It's Tough Baking It and Buying It

Barbara Lauer
November 06, 2007
Written by Barbara Lauer
barbara-lauerWhether you’re the company that provides the baked goods, or the consumer that buys them, it’s a tough world these days.  Government agencies, activists, and media clamour for reforms to bakery products – demanding reformulations with less sugar, salt and cholesterol; lower calories; and no trans fats.  Even with healthier products, the taste and enjoyment need to remain integral to them, or your consumers will reject them, psychologically and emotionally, regardless of the physiological benefits.

And, as a consumer, it is very confusing these days, deciding what to eat, according to Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, and author of Food Politics:  How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.  Nestle helps people understand food issues, so they can make healthier food choices.  That being said, she recommends consumers don’t buy any item that has more than five ingredients in it, if they can’t pronounce one of the ingredients, or if it has an artificial “anything” in it.  In a world filled with cheap carbs and fats, with a longer shelf life, that’s tough – on makers and eaters.

Demographics make it clear that for years to come, thanks to the Baby Boomers, we have an aging population.  Add to that strong urbanization and, as Peter Brabeck, CEO and chairman of Swiss food giant, Nestle Inc., said, “an urbanized population needs to have industrial nutrition, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to survive.”  Some of the first industrial products consumers discover are food products, as a result of a certain improvement in their living standard.  Industrial nutrition used to mean more than five ingredients and “artificial” and unpronounceable ingredients – now, scientists work to develop functional foods and ingredients that read as plainly and clearly on a label as Marion Nestle would like.

Baby Boomers have been tracking the evolution of antioxidants and various foods with wellness components – such as dark chocolate, oats and beta-glucan, and olive oil – eagerly seeking, if not the fountain of youth, then a guaranteed delaying action.  Harry Balzer, author of a Boomer study by research firm, NPD Group, reported that this group is making their own dieting decisions rather than relying on medical advice.  The youngest Boomers are 40, and this is a time in life when health issues begin to creep into their lives, and in the past, doctors provided the advice.  Balzer’s study showed that today’s Boomers are either not getting – or not listening to – their doctor’s advice.  However, skyrocketing sales of dark chocolate would seem to indicate that they do follow media reports, and self-diagnose on the basis of scientific studies published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.  And, it’s not just dark chocolate – look at blueberries, açai and pomegranate – all of them have become the darlings of this age group seeking specific health benefits relating to living longer and being well.

We might feel the commercial baking sector is being challenged right now, to deliver health benefits, but we are already using functional ingredients – barley and oats, for example, which have significant research regarding their health benefits.  Canadian researchers are working on pulses for flour, and plant sterols, which will aid with lipid control and obesity.  These are in clinical trials, not just a scientist’s head, so we’re much closer to incorporating them into loaves of sandwich bread than you might think.

It’s up to us to promote the health benefits of what we’re selling, right now, rather than worrying about when – or if – health claims are going to be approved by the federal government somewhere down the road.  At the recent Ontario Oat and Barley Council, credible scientific research was presented on the health benefits of barley, and, of course, those of oats are well known.  But, if we don’t trumpet them in-store to customers, we’re missing a prime opportunity to customers who are not just looking for baked goods, but a source of wellness and long life.  Think of it this way . . . you could be your customer’s food pharmacy, because bread is a heck of a lot tastier than supplements any day!  Spread the word.

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