Health has long been discussed as a key trend in the bread market, but new research has pinpointed Omega 3 and whole grains as areas with the most potential for the future.

Commissioned by ingredients supplier British Bakels, to inform its new product development, the research found that consumers know they are not eating enough whole grains and are making a conscious effort to eat more.

Nearly half of all respondents to a Harris Interactive poll said they intend to purchase bakery food products fortified with Omega 3 in the long-term.

Omega 3 has long been the star of so-called functional foods, such as milk and spreads, but, according to the research, bakery products fortified with fish oil, such as Kingsmill’s Head Start bread, are attracting growing interest. In a poll of over 1,000 people 33% of people said they had purchased or would be interested in buying Omega 3- enriched breads, rolls and buns. This figure increased to 40% among 16-to-24-year-olds. In a separate poll of nearly 800 people, heart and joint health were highlighted as the best-known health benefits of Omega 3.

"We found that 48% of respondents said that they intend to buy bakery products with Omega 3 over the long-term, but 16% are doing so already. Whether this will translate into growing sales depends on the quality of products," says Bakels’ MD Paul Morrow. "The fact that so many young people are interested in bakery products with added Omega 3 is good news; bakery consumers have traditionally been an ageing demographic."

Bakels launched an Omega 3 ingredient for bread last year. Called Nutromega, the spread remains a niche product, but is definitely "one for the future", says Morrow.

Whole grains also show excellent potential for future growth, according to research firm Nielsen, with 93% of UK consumers purchasing foods labelled ’wholegrain’ or ’high fibre’. In the US, sales of wholegrain products grew by 18% in 2005, while last year saw 1,350 new wholegrain products launched around the world, a third of which were baked goods. Sales in North America have been helped by a ’stamp of approval’ from consumer organisation, the US Whole Grains Council. This is used on-pack to promote products high in whole grains.

"The UK bakery market has not paid enough attention to whole grains; it’s a missed opportunity," says Morrow. "Sales of whole-grain products have rocketed in the US since the Whole Grains stamp was introduced. There are now over 1,700 products on the market carrying the stamp."

The company is hoping for a similarly positive impact when it launches its new Multi Whole-grain mix at the Baking Industry Exhibition, at the Birmingham NEC on 6-9 April. The 50% mix, which contains oats, rye, maize and wheat, is the first product outside North America to be allowed to use the Whole Grain Council’s stamp. The stamp will be made available to UK craft bakeries that use the new mix, along with point-of-sale material explaining the health benefits of a diet high in whole grains.

According to Bakels, Brits now eat just 18g of whole grains per day, compared with the Whole Grain Council’s recommended 48g. "Whole grains could be a real winner for bakers. Food giants, such as Nestlé with Shredded Wheat and PepsiCo with Walkers’ SunBites crisps, have realised the opportunities that whole grains offer and are advertising these products heavily. Bakers will also benefit from this spend, as it will raise awareness of whole grains in the diet," says Morrow.