Britain’s billboard owners must love the Food Standards Agency. The wallpaper paste had barely dried on posters urging the public to watch their saturated fat intake by cutting back on biscuits, cakes and pastries when the government agency rolled out a new advertising blitz this month encouraging shoppers to check the labels of bread, pizza and sandwiches for salt content.

The baking industry might not agree with the FSA’s campaigning ways (see p14), but the measures will certainly help focus the minds of bakery NPD teams and brand managers on health. According to Neal Cavalier-Smith, a brand strategist at the Healthy Marketing Team, consumer attitudes have changed when it comes to health and food a fact that NPD teams would do well to take on board.

"Food companies have spent millions coming up with fancy new ingredients and fortifying products to make them healthier, but consumers are looking for naturally healthy ingredients, which make them feel better about themselves and have an ethical dimension," he says. "They don’t want products that have been messed about with by scientists. If a bakery company’s response to the FSA is to turn to the laboratory for answers, they are heading in the wrong direction. They should be looking in their kitchen cupboards for familiar ingredients that their grandma would have used."

Healthy synergy

The problem with this is that grandma probably had a lot of salt and butter in her kitchen cupboard ingredients that are directly in the FSA’s firing line and are difficult to replace without using ’man-made’ ingredients that consumers do not trust. While this presents challenges to NPD, there are ways to overcome them. Bakery consultant Wayne Caddy says using different types of flour, such as rye and malted flours, in lower salt breads helps compensate for loss of flavour. Meanwhile, liquid and dried sourdoughs can also add flavour and extend shelf-life.

"More needs to be done to get the message across that bread is a naturally healthy product that is rich in minerals and nutrients. There’s a close synergy between bread and healthy eating, especially when you start adding wholegrains, seeds, fruit and nuts," he says. "There are also opportunities to make more of the provenance of these ingredients where they come from and who makes them."

Marketing cakes, biscuits and savouries as healthy products is obviously more problematic these are products that are by their very nature seen as naughty treats but the same principles of using natural ingredients still applies, according to John Haynes, MD of bakery consultancy JRH Associates.

"Nuts, seeds and dried fruit these are the kinds of ingredients that need to be used more in cakes to give them a healthier image," he says. "With savouries like sausage rolls manufacturers can use a higher meat content, with leaner cuts and less pastry, but of course that all adds to the cost." One of the easiest ways to cut fat, salt and sugar levels, he adds, is to reduce portion size. Reduce a pasty from 500g to 400g, for example, and you have immediately made a 20% reduction.

This is an idea that is picked up by Angela Mitton of NPD consultancy Beetroot and Orange. "It’s a lot easier to bring down saturated fat levels in, say, a meat pie by reducing portion size. Who really knows how big a portion size actually is?" she asks.

Giving people less for their money might sound like commercial suicide, but clever marketing can actually turn it into a strength. Highlighting that a product is ’only 99 calories’, for example, gives consumers "permission" to buy, explains Neal Cavalier-Smith.

In other words, people like to be able to justify their decision to indulge. "It doesn’t have to be reduced portion size, it could be the addition of superfruits or making reference to wholesome, natural ingredients," he says. "Producers need to get into consumers’ headspace and think about how they think about health."