And it’s changing how our industry bakes, packages and promotes.
The low-carb craze blew in fast and furious, resulting in the awareness that some carbohydrates, such as whole grains, are better for you than others, says Peter Jacobs, Director of Technical Sales and Training at BakeMark Ingredients Canada Ltd., manufacturers and suppliers of bakery and food ingredients, in Oakville, Ontario.
“This past trend (low carbs) has actually given a boost to the good carbs,” he says. “BakeMark has introduced a full line of natural-type grain products from our German markets, where natural and whole grain products have been a staple for years.”
According to Lesley Brooks, Director of Marketing at Dawn Food Products Canada Ltd., a bakery manufacturer and distributor in Etobicoke, Ontario, because consumers have learned some carbohydrates are better for them than others, manufacturers are now capitalizing on that trend and introducing more of the whole grains for their customers.
“Consumers understand more about nutrition and eating the right products,” she says. “And everybody’s looking for more natural products. It (whole grains) has been in commercial breads for a long time, but now we’re seeing it more and more.”
In response, Dawn recently introduced a wide selection of whole grain, sweet goods.
“We have some customers who jumped on board and others who are a little more resistant,” says Brooks. “They really feel that sweet goods are meant to be decadent. We do offer decadent products as well, but our position is if you give consumers a choice and they can have a great-tasting sweet product that is also whole grain, perhaps they’ll buy it.”
Anna Olson, owner of Olson Foods & Bakery in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, also believes it’s important to give customers a choice, and says by selling whole grain products you’re offering a balance.
“Consumers feels empowered when they feel they have the choice,” Olson says.
She adds that instead of separating the whole grain products and giving them their own little section in the store, it’s important to integrate them with the rest of the display.
According to Olson, although baking with whole grains is not more difficult, you do have to treat it like a new ingredient.
“It would be like substituting brown sugar for white sugar, for example — you can’t just substitute one for one in a recipe, and that goes for any baking,” she says. “You’ve got protein content and the texture changes, so you can’t simply replace white flour with whole wheat or whole grain flours and expect the same results. It takes a little practice and a little playing around to find ratios that work for you. And 100 per cent substitution of whole grain is not the answer because you’re not going to sell the product. If it looks lumpy and tastes horrible, then you haven’t really accomplished anything.”
According to Jacobs, whole grain products are always going to be more expensive, but he adds the biggest trend he has seen is customer awareness — and health-conscious people are willing to pay more.
“If you go to any bulk food store and you buy a kilogram of (enriched white) flour for example … and you buy the same amount of grains, you will probably pay 30 to 50 per cent more, and you don’t get any baked volume out of it,” he says. “So then you have to add other ingredients to compensate … to hold everything together.”
Roland Berchtold, owner of Grainharvest Breadhouse Inc., a retail and wholesale bakery in Waterloo, Ontario, agrees whole grain products are more expensive, but adds you get what you pay for. He also points out there is a difference between whole grain flour and whole grains.
“If you use whole grains, a longer fermentation is beneficial,” he says. “With whole grain flour … the baking itself is not any different. But people have to realize whole grain tastes different than enriched white flour. And you won’t get that huge, fluffy, spongy loaf.”
Berchtold says there is one challenge to consider with whole grains, and that’s the shelf life.
“Whole grain, especially the flour, has to be processed fairly quickly,” he says. “You have the wheat germ in there which makes the flour healthier, but it also makes it spoil a lot quicker. But if you have a high turnover then it’s not an issue.”
Enriched white flour, for example, is good for up to half a year, but whole grain flour should be used in a few weeks at the most, Berchtold says.
Brooks agrees shelf life can be a challenge when the company’s products are still in the mix format.
“It makes a difference to us in terms of managing inventory and making sure the product is always as fresh as possible,” she says. “Once it is made into a finished product there’s no concern.”
Where Brooks expects interest in the near future is with the glycemic index.
“It’s quite complicated and not easy for consumers to comprehend, but whole grain products fit right in there,” she says. “I think you’re going to hear more about it in the press, and manufacturers will try to find ways of being able to market their products as having a low glycemic index impact.”
Brooks adds the interest in whole grain products has increased within the last year.
“The cereal people jumped on board quite early; we are doing more work in whole grains, and our competitors are also introducing products.”
In addition to an increased interest in whole grain products, Olson has seen a change in where consumers can purchase them today.
“When you look at the little bakeries in my area (Port Dalhousie), it used to be there were health food stores, the whole grain bakery and then everybody else,” she says. “But now, we’re sort of evening out and you don’t have to go to a special institution (to get whole grain baked goods). So I think that tells us that the whole grains are here and we all need to learn to adapt.”
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