Growing interest in corn-based bakery products is an opportunity to add some excitement to the market

Corn-based bread is a staple side dish in the US – particularly in southern states and among barbecue fans – and is starting to gain traction this side of the Atlantic as well.

UK supermarkets and foodservice businesses have enjoyed success with corn-based baked goods, and Roberts Bakery unveiled a selection of corn rolls as part of its brand relaunch last year.

Traditional US-style cornbread, which is typically leavened with baking powder, is arguably an acquired taste because of the flavour of maize flour, an ingredient not usually associated with UK bakery products.

So how are US-styled cornbreads being adapted to suit the tastes of the UK consumer?

“We have found that corn breads are great flavour carriers and pairings with herbs, spices and nacho cheese are very popular,” says Richard Hazeldine, national sales manager for Zeelandia, who suggests they make good ‘tear and share’ products for parties.

It’s a view echoed by other suppliers, with Miriam Bernhart, product marketing director for bread ingredients at CSM Bakery Solutions, last month telling British Baker: “Cornbread is growing in popularity globally and we expect this trend to take off in the UK in the coming year.

“As it is perfect with either savoury or sweet flavours, and ideal for sandwiches or a premium toast, it’s a great option for bakers to drive sales due to its flexibility.”

UK supermarkets are helping to introduce shoppers to corn-based breads by selling them in a traditional British loaf format rather than the US shape.

“They are essentially familiar loaves using corn as one of the ingredients. The round, flatter, more cake-like cornbreads so popular in the US haven’t emerged as a mainstream product,” says Edme sales manager David Overton.

He adds that his business produces maize ingredients to help bakers develop products. “Using a percentage of wholegrain maize grits along with wheat flour gives bread an attractive yellow crumb, with small, but visible pieces,” says Overton. “These give cues of health and provide more texture.”

Edme also believes there is an opportunity for corn in the free-from sector. “We’re achieving less than five parts per million gluten for our coarse and finely-milled maize grits – as well as for our pulse and seed flours,” Overton adds. “This makes for an extremely attractive proposition for bakers looking for quality free-from ingredients.”

There is also potential to extend Brits’ love of Mexican food into retail bakery, suggests Stuart Spencer-Calnan, managing director of Roberts Bakery.

“The size of the opportunity really depends on the quality of the product and its use.  Our Fiery Corn Ready-to Rolls with chilli flakes really do pack a punch with a burger – all year round. They make a tasty alternative to a plain white bun and meet the needs of a new generation looking for flavour and variation.”

Mintel research on the popularity of international foods, flavours and colours helped inspire the relaunch of Roberts’ range last September, and Spencer-Calnan believes there is opportunity to expand the market for corn-based wraps and flatbreads.

“Our product launches have been very well received as part of a fresh approach to bakery NPD.  And why not corn-based wraps and flatbreads in the future?” He adds. “We have a great chance to steer consumers into new experiences.”

Zeelandia points out that cornbread mixes can be versatile, and can be used to produce goods including flatbreads, breadsticks, ciabatta and focaccia, and as a base for pastry products such as laminated swirls.

“The key is to use a quality mix that has been developed to produce a variety of different bread products,” Hazeldine adds. “Alternatively, bakers can add corn grits or dressings as an ingredient in their own recipe.”

Other businesses supplying cornbread mixes include Ireks and Puratos, which produces Tegral Cornbread, a US-style cornbread adapted for UK consumers to produce a more bread-like result.

As for marketing cornbreads, Hazeldine says they tend to be most popular in the spring and summer months as they are lighter than seeded and malted breads.

“The yellow colour of the breads is an attractive feature that should be highlighted,” he adds. “It is also worth decorating corn breads with corn dressings to add interest and texture. These need not be restricted to breads, but lend themselves to a wide variety of products.”

Roberts, meanwhile, suggests marketing messaging should be about embracing the new and taking consumers on a “journey of exploration”.

“We need to continue to encourage customers and consumers to think differently about bread and bakery – and delicious NPD around trends of the day is an essential part of that mix,” Spencer-Calnan adds. “We continue to showcase corn rolls as part of our new portfolio to demonstrate that we mean business and can bring relevant products to market at just the right time to maximise value for the category.”

While cornbread might currently be unfamiliar to most Brits, it certainly opens opportunities for bakers.

