There’s nothing quite like a recession to throw a spanner in the works or, more accurately, a bug in the Powerpoint chart of a marketer’s forecast. Two years ago, it was all about healthier breads. The white bread sector had been toppled from its dominant position in the market, falling behind other bread categories in 2006 on expenditure, prompted by the growth in brown, wholegrain and seeded breads. Last year, it clawed back its top position to become the largest sector amid a backdrop of heavy price promotion and conservative shopping patterns. So is the future all white?

"No," says the latest Key Note Bread & Baker Report (March 2010). It states: "The decline in fortunes of the traditional white bread sector in comparison with brown bread is apparent in the fact that penetration of the former fell from 79.4% in 2006 to 77.7% in 2009, while during the same period, the proportion of adults who said they ate brown bread (including Granary and wholemeal varieties) rose from 65.1% to 69.1%. The proportion of consumers who eat white bread fell from 68.3% to 66.8% between 2008 and 2009, and there have also been slight decreases in the percentage who say they eat wholemeal bread and bread in the ’other types’ category. Brown and granary breads have both seen very small increases in penetration."

Of course, the market is not always clear-cut, with the emergence of the ’healthier white’ segment straddling the divide. This represents the big brands’ continued focus on marketing healthier breads to people who are shy of bread with bits. Much activity over the last two years has been on wholegrain marketing, but problems in the perception of the healthiness of bread run deeper, from misconceptions about weight gain to recent scares about salt levels.

The industry needs to nail down some key health messages, such as the benefits of whole grains, but has been hampered by the absence of wholegrain health claims approval from Europe, which has in turn hindered the development of initiatives such as the Whole Grain Stamp. This was originally launched in the US and is now being used on 3,400 products in 20 countries.

With the US leading the way on whole grain marketing, Cynthia Harriman, director of the Whole Grains Council, which pioneered the Whole Grain Stamp, says there are three key trends emerging, all of which have one thing in common: they address the belief that whole grains should be for everyone. These include promoting the use of whole white wheat, which makes whole grains available to people accustomed to the milder taste of refined wheat; gluten-free grains, which make whole grains available to people with coeliac disease; and the emerging trend Stateside for sprouted or malted grains, which addresses both taste and digestive health.

"2010 may well be the year that sprouted whole grains known as malted grains in the UK become more widely known and used," says Harriman. "We’re seeing the trend continue strongly this year. I think you’ll see the baking community looking into sprouted grains as ingredients, and there will be a growing awareness that there are two approaches to sprouting: the wet approach and the dry approach. In both cases, the grains are encouraged to germinate slightly through controlled temperature and moisture. But then the path diverges."

Suppliers like German firm Kampffmeyer have also launched wholemeal flours, based on white wheat, that contain none of the bitter-tasting phenolic substances that appear in red wheat breads, and are therefore suitable for fine bakery goods. Its wholegrain Snow Wheat, for example, is being promoted for the manufacture of baked goods that have the appearance and taste of white flour products, but the same nutritional value as common wholemeal products.

Meanwhile, Harriman is also predicting that more attention will be paid to traditional fermenting processes for grains in the near future. "Over history, food historians believed that most grains were eaten sprouted or fermented and, as we learn the taste and health advantages of these methods of traditional processing, clever manufacturers will find ways to adapt the old ways to new products," she says.

While such developments may spark some new product development ideas, Therese Coleman, a nutritionist working on behalf of The Home Grown Cereals Authority, points out an opportunity for using oats in bread, following "an EFSA health claim [that] has been approved for oats, specifically the beta-glucan fraction, which is very similar to the previous JHCI claim approved in the UK".

Following this, Kingsmill wasted little time in launching Oatilicious a loaf baked with wholegrain oats and wheat flour that contains no bits for a smooth texture, which sits in the healthier white segment. "Oat-led products, combining the goodness of wholegrain oats with great taste, are already popular in other categories but Kingsmill Oatilicious is the first branded loaf of its kind in the bread category," explains Kingsmill’s marketing controller Michael Harris.

Elsewhere, seeded products continue to prove popular, with the likes of Rank Hovis making a big impact on the category with its successful Multiseed mix, introduced in 2009. "Breads that combine perceived healthier ingredients and real flavour are increasingly popular," says Jenny Green, marketing executive at bread supplier Bakehouse. "A growth area for bread is seeded bread. In-store bakery seeded breads are now worth £79.6m, make up £13.9% of the category and are growing at an impressive 9% ahead of the category (IRI Total Retailers w/e 20-02-10)."

Miller ADM’s marketing manager Melanie Somerville adds that its Castleford Stoneground, Miller’s Gold and Allison Traditional Stoneground wholegrain flours remain popular. "While white flour continues to dominate the market, there is growing awareness among consumers of the benefits of low-glycaemic index (GI) wholegrain in maintaining a healthy digestive system and helping to prevent diabetes by controlling weight and blood sugar levels," she says.

