Bakers Journal

Fresh Trends October 2008

October 28, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois

TACKLING BABY FAT – Navigating the weight loss issue as a bakery can be daunting. Here’s how to sort through the spin and determine what kinds of healthy (waistline-friendly!) options to put into your product lineup

12Think back to Grade 5 or 6. Do you remember that awkward, overweight kid in your class? Maybe he or she was bullied but chances are they stuck out like a sore thumb amongst a sea of sprightly kids. Flash forward to today’s school yard and that one overweight kid out of a class of 30 has become about seven or eight portly children. The seventh report of the Standing Committee on Health, Healthy Weights for Healthy Kids 2007, reports that the number of overweight Canadian children has risen from 12 per cent to 18 per cent, and obese children, from three per cent to eight per cent, between 1978 and 2004. That means about one in four Canadian children are overweight or obese. As our society grapples with the notion that 12-year-olds may start developing diabetes and heart disease because of their weight problem, it becomes easy to point the finger towards the food industry. It’s the fault of fast food! It’s because there’s junk in vending machines. Maybe it’s because kids eat too many sweets? Navigating the weight loss issue as a bakery can be daunting. After all, we’re part of the problem right? Not so fast. While the baking industry may be suffering from a wee bit of guilt by association right now, the reasons behind the childhood obesity issue and our options for repositioning ourselves may surprise you.

Since we noticed that generation X was morphing into generation XXL about 10 years ago, it’s been a bit of a witch hunt. Vending machines have been pulled from schools, gym class programs have been re-evaluated and restaurant chains are scrambling to introduce healthy options. The cruel reality remains that while you can lead a horse to water, you can’t necessarily make him drink it if he really wants pop. Many schools are reporting that if kids can’t get their junk food fix on school premises then they simply find sweeter pastures off of school grounds. But schools can do only so much and families have been slow to take responsibility for their own eating habits. “I’m big boned” or “the devil made me do it” are excuses that only go so far. Experts are beginning to realize that the focus needs to begin at home. The most startling statistic to support this argument was unearthed by a 2007 Consumer Reports poll showing that 50 per cent of parents who have overweight or obese children don’t realize their children weigh too much. Many parents are in denial about their children’s weight because they don’t want to have to change their own eating and exercise habits, says Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian who works with overweight children and their families in New York City. A Canadian Medical Association survey found only nine per cent of parents report they have a child who is at least somewhat overweight. If 25 per cent of children are struggling with their weight and only nine per cent of parents feel they have a child who is overweight – the numbers don’t seem to add up. Apparently, if we accept our kids are overweight, it means we have to deal with our own weight issues as well. Denial works both ways. We can ban candy in vending machines, limit advertising of sugary treats to kids and even introduce more physical education in schools, but if parents aren’t ready to come to the proverbial tea party on this topic, how can one bakery tackle this issue in a meaningful way?

Look for many small wins to address the obesity issue. Consider implementing a reward program for customers who bike or walk to your bakery. Why not sponsor a little league team? It’ll be great advertising for your bakery and it will demonstrate your commitment to youth and their well-being. Create smaller portions of your top-selling bakery items. Mini cupcakes or muffins will provide a great treat with a manageable calorie count. Could your product lineup include more savoury items? Pizza buns, cheese biscuits, and cheddar muffins may offer parents an easy lunch item to pack in place of high-fat processed meats. Reinforce your whole-wheat products along with their health benefits. And don’t forget the humble Angel Food Cake. It can be served many wonderful ways and is fairly low in fat and calories. Why not create a few recipes for customers to take along with the cake to show them how to make it versatile?


As the big food companies bow to public pressure, they’ll shift their product offerings and messaging to healthier options. This will hopefully help families sort through the quagmire of fattening foods – allowing them to get a handle on their handles. The tide is turning and if we continue to stay true to our mandate to give customers fresh, high-quality products, bakeries can continue be a great source for foods that are good for us – body and soul. / BJ

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at On Trend Strategies by e-mail at

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