The attraction of alternatives

While relatively unfamiliar to British consumers, atta flour is used to make many Indian breads such as chapatis, roti and parathas.

Atta is stocked in retailers including Sainsbury’s and Tesco, but Signature Flatbreads, which has a UK operation in Dunstable, Bedfordshire and Nashik in India, believes chakki atta, the stoneground flour used to make chapatis in India, is not easily matched outside the India subcontinent.

“Modern milling improves consistency of flour quality and this is hugely valuable,” says Signature Flatbreads joint-director William Eid. “However, in our opinion, no modern mill can yet claim to have achieved the authentic chakki taste in mass production and there is more work to do to create a closer match.”

“We don’t want the millers to stop advancing towards this goal because authenticity of taste and consistency have had to be traded off to some extent,” Eid adds.

Growing demand for Indian-styled flours saw Eurostar Commodities double its production of ‘healthy’ chapati flours last year following a 53% increase in sales since it was launched in 2016.

And EHL Ingredients says demand for Indian-styled flours such as gram, made from a variety of ground chickpea, has soared over the past 12 months as consumers turn to alternatives to wheat flour.

“Sandwich outlets, retailers and manufacturers would be wise to develop new products using alternative flours as it’s certainly a trend to watch out for in 2018 and beyond,” says EHL Ingredients joint-managing director Tasneem Backhouse.

“Using vegetable flours to bake with, such as pea, beetroot and even lentil, is on the increase and gluten-free baking that incorporates alternatives to the usual wheat flour is seeing a huge surge in popularity.

Backhouse adds that wheat alternatives can also be used bring colour and enhanced visual appeal to finished bakery products such as low carb, vegetable-based breads.

A love for lupin

Developers are looking at lupin flour as a new way of tapping demand for healthy baked goods – if sourcing issues can be overcome.

Research has suggested lupin – legume seeds traditionally eaten as a pickled snack in the Mediterranean and Latin America – can lower blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, and help with appetite control.

“2018 will see crop development and the logistics of bringing this to consumers at an affordable price,” says Phillip Bull, managing director of Eurostar Commodities.

“Lupin is grown in Spain and Portugal, but there are some issues around quality required to mill the product into flour. Currently, the only location producing the right lupin product for commercial flour production is Australia.”

Bull added that his developers had tested the product, but said there was a lot of work to do.

Organic option

Sales of organic food are growing in the UK, but this is being driven primarily by fresh produce and dairy goods – with organic bread failing to tickle shoppers’ taste buds.

This is in contrast to other countries where organic bread has developed a strong following. These include France, Scandinavia and the US, where organic brand Dave’s Killer Bread rolled out nationally in 2016 following its acquisition by Flowers Foods.

But, while sales of organic bread have declined in major UK supermarkets over the past few years, this doesn’t reflect the complete picture, says Soil Association trade relations manager Lee Holdstock.

“In-store bakery sales of organic bread have increased by 6.3%, slightly ahead of the organic market,” he explains. “And more and more shoppers who care about quality are choosing to buy their bread in local, artisan bakeries, which are far more likely to sell bread certified organically.”

He adds that organic bread continues to be supported by shoppers concerned by the use of glyphosate, artificial additives, preservatives and hydrogenated fats.

French bakery specialist Bridor, which produces an organic range, says less stringent food standards in the US have prompted consumers to opt for organic bakery as a way of avoiding GM ingredients, leading to a greater prevalence of organic bakery in comparison to the UK.

“Sustainable development is one of Bridor’s core commitments and our organic range fulfils the requirement for bread and pastries that meet the highest possible standards,” says commercial director Erwan Inizan.

Dave’s Killer Bread

He adds that the business has seen growth in sales of its organic goods in the UK, although there is not the demand the business has seen in France and Scandinavia.

“In these markets, organic bakery is successful because the overall offering is very high quality. Sometimes, this is not always the case in the UK’s bakery category.”

Good Grain Bakery, whose products are made with a blend of organic grains and starches, is urging customers to consider quality over quantity.

“Groups such as the Soil Association are doing a great deal to make consumers aware of the long-term effects of conventional agriculture,” says Good Grain Bakery’s director Tara Taylor. “There is an increasing number of new brands using non-GM ingredients and going through the organic certification process.

“This is an indication of where the market is heading and shifting towards a healthier lifestyle.”