When Mike Holling reopens his shops for the first time in the New Year, gone will be indulgent Christmas cakes, and in their place will be healthy multi-seed loaves and rolls. Holling, manager of Birds of Derby, and chairman of the National Association of Master Bakers (NAMB), says the New Year sees a clear demand from consumers for healthier products.

"The first promotion we will have in the New Year is a low-GI multi-seed bread, because generally people are very health-conscious after the Christmas period," he says. "It is a product awareness promotion rather than a price promotion, so we do the loaves, a cob and a roll as well, and it is one of the most successful bread lines that we have ever put into the system."

Birds has 52 shops, and usually sells 70,000 cream cakes a week, but, says Holling, "You don’t sell cream cakes in January. We have definitely noticed that interest in the sugary goods will reduce during that period and we do see a reduction in the impulse treat products."

Pauline Ferrol, national sales controller of British Bakels, says the indulgent Christmas period sees a boom in products such as tear-and-share breads and novelty marshmallow biscuits, but consumer habits change in the New Year. "There is definitely a dip in demand for cakes at this time of year," she says.

Bakels Multiseed bread mix is its best-selling mix and, towards the end of the year, the company approaches craft bakers and offers them promotional material to use at the start of the New Year, when demand is at its highest. "It is a fully branded kit they can use for a good multi-seed promotion, and it tells all the customers the health benefits," says Ferrol. Bakels also provides bakers with branded bread bands that wrap round loaves. "It is something we know bakers almost expect now, because they know this is a good healthy option, and it is a proven winner in terms of how we market it."

As well as craft bakers, Bakels also supplies Sainsbury’s with the mix for its own-label multi-seed product. "It is their number one selling speciality bread," says Ferrol.

There are now far more seeded mixes on the market, as well as products with higher fibre, gluten-free recipes, and non-wheat flours. Ingredients company Edme offers ready-made bread mixes, such as roasted rye and onion; sun-dried tomatoes and herbs; and autumn sun, which contains seeds, malted flours and cereals. In addition, Edme also develops bespoke mixes for customers.

Craft bakers tend not to price-promote these products, says Ferrol. "The consumer knows they are getting a very good quality product, so it tends to be that they are less price-conscious," she says. "Some healthy breads can command quite a premium price and if it is presented well with, for example, a bread band around, it gives the consumer the idea that it is a more premium product."

For Anthony Kindred, who runs Kindred Bakery in London, it is not until the spring that his customers embark on a health kick. "When the cold weather comes in January, people are actually eating Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, pies and warm takeaway foods, rather than healthy options. In our business, the health kick starts in the spring when the weather gets warmer." It is then that Kindred starts selling more products such as tortilla wraps, flapjacks, cereal bars, and fewer cakes and pains au chocolat.

For plant bakers it is also a key time for healthier breads. Allied Bakeries is expecting its healthy brand Burgen to perform well in the New Year in the multiple retailers. "With customers looking to offset the indulgence of the Christmas period, the New Year is an essential time for retailers to stock up on delicious-tasting healthier options," says a spokeswoman.

According to Nielsen Scantrack data, Burgen has recently become the fastest-growing bread brand in the healthy bread segment and has grown 13.7% in the past year [52 w/e 6 Aug 2001]. Along the same lines, earlier this year Kingsmill launched three new seeded breads to satisfy the demand for ’bread with bits’.

Kantar data shows demand for healthier breads is on the rise. Total volume sales of brown and wholemeal bread increased by 6.1% in the 52 weeks to 20 March 2011, while overall volume sales of white bread dipped by 1.4%. "Compared to last year there have been nearly 14.4 million packs switched from white bread to brown or seeded," Kantar analyst Mahinthan Kathirgamanathan said earlier this year. "The growth within brown bread is largely due to new seeded bread products, which have grown by 6% year-on-year."

Fortified loaf launch

This spring, Allied Bakeries launched a new product, Burgen Buckwheat and Poppy Seed, in addition to the Soya and Linseed loaf. The new loaf is fortified with vitamin D and is currently being rolled out in Asda, Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s across the UK. By New Year, it will have cemented its place in retailer bakery fixtures says a spokeswoman, tying in with "shoppers looking to keep up their New Year’s resolutions and choose healthier options". The Burgen Soya and Linseed loaf also has one of the lowest levels of salt per 100g, at 0.75g, of any packaged supermarket and branded bread loaf.

The level of salt in bread recently hit the headlines again when lobby group Consensus on Salt & Health (CASH) claimed one in four loaves contained as much salt per slice as a packet of crisps, which it described as "outrageous". Kindred, who is a director of NAMB, says the industry had already hit the Department of Health’s 2012 salt targets of 1% per loaf, and any further reduction risked ruining the taste of bread. "We could go further, but we seem to have chosen to stop. It is to do with flavour. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) funded a research project and we were able to make bread with no salt in it at all; to the FSA that was a success. Some people are fine with no salt; others say, ’No I can’t eat that’."

There are products on the market to make the process easier. Ingredients supplier Innophos recently launched its sodium-free leavening agent, Cal-Rise, in Europe. The company says the product can reduce salt in baked goods by up to 25% and has the added health benefit of an 18% calcium content.

Bakery products have become far healthier over the past decade says Denise Crane, technical director of the Food & Drink Federation’s Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate & Confectionery sector group. "We believe the industry is ahead of government in much of its thinking on reformulation and improving the nutritional profile of sweet bakery products. United Biscuits pioneered the reformulation of its sweet biscuits to significantly reduce saturated fat. Other, smaller manufacturers have been keen to follow suit and there are now various initiatives, including that by the Scottish Food & Drink Federation (SFDF), to provide technical support for these small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help them to forge ahead with challenging product reformulations."

It is clear that consumers are looking for healthier products year-round, but in the New Year, demand for healthy baked goods is likely to peak. However you choose to approach the challenges of January, it is clear consumers are increasingly opting for healthy choices.