Health may appear to be the driving force in bakery lately, but the main thing bakers are after when it comes to fats and oils is performance. After all, there is little point in producing pastry with an incredibly low fat content if it’s going to taste like cardboard.

The challenge for manufacturers of fats and oils is to reduce the fat content, while maintaining all the same qualities as before. ADM, one of the largest oil-producing companies in the UK, makes up around a third of the total market. Technical director Rob Winwood explains that the world of fats and oils for use in bakery products has changed significantly in recent years, partly due to pressure from consumers for healthier products, as well as an increased demand by supermarkets for them. Issues such as allergies and GM concerns also pose restrictions. "If we look back 10 years, we would probably only see around 4-5% of our products still being produced today," he says.

Legislation has also had some effect on the sector. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has set stricter targets on the levels of fat in products. Broadly speaking, the aims of the FSA, as laid out in its Saturated Fat and Energy Intake Programme, are to reduce the average intake of saturated fat from the current level of 13.3% of food energy to below 11% by 2010 for everyone aged over five. But as Winwood points out, fat cannot suddenly be cut down; it is key to the way products perform.

ADM stopped using hydrogenated fat around two years ago and has developed its NovaLipid range of solutions, which includes lower saturated fat and additive-free options. Winwood says the switch to non-hydrogenated fat has been a major change and not without its problems. In most cases, it has been possible to achieve an exact match, he says, but it has not been an easy process and there are still areas where it is almost impossible. "For example, if you want to make a chocolate couverture product, these were traditionally based on hardened palm kernel oil, which is a very strong, tough material and has particularly nice melt-in-the-mouth characteristics," says Winwood. "The problem is, there is no really good alternative. You can get something that works, but it doesn’t quite do the same thing."

The main criteria for fats and oils are that they perform, agrees David Astles, marketing manager for artisan, BakeMark. He says the drive towards healthier products has been a mixture of baker, consumer and industry demand. "However, the majority of bakers are not as concerned by these issues until they are driven by the consumer, either directly or via the supermarkets, which are now specifying reduced fat and salt levels."

Stephen Bickmore, Vandemoortele’s UK commercial manager, believes that products with lower-fat content and healthier benefits are not really being driven by the craft bakery sector, which lags behind the plant sector. "It’s mainly the industrial bakeries that are asking for these products, because if they’re supplying places like Marks & Spencer, that’s what they’re looking for," he says.

Ingredients manufacturer, Vandemoortele, has long since ditched hydrogenated fats, and now offers a range of reduced-fat and clean-label products. It has also switched from using citric acid to natural alternatives such as lemon juice. "We have a range where we’ve reduced the level of fat in the margarine from 80% down to, potentially, 60%, without losing the quality of the product," says Bickmore.

One of the obstacles to growing the market for lower-fat products, he says, has been the economic climate, resulting in bakers trying to cut costs. Achieving high-quality products with an excellent mouthfeel but with reduced-fat content is possible by adding certain ingredients - fat replacers - but Bickmore explains that the additional cost can put bakers off. "Sometimes there is a cost attached to that kind of quality," he says, adding that, at the moment, companies are focused on keeping costs down and often don’t have the time or resources to test out all the products available to them.

Changing industry standards and consumer tastes will continue to drive NPD in this sector. For example, this November, BakeMark will be launching Melanges, a mixture between margarine and butter, which contains all-natural ingredients. And Vandemoortele is working towards achieving less than 50% fat in its products.

"It will also be incumbent on us to advise our customers on how they can revise their formulation, to achieve these lower fat levels," says ADM’s Winwood, who believes the combination of new products and the education of bakers on how to use them is the key to meeting lower fat targets.

There is no denying that consumers and the baking industry alike will continue to demand products with healthier credentials, but maintaining quality will also continue to be high on the agenda.


=== Palm oil - sustainability issues ===

Around 28m of the 95m tonnes of vegetable oil produced per year is palm oil, which can only be produced in certain tropical areas in Asia, Africa and South America. It is an edible plant oil derived from the fruit of the Arecaceae Elaeis oil palm. However, the destruction of rainforests for its production is reported to be having disastrous effects on the eco-system and, on a larger scale, is said to be affecting global warming. ADM has joined a number of other large oil producers in an organisation called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is to work towards ensuring sustainable palm oil production for the future. For more information please visit [].