The residents of the fictitious mono-cultural town of ITV’s Midsomer Murders may not like it, but the days of unadulterated whiteness are over.

The last 12 months have seen the rise of the mixed-race loaf. Sales in the stealthy healthier white sector have grown by 8.1% year-on-year (Nielsen Total GB Coverage 52 w/e 26/02/11). "As consumers are increasingly concerned with finding nutritious and tasty bread that the whole family can enjoy, the ’healthier white’ category should remain strong throughout 2011," predicts Guy Shepherd, category director of Kingsmill at Allied Bakeries.

Although previously consigned to the wrapped sector, healthier white bread is broadening out into foodservice and craft bakery. Par-baked is emerging as a key battleground in foodservice more so in the in-store bakeries, where sales of brown breads, surprisingly, fell 8.32% according to Kantar Worldpanel (52 w/e 20/02/11), amid marketing and promotional activity in the wrapped sector.

Par-baked giant Délifrance has launched a Nutrition range of par-baked ’high-in-fibre’ pavé loaves and baguettes. The company’s flour milling division Grand Moulins de Paris extracts the aleurone layer of the wheat grain, which contains nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibres, through a turbo separation milling method. "This helps us communicate the fact that the bread helps you feel fuller for longer, as well as having digestive transit benefits," says marketing manager Farah Farmah. "Breakfast and lunch are key moments for bread consumption, where people eat and would like not to have to snack afterwards." Moul-bie has launched the same flours used to make these products into the UK craft sector, branded Nutri-OR.

Similarly, par-baked specialist Bridor has developed Delifibre baguettes with added soluble fibre to achieve the same nutritional profile as wholegrain.

Seeds under wraps

Seeds are another ingredient now being hidden from view. Kingsmill was the latest to get its bits out in the bread aisles, following a triple header launch of seeded loaves last month, aimed at covering every consumer preference: The Secretly Seeded One, with finely milled seeds hidden from fussy eaters looking for nutritional benefits and a smooth textured loaf; The Lightly Seeded One; and the Really Seeded One.

The trend is set to continue as people shift towards integrating healthier ’fuller for longer’ products into their regime, rather than dieting. According to data from Nielsen Scantrack, demand for malted, grainy and seeded bread has grown 5.1% since 2009 (52 w/e 12/02/11 versus 14/02/09).

"Weight management not loss is still building as a consumer issue," explains David Jago, director of innovation at Mintel. "The focus for healthy eating and healthy weight is increasingly on natural, balanced nutrition. Products operating in this arena need to capitalise on natural ingredients."

While white bread is in decline, the healthier bread sector, defined as ’weight loss’, ’active health’ and ’free-from’, is experiencing 7.6% growth year-on-year (Nielsen 52 weeks w/e 19.02.11). "We believe we need to minimise this decline where possible, while at the same time, trying to maximise the areas of the category that are in growth," says Richard Hayes, marketing director for Warburtons, which has moved into perceived healthier gluten-free and flatbread sandwich carriers.

Always eat between meals

The rise in healthier eating products has, somewhat perversely, coincided with the rise in snacking. "Many consumers skip breakfast in the belief that it will help them lose weight, whereas in fact they are likely to over-compensate at lunchtime instead," comments Ian Toal, managing director of Delice de France UK & Ireland.

This has opened opportunities for healthier bread-based snacks. "Snacking is not the enemy, it’s potentially one of the best routes to market," says Mintel’s Jago. Dried fruit inclusions are one way to make breads snackable. "They are seen as delivering a healthy halo to bread products, and manufacturers have been wise to tap into this trend," says Marion Burton, marketing manager at Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology. "New products available in the bakery sector include strawberry and cranberry bread to gluten-free ligonberry and cranberry bread."

A classic example is Bakehouse’s Superfruits Booster Bars bread with whole cranberries, blueberries, sultanas and chopped apricot pieces, plus honey, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds and oats. Even indulgent breakfast products have undergone a healthy makeover, such as Délifrance’s Multiseed croissant, which mixes indulgence and added fibre appeal.

