The baking industry has always had a large element of indulgence about it - from cream cakes to doughnuts - but consumers are looking for healthier options when it comes to their daily bread. The focus used to be on what can be taken out of bakery products to make them more healthy - lower fat and salt content for example. But now it has shifted to what additional ingredients can go in.

With predictions about healthy eating and naturalness as key market drivers ringing true, how will these products fare when the pennies start to pinch in the current economic climate? A report just out by American market research publisher Global Industry Analysts suggests it shouldn’t make much of a difference: "Standard bakery products no longer appeal to consumers who have already marked their shift towards healthier-for-you alternatives."

British Bakels’ head of new product development, Dr Gary Gibbs, notes an interest in ’naturalness’ as a prominent current consumer trend. "We are seeing this with our Multiseed bread, which is going very well, and also with our new wholegrain bread following consumers’ interest in whole grains," says Gibbs. "Then there is the continuing trend for clean-label products. I think bread fits as a fantastic carrier for these sorts of things."

Health is certainly a key driver of new product development (NPD) across the whole area of bakery, explains Gibbs, and especially within the bread side. "We do a lot of confectionery but that still seems to be driven mainly by indulgence, only a little by health," he says. "If you spoil yourself, you really want it to be worth it."

== Driving factors ==

Last year, bakery ingredients manufacturer Bakels undertook research with Leatherhead Food International to gain an overview and prediction of the bakery market in 2008. Alongside premiumisation and convenience, health was in the top three driving factors in UK bakery, and a trend that Gibbs cannot envisage disappearing, despite the numerous problems caused by the credit crunch. "Health is so far up the agenda now, in consumers’ and also retailers’ minds, that I don’t think the credit crunch will be that big an issue."

Consumers now realise they can make small changes to their buying habits, such as purchasing everyday products with added health benefits, says Gibbs, and it’s not something they will compromise on. "I’m not saying we won’t be seeing cheaper breads, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to see growth in the healthy eating side."

Bakels’ research showed that consumers realise they haven’t been eating enough whole grains and are now making a conscious efforts to eat more. Oats are also becoming more popular due to the beta-glucan soluble fibre found in them, which has cholesterol lowering benefits, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids are predicted to become even more popular.

For Bakels, its most popular ’healthy’ bread is its Multiseed. "We’re also starting to see high fibre pick up a lot," says Gibbs. "Warburtons is promoting its extra-fibre bread, and it’s certainly an area we’re promoting with our Multiseed bread as having nearly double the amount of fibre that you get in wholemeal bread."

It seems breads are leading the way in terms of healthy bakery trends. "We’ve developed some healthier products on the muffin side - for example, muffins and slice lines that have seeds and fruit in," explains Gibbs, "but less so on the cakes side." He says healthy innovation is more popular in breakfast or morning snacks, products that could be a meal replacement, rather than people wanting a real treat. But, he says, above all else "the taste has to be good".

== Promoting wholemeal ==

Warburtons recently announced the national promotion of its wholemeal range, with the aim of bringing home the message about the importance of fibre in the diet. It also launched a campaign to promote its Seeded Batch loaf. "Health remains one of the biggest trends in the food industry as a whole, and this is particularly true within bakery," says Warburtons’ category director, Sarah Miskell. "Warburtons, like many food manufacturers, has responded to consumer demand for healthier products by introducing products with a variety of health benefits, whether it’s added fibre, vitamins, prebiotics or grains and seeds to meet the ever-increasing demand for healthier products."

Miskell says that although Warburtons believes health will remain a key trend for bakery consumers, it remains to be seen exactly which of the sub-trends - for example seeded or low-GI - will remain most popular. "The market has fluctuated over the last year - the ’For Health’ bread sector has seen a decrease in volume sales, but is seeing a slight rise in value terms," says Miskell, "and despite volume sales of grains and seeded loaves declining this year, value sales continue to remain steady at 11.7%. However, White Plus Bread has grown in both volume, up 1.7%, and value, up 20.3% (AC Nielsen w/e 12.07.08).

BakeMark UK has also seen a significant increase in demand for the use of different and interesting food ingredients, in particular ancient grains and seeds in bakery products, says marketing manager David Astles. "There are several reasons for this resurgence; consumers are seeking new and different flavours and textures from their bakery products as well as health benefits and premiumisation," he explains.

In terms of NPD, BakeMark is focusing heavily on taste and health across its bread ranges. "We are constantly researching ways to develop new products that will help bakers offer profitable lines to satisfy consumer demand, while still meeting traditional preferences," says Astles. It has recently launched three new Multiseed bread mixes to its Arkady portfolio - Waldkorn Classic, Waldkorn Krokant and Combicorn Malzsonne.

"The new range, whose name originates in Germany and Belgium and translates to mean ’malt’ and ’corn’, boasts ingredients with heritage, an important growth area for bakery ingredients," says Astles.

BakeMark expects the demand for seeded, low-GI and high-fibre bread to continue to grow and for these products to become more mainstream. "As market conditions polarise, premium and continental breads are areas of the bread market that have seen massive growth over the last 12 months," Astles explains. "The total bread market has grown by 12.7% in value over the last year, with seeded bread sales still increasing, showing growth of 15.5% (source: TNS Superpanel, 52 w/e 13 July 2008). Customers are switching to premium and Continental breads and are demanding more variety." He has noticed that growth in the popularity of healthier sweet baked products is also rising - "consumers still demand indulgence but with a healthier twist".

== Rise in healthier eating ==

Recent data from Allegra Strategies on ’How Britain Eats!’, reveals that 51% of consumers regularly examine product labels before buying, with fat, salt, sugar and calorie content being the most sought-after information. According to Allegra: "The single most powerful influence on household eating patterns is the rise of healthier eating."

Its research has shown that, over the last three years, the consumption of fresh, natural and healthier foods has accelerated, with 44% of UK adults stating they are eating more healthily than in the past. Almost 20% said they had lowered fat in their diets over the past year and many have reduced sugar and salt content.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is currently running a campaign to make the public aware about the level of salt that should be in their diets - no more than 6g per day, for an adult, is recommended. The FSA has also set a target of reducing the average salt intake to this amount by 2010 and many bakery products now advertise that they fall within salt reduction guidelines.

For bakery, it seems, consumers’ desire for indulgence will always be fulfilled in the cakes and confectionery sector, where a few extra calories are worth it for that special treat. In terms of healthy eating trends, bread is the key product consumers purchase, based on its health credentials, but as with cakes, it still needs to taste good.