Do consumers need regulations to distinguish between scratch bread and frozen dough?
Some in the baking industry are voicing concern as more and more retail outlets install in-store ovens. Photo: Fotolia
Depending on how you look at it, frozen dough and par-bake bread are either brilliant innovations or a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing —“factory” bread posing as “real” bread.
Of course, the battle between manufactured bread and scratch bread is hardly new. And while each has its role in the marketplace, rumblings from within the industry are getting louder as more retail outlets are installing in-store ovens.
Meanwhile, customers are being drawn in by the dizzying aroma of freshly baked bread.
Frozen artisan-style loaves, that is.
But does it matter where the bread dough is made if consumers are happy? Fiera Foods senior vice-president Shawn O’Shaughnessy doesn’t think so.
“Consumers are looking for excellent quality and value for their dollar,” he says. “They also form a relationship with the products and demand consistency both in the quality of the product and availability.”
Sandra Zanette of Backerhaus Veit says that regardless of where bread dough is made, it must meet two imperatives: food safety and quality.
“As an artisan frozen bread, roll and soft pretzel manufacturer that continues to place these two key areas at the forefront, we believe that par-baked products can be baked at store level and provide customers with ‘scratch-baked’ quality,” Zanette says.
Frozen products, as they grow in variety, availability and popularity, are meeting demand for consistent quality and reliable supply.
“Maximizing sales is also an advantage as with most frozen breads, specifically par-baked. You can be back in business in less than 30 minutes if you run out of a given product,” O’Shaughnessy says. “The success and growth of par-baked baguettes over the last 15 years is a perfect example of this advantage.”
This has led to whole programs of artisan bread with few or no skilled bakers.
Zanette concurs, adding advantages such as easy implementation of a “hot baked” program, reduced shrink at store level and the ability to provide certified items such as kosher parve, vegan and vegetarian, as well as authentic recipes.
Another advantage: “For inventory purposes, you are dealing with one SKU, not all the ingredients and other requirements to make that specific bread,” O’Shaughnessy says.
He adds that the responsibility of QA for the manufacturing of the product rests with the vendor of the bread, and further, the QA standard is higher based on the requirements of manufacturers to supply bakery products.
“You cannot overstate the importance of consistency of product from store to store when a retailer has 1,000 stores,” O’Shaughnessy says. “This just cannot be executed from scratch.”
Sounds like a dream for retailers. So what’s the problem?
Perception, for one. Are consumers being given the impression that the bread has been made in the same place it was baked? Especially if the loaves are being removed from the oven right in front of them by someone dressed as a baker?
In some ways, it comes down to definitions and what “fresh” means when it pertains to bread.
According to Andrew Whitley – artisan baker, teacher and author of Bread Matters, and co-founder of the Real Bread Campaign, part of the UK-based charity Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming – bake-off products are a deception.
“If [frozen dough manufacturers] think that freshness doesn’t relate to the temporal span between production and consumption, then what are they doing promoting bread with a sort of theatre production coming out of an oven, suggesting the freshness that they are selling you is related to its having been recently made?”
One of the key demands of the Real Bread Campaign is for meaningful new definitions of “fresh” and “freshly baked.”
Legally, however, in Britain and in Canada, “fresh” refers to the recent preparation of the food rather than the freshness of its ingredients or components and regardless of whether the product or its ingredients contain preservatives or are preserved by other means. Thus, according to Canada’s Food Inspection Agency, recently baked bread made with frozen dough may be described as “fresh.”
Advertising Standards Canada, which is completely separate from labelling in Canada, says that if bread is freshly baked and advertised as such it is not misleading – no matter how far that loaf travelled before it was put in the oven.
“With the quality and technology of what is available today, there is no reason not to consider frozen bread as ‘fresh baked,’” she says. “I know there is a case brewing in the United States because par-baked products are being merchandised as ‘fresh baked.’”
This isn’t the first time this topic has been brought up. Zanette recalls having this conversation when she was on the retail side.
“CFIA [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] had concluded that it did accept terms such as ‘fresh baked’ and many others using ‘fresh’ as being acceptable and to clarify the claim, they deemed it should be accompanied by a ‘packed on’ date.”
Advertising standards say it would only be misleading if the bread were advertised as “scratch” bread.
“I’ve never liked ‘from scratch.’ An itch or rash or something like this,” says Carol Culhane of International Food Focus.
However, she adds, it is a convenient term because everyone knows what it means. Any new labelling would have to be very precise in order to be meaningful and useful to consumers.
“If there were to be a regulation specific to In-store bakes versus made from scratch by an artisanal baker, the proponents of that regulation would have to demonstrate clearly to the regulator that consumers are being misled,” Culhane says. “How would that be achieved?”
For Martin Barnett, BAC director and program chair at Vancouver Island University, it is a simple, honest declaration:
“You just declare whether you’re a bakery or not, actually making stuff from scratch, and if you’re not, you should say, ‘We’re not a bakery. We’re a bake-off operation.’ That’s the honest thing to say.
“I am not judging the use of frozen or par-baked or pre-proofed or even thaw-and-serve – just be transparent,” Barnett adds. “The Canadian public aren’t stupid. We don’t pretend that a Big Mac is anything different and we buy millions!”
When it comes to bread legislation, all roads lead to France. Since Sept. 13, 1993: Décret n° 93-1074 has dictated the criteria for how traditional French bread is made, marketed, and sold. It must be made without additives and be fully kneaded, shaped and baked in the place where it is sold to the final consumer or sold elsewhere, but still sold by the baker who made it.