The quest for the Wholly Grain

The US grocery market last year saw wholegrain bread sales finally surpass those of white bread. In the UK hampered as it is by vague nutritional advice on wholegrain consumption (see overleaf) white bread remains king. However, non-white breads now represent one in three loaves sold in the UK (Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 20/02/11). The data shows brown breads are continuing to outsprint the wheezy white wrapped bread category. While volumes of white bread which have been in long-term slowdown have remained stable in the 52 weeks ending 11 February (down 0.2%), value dipped 3.55%. By contrast, volumes of brown breads increased 7.87%, with value up 4.45%.

"While the American consumer may have been converted to wholegrain bread by government guidelines asking them to make 50% of their cereal intake wholegrain, perhaps here in the UK, bakers can help persuade consumers to help themselves to healthier eating options," suggests Kerrie Medlicott, global director of health and wellness, CSM. "Increasing dietary fibre intake is a major challenge in Western diets. We see great opportunities for bakery products to help consumers increase dietary fibre intake."

CSM claims its recipes using seeded and ancient grain mixes such as its Pantique Ancient Cereals bread mix containing Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt grains, which are considered a richer source of nutrients compared to conventional grains can command up to 50% higher retail price.

Oats come to the fore

Last year saw the emergence of a new bread category, oats, which hopped on the back of the marketing work done by breakfast cereal brands. This was prompted by an approved heart-health marketing claim in Europe. Kingsmill launched first with Oatilicious a loaf with no bits in January 2010; Hovis’ ’with bits’ Hearty Oats followed.

In the last year Oatilicious sold 6.2 million loaves, equating to a retail value of £6.8m (Nielsen Total GB Coverage 52 w/e 26/02/11). What’s more, the breads have attracted new shoppers to the bread aisle without cannibalising the fixture: 40% of these sales have been incremental to the bread category, achieving a household penetration of 11.1%. This equates to 2.8m UK households who are consuming the bread.

So which brand is winning the battle? In the last 12 weeks, Oatilicious sold over 1.5m loaves compared to 900,000 of Hovis Hearty Oats, according to Nielsen. That is some way short of the £30m value Hovis predicted its product would be worth within 12 months of its launch in April 2010.

For craft and in-stores, last year, Bakels launched a fibre-rich oat and barley concentrate, which includes fermented wheat flour, malted wheat flakes, malt flour, oat meal, oat flakes, barley and wheat fibre: "While oats are especially popular with consumers at breakfast, we are offering bakers a terrific opportunity to extend this interest into healthy eating sandwiches for school lunches and snacks," says Bakels’ marketing manager Pauline Ferrol.

Gluten-free for health

Is gluten-free healthier than regular bread? Who cares, because the perception for a lot of people is "yes". According to Mintel, more people are buying into gluten-free than have intolerances or allergies. Out of 2,000 people asked, "Do you buy free-from foods for either yourself or your family?", 73% said "No", but 18% said "Yes as part of a healthy diet". Only 5% bought for a family member with a food intolerance and 5% with an allergy.

"The free-from sector is showing significant growth, at 64%, so the recent launch of our new gluten-free and wheat-free bakery range aims to attract new consumers to the category who have previously not bought into bakery, due to diet restrictions or as part of a lifestyle choice," says Warburtons’ Hayes. The brand recently launched Square(ish) Wraps and Sandwich Thins, a ’skinny’ bread with 100 calories per flat bread. "Early indications show that the range is performing strongly," he says.

Growth has been evident in foodservice too, with Starbucks carrying Genius gluten-free bread sandwiches. So what’s behind this? "Some people eat bread, feel bloated and make a self-diagnosis of an intolerance, thanks to Dr Google," says nutritionist Ian Marber himself a coeliac. "Bread has been the primary victim, because the vast majority of people eat it. However, sometimes yeast is the trigger, if people have an issue with their microflora." The emergence of probiotic breads could help remedy this, he says. But in the shorter term, sales of lower carb carrying breads such as wraps are benefiting.

