In today’s competitive bread improver business, knowledge and understanding of your marketplace is essential.

The last couple of years have been good for the bread and bakery products market, with retail sales increasing by 2.5% to reach £3.17bn in 2005, helped by the resurging popularity of the big brands. This has been mainly due to the industry’s efforts to maintain consumer interest and capitalise on trends, such as the growing awareness of healthy eating and the trend towards indulgent products.

As such, it is important to rise to the challenge of this fast-moving market by developing bread improver concepts that address these trends. Healthy eating has become a focus area for product development, where new product development (NPD) responses can take two forms: removal of the ingredients consumers would prefer not to eat or the inclusion of ingredients that provide additional nutritional benefits.

As an example, Gb Plange has developed ’clean label’ bread improvers, based on non-hydrogenated fats rather than emulsifiers, using natural rather than artificial preservative systems, and yeast extracts rather than flour treatment agents. The company has also enhanced the nutritional value of its products by adding dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.

But it is not just consumer trends that impact on bread improver NPD in the healthy eating arena. With increasing government interest, both at the national and European level, the changing legislative environment is also likely to impact on NPD. The recently published Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on Nutrition and Health claims ’made on foods’, which introduces the concept of nutrient profiling of foods, is likely to impact on the direction of future NPD in this area.

Consumers’ interest in health, well-being and fitness has been linked with a desire for authenticity and a retro approach to food selection, associated with nostalgia for "the good old times". In years gone by, bread would have been produced using long fermentation processes, which provided breads with a ’special flavour’. Such flavours can be delivered in combination with today’s short fermentation processes by the inclusion of bread improving pre-ferment systems, such as Gb Plange’s Natureferm Plus. This has been designed to produce a preferment which contains, in concentrated form, the typical components of bread flavour and aroma, which are normally developed by the fermentation of yeast and flour in long-fermentation processes. For greater convenience, bread improvers containing powdered, dried pre-ferments are also available. The inclusion of such ingredients delivers premium-tasting quality bread in a natural way.

l Gb Plange UK is part of European Bakery Ingredients, a division of Werhahn KG. Its brands include Energie, Plange and Diamant.