While establishing similar legislation may be the goal of Whitley’s Real Bread Campaign, it may be too extreme for Canada.
For one thing, the French law specifically prohibits dough or bread from being frozen at any point in the process, something that would be impractical even for scratch bakeries. Barnett says freezing dough is a legitimate way to control production costs.
“I’m making a batch of dough today and I’m going to bake some of it today and some of it’s going to go into the freezer to be baked tomorrow and the next day.”
O’Shaughnessy believes French bread makers had taken a big step backward and the quality and consistency suffered.
“There is a need to reestablish their ‘cultural’ position as the perceived great bread makers by imposing rules and regulations to improve the quality and authenticity,” he says.
Another consideration around legislation is whether consumers even care where their bread was made. O’Shaughnessy believes they don’t.
“[Consumers] care about the ingredients, quality, consistency and value. If you told a consumer the bread they love is not made from scratch but only baked in the store, they may be surprised but I doubt that it would be a deal breaker for them to stop purchasing the product.”
So, by the same token, if premade products are declared “processed in another plant and frozen” – as Barnett suggests – that shouldn’t be a problem for consumers either.
Or would it?
“What many people seem to forget is that the food regulations were not written for industry – they’re written for consumers,” Culhane says.
In most cases, that is.
“Sometimes, it is the industry that can see the disparity much more clearly than consumers, and when the industry wants clarity, we often do get very good regulations,” Culhane adds.
By way of example, Culhane says Canada’s natural health product regulations were a result of consistent lobbying by the industry to level the playing field – and they proved consumers could be harmed because of inconsistent quality.
While that could be looked at as a model for the bread industry, she adds that it isn’t a sure thing because there has to be a demonstration of harm to the consumer.
And according to Whitley, there is a demonstration of harm connected to the processing additives used to extend shelf life and shorten fermentation times.
“These would include possible effects on the digestibility of bread, which are brought about by creating this change in its molecular structure which is attendant on the use of enzymes,” Whitley says. “Does this create a greater burden on the human digestive system to actually process those proteins and starches which are held in that particular chemical configuration in industrial bread?”
Whitley refers to something that has become increasingly prevalent in the past 20 to 25 years: gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Whitley also believes there are health problems connected to the radical reduction in fermentation time in some manufactured bread.
“Research shows that only by fermenting bread properly, yeasted or sourdough, are you going to get the breakdown of those anti-nutrients that do exist in bread, particularly in whole grain bread,” he says.
In Britain and in Canada, processing aids do not have to be listed on labels. In fact, in Canada, there isn’t even a regulatory definition for “processing aid.” However, the Food Directorate of Health Canada has defined a processing aid as “a substance that is used for a technical effect in food processing or manufacture, the use of which does not affect the intrinsic characteristics of the food and results in no or negligible residues of the substance or its by-products in or on the finished food.”
Unlike food additives, processing aids are not considered ingredients and, thus, do not have to be declared on prepackaged food.
But do all frozen bread manufacturers use processing aids?
“If the additives in question are ‘natural’ and are not allergen concerns, I do not see where this is an issue for the consumer,” O’Shaughnessy says. “All great bread requires time for the dough to develop; however, depending on the usages of the bread, there are different fermentation times for different products.”
O’Shaughnessy adds that Fiera Foods ferments and develops dough for the same length of time as a corner bakery and doesn’t agree that frozen bread has reduced fermentation times.
Zanette holds a similar view. In Backerhaus Veit’s 25 years in business, one thing has remained constant: “All batches were to be produced in small batches to respect time, temperature, and fermentation to provide optimum results.”
She adds that the company has been using fermentation and natural preservatives to extend shelf life, as well as natural colours and flavours, non-bromated flours, and “other cleaner options” for many years – before it became what it is today: a necessity to do business.
Barnett says the additives aren’t different for doughs that are frozen in-house, and they are mostly “green label” now. He uses a little extra malt and vitamin C to protect frozen dough.
“Some of the additives used in a manufacturing facility are used as processing aids and the portion of that additive impacting the customer is negligible,” Zanette says.
But should they be labelled?
“If they are natural and they are not allergens, my position is no they should not be required to be listed,” O’Shaughnessy says.
So then why, Whitley asks, if industry thinks there is nothing harmful in using processing aids, don’t they voluntarily put them on the label?
“The perception if you don’t label them, even though you’re not required to by law, is that you’ve got something to hide,” Whitley says.
A public information campaign may be a way to test consumer reaction.
“It might be then useful to have some private projects in particular areas, maybe in Quebec or [in Toronto] where we have the ACE Bakery baguettes. It might be useful to see how they work,” Culhane says.
Whitley has some experience with public reaction. In the year after he released Bread Matters, he did 60 or 70 talks to various groups.
“I noticed that my direct action ideas went down very well with this predominantly young group of people,” he says. “There was a sort of egalitarian and political understanding of the relationship between real bread and food sovereignty – not just food security.”
He adds that there is a shift taking place, where bread production is localized into “micro and artisan bakeries run by skilled people from within the community … and respected and loved by their customers because they know and can see that they’re trying to do the best by their fellow citizens.”
On the other side, O’Shaughnessy, who used to be a scratch baker for Steinberg’s and Loblaws before they switched to frozen, says, “Technology today delivers bread with the same characteristics as hand-made breads from days of old.”
He says that when the bakeries went frozen, sales increased, consistency improved, overall quality improved, and in-stock position improved.
“You cannot argue with these advantages,” he says. “Great bread is great bread.”
And it’s also food for thought.
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