakery marketing manager for Minneapolis-based Cargill/Horizon Milling (a joint venture of Cargill and CHS Inc.).
"First, we're seeing continued interest in mini options, bite-sized cookies, brownies and muffins, which allows for customization and portion control. Also, we're seeing the addition of functional ingredients into bakery items to add the health benefits of dark chocolate, nuts, fiber, grains and fruit. Better nutritionals and added convenience are a must in both these trends."