Anyone noticed a change in supermarket hot cross buns this year? Did you observe, perhaps, that the fruit was particularly moist? Well, you would be right.

More and more, big industrial bakers are insisting that their vine fruits are pre-soaked in orange juice or water to give them extra succulence. It means the wet dough does not leech into the dried fruit, so it gives a softer product with better keeping qualities. It’s a trick of the trade from the craft sector, adapted by the plant sector, says Whitworths’ business unit director, ingredients Dan Sparshatt.

With innovation often quoted as the lifeblood of the food industry, what else is new with fruits, nuts and seeds? Sparshatt says: "Soaked fruits are now our biggest seller to bakery, far and away. We are operating in challenging times, with cost an important factor, but customers are still innovating on fruits, nuts and seeds either to allow cost savings or to add value to the product or even both."

One innovation that ticks both those boxes is the increasingly popular soft fruit option, where a base fruit is infused with a fruit juice concentrate, he says. Apple infused with blueberry juice is a big seller, for example and the product comes out at half the cost of a blueberry. Flavours such as mango and passion fruit also lend themselves well to this patented technology and there is rising demand.

But it would be difficult to identify "the next big thing" he adds. Tastes have not really changed dramatically, with raisins and sultanas remaining top sellers. None of the superfruits have really gained critical mass.

However, there are plenty of interesting ideas around; plantain chips was one new product launched in the UK recently, for example. But these introductions "need the craft sector to make something of them by launching interesting new products", he says.

Quick reaction

The craft sector is often the early adopter of innovation, he suggests: "They can react quickly to trends and they have the skills to innovate. But we also see innovation in the industrial sector both can learn from each other."

Frank Horan, director of Unicorn Ingre-dients, a big seeds supplier to bakery, agrees that the craft sector often leads the way. "In the craft bakery sector, seeds remain a core inclusion," he says, "but craft bakeries are moving increasingly into other kinds of ingredients, such as sun-dried tomatoes and olives, to add value to their products in the face of competition from plant bakers’ seeded breads."

In the industrial bakery sector, linseed, sunflower and pumpkins seeds are the mainstay inclusions in bread, he adds, with sesame seeds falling out of favour a little due to allergy concerns.

Meanwhile, Derek Donkin, CEO of the Southern African Macadamia Growers’ Association, says macadamia nuts may be the next big thing. Sales in the UK have increased by 45% over the past five years and the bakery sector has played a huge role in this growth, he says. "NPD departments are increasingly looking for new ingredients that can add value, set their products apart from competitors and impress adventurous consumers."

Whole macadamias, halves or chips are proving popular with small artisan bakeries, as well as industrial companies, due to their luxury appeal, health benefits and value-adding qualities, he says. They fall into a similar price bracket to hazelnuts, pistachios and pine nuts.

Meanwhile, Taura Natural Ingredients recommends its bakestable concentrated fruit pieces, carrying up to seven times their own weight in fruit. These come in a wide range of options, including harder-to-use berry fruits, such as strawberry and blueberry.

But back to the plantain chips. Dawn Van Rensburg, recently led top bakers in the Richemont Club of Great Britain on a tour of importer John Morley’s premises in Cheshire. The club was on the hunt for new ideas for NPD. And let’s just say they were inspired. Watch out for plantain chips coming soon to a muffin near you.