Business and Operations
By Michelle Brisebois
By Michelle Brisebois
Michelle Brisebois suggests the time is right for joining the whole grain fan club.
If you flip through any publication that’s about three years old, chances are you’ll chuckle at how everyone was raving about low-carb dieting – the biggest thing since sliced bread (all puns intended). The furor was fleeting. By the end of 2005, Atkins Nutritionals had declared bankruptcy. Diet fads are often trendy in nature but this one seemed to crash and burn very quickly. In Canada, low-carb dieting was given a nice big push towards its demise by our provincial and federal governments as they introduced stricter regulations. It was a move cheered by many health care professionals who felt eliminating carbohydrates endangered the wellbeing of Canadians. Now that consumers are incorporating bread products back into their diets, will they choose good old white bread or will they demand different options? While bread products were in exile, did our relationship with them change?
The federal government implemented strict labelling regulations that put an end to making any sort of low-carb claim about products. Taking effect in December 2005, this act sent a clear message to the food industry. It distinctly communicated that the government would not support any marketing activity that positions an essential food group (carbohydrates) as being bad for Canadians. Provincial governments have taken further steps by developing guidelines for healthy eating focusing mainly on choices available in the school systems. The common goal is to provide healthy options that taste great, allowing consumers to have the occasional treat without feeling guilty. Make your day-to-day food choices count for something other than additional calories. In the case of bread products, that means the cake-like white bread items would be better replaced with whole grains. The numbers suggest that this is exactly what Canadians are doing. In fact, whole grain bakery products posted a 20 per cent growth in 2005 (BAC newsletter Dec. 2005). There are a few challenges related to this trend but with innovation, education and diligence they can and must be addressed.
White bread still accounts for 28 per cent of the total bread market. In 1998, Canadians consumed white bread 181 times per year on average. By 2005 that number had decreased to 105 times per year – a decline of 40 per cent. Consumption of whole wheat bread increased 29 per cent during the same period to an average of 85 times per year (NPD Canada). If we think about it, a decline of 40 per cent in a category as huge as white bread works out to an enormous number. While many Canadians enjoy the unique flavour of whole grain products, convincing their kids to let go of the gooey white bread may be a huge task.
Fortunately, innovative products now allow consumers to “have their cake-like bread and eat it too.” Large national players in the bread category such as Canada Bread and George Weston Ltd. have launched innovative products to try and reposition white bread as a “good carb” rather than a “bad carb.” Canada Bread has recently launched “Smart White” bread – a blend of 30 per cent whole-grain flour and 70 per cent enriched wheat flour. George Weston Ltd. has launched “Wonder Plus” – a white bread enriched with four times the fibre of its regular white loaf. Wonder Plus, launched just this past January, already accounts for about half of its white-bread sales. Quite impressive considering that Wonder branded products control 28 per cent of Canada’s $311-million white bread market.
Consumers are often confused as to what a whole grain product is, how it differs from whole wheat and how much they should be consuming. Similarly, those producing whole grain products don’t have clear guidelines as to what level of whole grains are necessary for a product to declare itself as such. Laura Pasut, nutrition consultant to the BAC’s “Grains – they’re essential” program confirms that, “Health Canada will be providing some guidelines for both manufacturers and consumers soon, but in the interim, it’s a bit of a grey area.” Bakeries may wish to develop point of sale materials to tell consumers that a whole grain is the entire edible part of any grain, including all three parts of the grain kernel (the bran, germ and endosperm). This type of information will help the public to understand that whole wheat and whole grain are two different animals.
The “Grains – they’re essential!” program is a joint effort between the Baking Association of Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Pasta Makers Association. The web site can be located at www.grainessential.ca and it provides some great links and background information on whole grains. There is an informative pdf providing more detailed information on whole grains at www.bakingassoccanada.com/pdf/aboutbakery/Backgrounder_16May05(FINAL).pdf. This pdf would be a great piece to display in your operation in an acrylic picture holder on your counter. Ms. Pasut confirms that the
grainessential.ca site will be enhanced this year to include user-friendly information for teachers as well as recipes for the association to access.
Producing products utilizing whole grains can pose operational challenges. The coarse bran and wheat germ of the grain break up the matrix of the gluten in dough. Wheat gluten and dough strengtheners may need to be added to improve the gluten network of your whole grain formulations. You’ll want to do shelf-life testing and take time to perfect your formulations. If you’re concerned that demand may be slow at first, you may not wish to create another formulation and your equipment may be not be suited to making the smaller batches required until sales take off. Consider piloting the new products with frozen dough. It’s potentially a risk-free way to get in the game with some foolproof new products. Look at your entire product line – not just the breads – for opportunities to introduce whole grains. Ms. Pasut points out that the new edition of Canada’s Food Guide (due out this coming fall) will include recommendations and information about whole grains. The media attention around this will continue to fuel consumer demand for healthier bread options. This is a trend, not a fad.
We may be allowing bread back into our diets but the low-carb diet craze sure did a great job of making us feel good and guilty about it. Our salvation may lie in the “kernel of truth.” The research continues to celebrate the health benefits of whole grains while product innovation continues to deliver on taste. Just maybe it’s time we welcome home the prodigal bun?
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 OnTrend Strategies by e-mail at: email@example.com