Gluten Free / Fibers, Flours, Grains / R&D / R&D Trends

Clean-Label Rises in Baked Goods

Can consumers have their baked goods and clean labels too? They want flavor, convenience and a sprinkle of more nutrition, but no GMOs, which all require ingredient changes and creative ways to maintain flavors.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Cakes, cookies and bread sold in supermarkets have taken a huge hit in recent years. They're part of the myriad products struggling as consumers shift to more health and wellness foods.

Despite this, more gluten-free, free-from and clean-label bakery formulations are cropping up in stores, thanks to consumer demand for more transparent options that are convenient and more nutritious.

Golden Cannoli cannoli chips"We're always working to improve our formulas based on better-for-you options," explains Valerie Bono, owner and chief marketing and sales officer at Golden Cannoli, Chelsea, Mass., which has substantially expanded its product mix in the last few years. Golden Cannoli went from being a local Italian cannoli bakery to one distributing cannoli chips and dip to retailers across the country. Its Original Cannoli Chips in resealable stand-up pouches are about to go national in snack aisles as a novel option for snacking. The "chips" come in Powdered Sugar, Cinnamon & Sugar and Cookies & Cream varieties.

Bono takes clean-label ingredients seriously. "Our cannoli products are all clean label," she says. "We're making cannoli as healthy as we can. There are some things we cannot avoid, however. But we're not willing to cut corners or develop a less-than-clean label to save a few pennies."

The cannoli recipes have no trans-fats, preservatives, genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs) or artificial flavors or colors. The shells are crispy, light and minimally sweet and never soggy. "We tend to stay very traditional, as cannoli is a traditional dessert that can only be changed up so much," she points out. "Part of our success in creating custom formulations to meet customer guidelines is due to our excellent R&D team. We're developing some great new shell flavors for the chips and the fillings, so stay tuned for a launch in 2018."

The bakery is working on certification from the NonGMO Project. It's also working on a gluten-free line, which Bono says will take time, as she's not willing to compromise on flavor or quality.

Golden Cannoli sees several flavor profiles trending for its fillings, such as those with seasonal ingredients, as well as s'mores, cake batter, lemon and salted caramel flavors. "Many trends we notice are in flavor profiles only," Bono explains.

Reducing sugar doesn’t always translate well in baked goods, especially in the more indulgent items. Sugar plays more of a role than simply enhancing taste. But Bono says the bakery has been able to reduce added sugars in its cannoli shells quite a bit. "And our cannoli chips are meant to be a sweeter item, so we're working with stevia to offset the sugar, while not taking away the sweetness."

Small but luscious

Euromonitor finds nearly half (47 percent) of global consumers demand foods with limited or no added sugar, yet they still want full flavor. So, rather than reformulate for fewer calories or less fat, some bakers are simply downsizing treats to appease to guilt-stricken consumers who still want an indulgence.

Elis Single Serve Tarts ButterSaltCarmEli's Cheesecake (, the renowned Chicago company that claims "Chicago's most famous dessert," won't sacrifice taste, so it recently unveiled mini versions of its delectable cheesecakes, pies and tarts.

Like the larger creations, the minis are made of quality ingredients, including full-fat cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla. "We notice snacking and portability trends in the baked goods market," observes Debbie Marchok, vice president of marketing. "Americans are snacking on desserts between meals. Retailers want smaller portions in a portable format to capitalize on this trend. We'll continue to introduce smaller portions for customers interested in these products."

Eli's knows desserts are an indulgence and are considered special for consumers focused on health and wellness. "Offering a clean ingredient legend, kosher certified products and portion control, we allow consumers to still have their cake and eat it too," she says. "If a consumer is going to indulge, they want the best dessert."

However, with the "added-sugars" label declaration coming, the company's product development team is working to optimize sugar usage without lowering the taste experience of an Eli’s dessert.

Its new GMO-free Mini Pies fill the need for something tiny but scrumptious. The house-made fillings include apple, cherry, pecan and pumpkin varieties, presented in a signature, all-butter shortbread crust. "We have one-to-one working relationships with our fruit farm suppliers to ensure the ingredients meet our specifications," Marchok points out.

Eli's new individual butter tarts and salted caramel tarts, which received a FABI 2017 Award from the National Restaurant Assn., may be downsized, but handmade with ingredients like Madagascar vanilla and scratch-made sea salt caramel. Baked in an all-butter pâte sucrée crust – also house-made -- each tart is wrapped and shipped frozen before being merchandised refrigerated or ambient.

Eli's also now offers vegan, egg-free, dairy-free, reduced-calorie and no-sugar specialties. Gluten-free-certified products will arrive in 2018. Developing this free-from group has been a challenge. "Some of the ingredients are challenging to find or are not readily available," admits Marchok. "Suppliers need to provide the appropriate documentation."

Clean label ingredients are critical to Eli's new baked goods, she says. "We have our own internal 'Do Not Use' list," she adds, referring to ingredients. "And we continue working to meet customer requirements for a clean-label product. We have always kept quality ingredients as a cornerstone of our development process."

The new normal

As consumers broaden their healthy eating repertoires, their interest in clean-label artisanal foods is growing. Artisan bread baker La Brea Bakery (, Los Angeles, has scaled up considerably over the years and now offers more than 35 different artisanal, farm-to-table sourdough breads nationally. In-store bakeries like Kroger's and others carry its products, which are made with minimally processed flour, ancient grains and wild yeasts.

La Brea Bakery Reserve Three Loaves"Clean-label ingredients are the new normal and have always been a critical factor for us when developing recipes," explains Jonathan Davis, senior vice president of R&D at La Brea Bakery. "Consumers crave transparency when it comes to food, and baked goods are no exception. Consumers are more interested in the story behind their favorite foods and how their bread is made. Part of the clean-label foods [movement] is consumers demanding fresh, free-from ingredients, the best quality and the best taste."

La Brea exclusively uses fortuna wheat, sustainably grown in Big Sky Country, Mont., for its La Brea Bakery Reserve, which it claims is the first farm-to-table artisanal bread sold in retail stores nationally. "We've seen a rise in the popularity of single-origin ancient grains, what we use to make La Brea Bakery Reserve breads. The grain is notoriously difficult to harvest, but pays off in taste," Davis says. Sustainable ingredients factored into the decision to select a wheat grower for the Reserve breads, Davis adds. "Wheat Montana is employing some of the most cutting-edge, sustainable growing practices, like regenerative farming and crop rotation."

Customers are starting to shop around for responsibly grown bread at local farmers' markets, like they do for vegetables, he adds. "Single-origin bread is following the footsteps of the craft beer movement; bakeries are offering flavor profiles with different attributes. Clean-label is a big reason why the majority of our artisan breads are Non-GMO Project certified. It didn’t happen overnight, but people are realizing not all bread is 'bad' for them. When made correctly, using fewer and better ingredients, a delicious wholesome loaf of bread is beneficial to a balanced diet."

The bakery also produces a popular gluten-free line. "We worked for months to create the right combination of ingredients (sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and millet) that yielded the right texture and high quality taste," Davis says. "The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, so we'd like to add more flavors."

In spring 2017, La Brea launched twice-baked flatbread crisps (made from the same fortuna wheat as the single-origin-grain bread) in Rosemary, Sea Salt and Smoked Paprika flavors.