Seeded breads have also done well in foodservice, says Ian Toal, MD of bakery foodservice giant Delice de France, but health has fallen behind value as a driver of growth. "We’re seeing a lot more uplift in products with inclusions products that people perceive to be healthier, with nuts and flakes," he says. "Has health been the number one driving force? I wouldn’t say it has. We have tried to cover every angle, from gluten-free to low salt, but the over-riding thing that people have wanted in the last year is value for money a fact that more people in the industry need to wake up to, and I think they are."

Away from the focus on seeded and wholegrain products, major players in the speciality breads sector have pursued a strategy of moving into the lighter, healthy choices market. David Lawrence, joint-MD of Honeytop, which supplies naans, tortillas, pancakes and crumpets, has seen its Weight Watchers licence enjoy big growth. "A lot of bread products have fats and oils, so we’ve looked at removing fats; we’ve angled into a market where those people who are watching their weight can enjoy something that can be a luxury, such as a naan, but that is also a healthier option."

Honeytop is working towards 2012 Food Standards Agency (FSA) salt targets, following the FSA’s awareness campaign of salt levels in bread, which damaged the perception of bread’s health credentials last year. Rather than seeing this as a negative, George Marriage, managing director of flour miller W&H Marriage & Sons, which is one of the few millers to produce tradi-tional stoneground wholemeal flours, milled on horizontal French burr stones, sees salt reduction as a healthy bread marketing opportunity.

"Unlike many food products, salt content is the only nutritional issue that can really be levelled against bread," he says. "We’d therefore encourage bakers to see producing lower-salt bread as a positive move. By taking action and working to achieve this, they can also promote the healthiness of their bread to their customers and potential customers. Craft bakers are in a strong position to combat negative health perceptions of bread primarily as bakery staff have direct contact with their customers within the shop so can take the opportunity to talk to them. Bakeries can also use point-of-sale to raise consumer awareness about the healthiness of bread."

Getting the message across

So where next for marketing the healthiness of breads? One angle could be to reinforce toast’s position as a healthy snack. The surprising results of a major new report, from YouGov SixthSense, signal a switch in people’s snacking habits towards healthier choices, showing more people now snack on fruit between meals in the UK (55%) than biscuits (45%), or crisps and bagged snacks (43%) or chocolate (41%). The figure for fruit was even higher for kids (69%), suggesting the healthier eating trend will continue for another generation.

So how does this affect bread? Intriguingly, research director James McCoy notes that while toast is clearly not a ready-to-eat product, it is eaten as a snack between meals by 27% of adults and 41% of children, and is perhaps surprisingly often viewed as being a healthy option.

"Toast is often seen as a breakfast product, but in the qualitative research we did, people were saying, ’Of course we snack on toast’. Actually, people do view it as healthy," he says. "There is not just a growing awareness but a propensity to choose healthier snacks over traditional snacks, and toast potentially fits into that category. People are very much balancing their snacking. Toast’s prominence in the snacking arena could point towards opportunities in the catering market."

Healthy bread product news

l Bakehouse will soon be adding a multiseed variety to its Rusticata range. Also, Bakehouse is offering its Premium Seeded Batard as a full-flavoured bread made with sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, millet and linseeds, then rolled in more sesame seeds that toast during baking for a nutty taste. Bakehouse’s French Speciality breads come in smaller case sizes of 8-14 loaves.
l CSM has developed a Soft Roll concentrate that meets the Food Standards Agency’s 2010 sodium targets of 1g salt per 100g of baked product, under the Arkady brand. It is available in paste or powder format for making soft rolls, baps and finger rolls. Roll dough can be finished using Arkady’s Holstein Multiseed blend of seeds and flaked cereals, or the mix can be worked into the dough.
l Community Foods has launched Bakelock Soaked Fruits, inspired by a practice used in French craft bakeries of soaking dried fruits before adding them to the dough. This ensures that fruits in breads are plump, moist and juicy after baking, the fruit doesn’t dry out the dough, it offers extended shelf-life, and you can add flavour to the fruits, such as cinnamon and apple. It is available for both craft and industrial applications.

The whole world

l The EU-funded Healthgrain project is investigating ways in which to communicate the health benefits of grain, and the project is coming to its five-year conclusion in May. To obtain a list of all the published reports go to:
l The Whole Grains Council in the US predicts a big growth in sprouted grains in 2010, and has worked to establish an agreed definition for them. For studies see:
l Australia has seen the launch of an interesting Go Grains initiative, including a ’4+ serves a day’ logo, in lieu of official portion guidance on wholegrains in the country. See:
l In Germany, Kampffmeyer has helped to fund the set-up of a bilingual German/English site with information about wholegrains. For information, go