Grain of truth

Flour trends in bread and pastry
Elaine O’Doherty
May 24, 2019
Written by Elaine O’Doherty
More consumers are interested in healthier ranges of bread and organic flour.
More consumers are interested in healthier ranges of bread and organic flour.
Bakers Journal asked Elaine O’Doherty about the trends in flour and bread. Is bread still on the menu for Canadian bakeries and restaurants? What does the public want, and what should they know about the future of flour?

What are some of the factors that are changing the way the bread, baking and pastry (BBP) industry is buying flour?

We think the organic trend will continue to grow.  We encourage bakeries to view organic as a great opportunity to tap into growing consumer demand, but this does not mean their operations have to be 100 per cent certified organic. Bakers and retailers can offer a 100 per cent certified organic bread, baked good or pizza, or offer options that position their product as “made with organic flour” or another organic ingredient, as a great start. Adding these options to the menu simply requires an organic ingredient or flour—no certification is necessary. While only a small percentage of consumers eat organic all the time, most do seek cleaner, organic labels when they are convenient and readily available. Clean-label preferences are especially appealing to millennial parents who want the best for their children but are budget-conscious. As such, consumers will appreciate having organic options.

What have you noticed as a recurring trend within the last five years?

A large segment of consumers define “good food” as using simple ingredients, preferably local, organic and/or prepared from scratch at home; we expect this “good food” trend to reverberate across the country, throughout 2019 and far beyond. We are also seeing “premiumization” and innovation in the bread aisle and at retail bakeries, with new bread offerings that have descriptions like “slow- fermented,” “artisan,” “hand-crafted” and more. Artisan bread is typically seen as healthier than white bread.

Do you feel that the market is aiming more for health, pleasure or convenience?

All three are important, but let’s talk about healthful eating. Manufacturers are supplying more choices to meet needs like higher protein, more fiber, gluten-free options, increased energy or satiety. At the same time, consumers continue to grow more adventurous. They’re seeking out ingredients they’ve never tried before, and they’re curious about terms like “nutraceuticals,” “activated ingredients” and “microbiome.” Microbiome, or gut health is essential, and more people understand that gut health is linked to mental health, skin health and obesity. The important role of fiber in a healthy microbiome and in gut health will continue to be studied. Reflecting this interest in healthful eating, consumers appear to be interested in trying different grains and flours for taste, nutritional appeal and other benefits. You can also see this trend at work in slow fermented doughs.

How has the interest in ancient grains or wheat alternatives changed in the past five years?

Consumer and bakers interest in ancient grains and heirloom wheats have certainly grown. Rye is popular, perhaps because of the wider fermented-foods trend. This heritage wheat comes with a great backstory connected to many Eastern European baking traditions. Red fife, another on-trend option, is the oldest-known wheat varietal grown in Canada. These ingredients and others allow bakers and food manufacturers not only to create a great product but also to tell a story that consumers connect to.

How do you think the increase in haute cuisine has changed the way people use or buy flour?

We do see ripples of interest starting in cutting-edge dining and spreading out to consumer interest in bread, baked goods and flour. For example, the popularity of Danish and Swedish cuisines has sparked more interest in rye berries and barley, which in turn inspires more interest in using these flours. Rye flour is milled from whole rye berries and is closely related to wheat flour. It has its own distinct flavour and is slightly darker than more traditional wheat, depending on how much of the bran stays intact. The darkest rye, with the most bran left intact, is used in Boston brown bread and pumpernickel, while light rye is widely used in Swedish flatbreads. More bakers are experimenting with rye and breaking away from the familiar application of Jewish rye with caraway seeds.

Another influence we see from fine dining is consumer interest in global sandwich carriers, from bao buns to Indian flatbreads, unleavened roti to leavened naan. Mexican tortas and empanadas are also popular.  

How does organic or clean-label affect the BBP industry?

We see great interest in clean-label and organic foods. Consumers want to see labels with ingredients that they are familiar with and may even have in their own kitchens. Consumers are buying breads with bold claims, especially “free from...,” which is part of the evolution of clean labeling. We also know that consumers would prefer organic over conventional products if the price gap were not so wide.

What does “authenticity” or “real ingredients” mean to consumers or bakers?

Consumers are looking for transparency from food manufacturers and most want to know the “who, what, when, where and why” behind their food. This will continue to influence consumer patterns. Ancient grains have great stories to tell, as does wheat flour grown locally and milled in Canada, whether organic or conventional. Ardent Mills has deep local relationships with farmers, some going back four generations. These stories, plus unique varietals, thoughtful harvesting and flavourful preparation techniques, lend richness, quality and a sense of craft to everyday staples.

In the past five years, consumers have shown strong preferences for foods that are simple, fresh, free of additives, locally sourced, safe and trusted. Handmade, hand-milled and hand-crafted are all techniques that speak to simple, understandable food. Ingredients that show natural texture such as whole seeds and grains, have great appeal. Terms that evoke good farming practices, like “organic” and “sustainably farmed,” are also important, especially to Millennials.

How can bakers support diet restrictions or use less grain?

According to Angela Ichwan, combining ancient-grain flours and pulse flours, like chickpea flour, is a great way to maximize nutrition and address some dietary needs or preferences related to gluten. Grains are generally lacking a couple of essential amino acids, such as lysine and threonine. By adding pulses, which lack methionine – another amino acid – a product developer will create a product that has all nine essential amino acids. An added benefit is that ancient grains and chickpeas are gluten-free.

Any upcoming trends in baking mixes and frozen dough?

Trends are similar to what we’re seeing in baking generally: organic, clean-label, artificial ingredient-free and, whole grain. That, plus the convenience of using a mix or dough, means the hard work of formulating has been taken care of for the baker.

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