The newly rebranded Food Doctor, which Marber co-founded, has launched a range of highly seeded wraps. And Mission Foods plans to launch a corn tortilla into foodservice later this year, which are naturally gluten-free.

"Tortillas are growing at around 25% a year, and that’s sustained growth for at least the last 24 months," observes Fraser Chyoweth, head of food services at Mission Foods, which has also just launched a mini wrap into retail. "That’s only at about 30% household penetration; naan bread, which is around 66% penetration, is where we think we might get tortillas to. They’re more versatile and are perceived as being a healthier option than conventional sliced bread."

Naturalists shun additives

Additives are also in the spotlight when it comes to health perceptions of bread especially when pan-bashers like Michel Roux Jr front BBC programmes decrying the ingredients used in UK breadmaking. Meanwhile, "natural" and "additive-free" are becoming part of the consumer’s excuse the jargon "wellness vocabulary", says Mintel.

Par-baked manufacturers into both foodservice and retail are elbows out, jostling for a perceived space in the market for longer fermentation breads made without dough conditioners, improvers or processing aids. "Better bread options are what consumers are after more grains, more seeds, a more rustic handmade look, a wholesome feel, and natural ingredients," says consultant baker Dean Brettschneider, who is currently working with Bakehouse.

A relative newcomer to the party, Chateau Blanc, part of the group that owns the Paul shops, says additive-free opens up a new area of healthy bread marketing. "There is almost a need for a whole new category for breads in retail that just have the four basic ingredients flour, water, salt and yeast, with no additives or preservatives and with longer fermentation," says the firm’s Veronique Gubri. "Frozen par-baked allows you to do that." The firm ran a study alongside the Pasteur Institute and found that freezing does not harm bread’s nutritional values.

"In the UK, more and more the supermarkets want the real thing," concurs Erwan Inizan, sales manager for Bridor UK. "They are raising their game all the time." In fact, the rush towards "natural" labelled product launches may ultimately make the word redundant. "People will come to expect it of the product anyway that is, incorporated into it; you shouldn’t have to point it out," says The Food Doctor’s Ian Marber.

Wholegrain analysis: spotlight on the UK

Although other countries are jumping on the wholegrain bandwagon with nutritional guidelines, following mounting evidence of the benefits of wholegrain in the diet, UK regulators do not currently offer any specific consumption recommendations, writes Georgi Gyton.
Is it planning to? The short answer is no. A spokesperson for the Department of Health (DoH) tells British Baker that government advice already includes a recommendation that starchy foods should make up about a third of food eaten, and that wholegrain varieties should be chosen whenever possible. However, he adds that the DoH "currently has no plans to change its healthy eating advice on wholegrain foods".
The problem remains the absence of a legal definition for the term "whole grain", which is generally used as a marketing term, says the spokesperson. Subsquently there are no analytical methods to measure them in products. "’Wholegrain’ is generally used to describe products that contain a higher fibre content, because they contain all the grain after the removal of the inedible hull and husk. But it is important to note that the proportion of ’whole grain’ contained within products could vary greatly," he says.
Government advice to ’choose wholegrain varieties where possible’ relates to the need for consumers to increase their intake of fibre. "However, fibre is found in a range of foods," he says. "As such, government advice does not give such quantifiable advice for either fibre or wholegrain, owing to their wider availability in many foods. It is therefore very difficult for consumers to quantify from a product label how much ’wholegrain’ they are consuming."
According to the DoH, the dietary reference value (DRV) for non-starch polysaccharides (NSP the technical term for fibre) is a population average of 18g per day, with an individual range from 12-24g per day. This recommendation is not applicable to children, who should have proportionately lower NSP intakes plus energy-rich foods, which they require for adequate growth.