Technology in trans fat-free oils and shortenings are finally catching up to retail baker’s demands
While legislation hasn't hit everywhere, the crusade against trans fats continues to have steady momentum across the country. California is the largest state where trans-fat bans have taken effect this year. And plenty of other cities and states have various trans-fat legislation in place or under consideration. For a complete list, turn to page 28.
With New York City, Philadelphia and Boston among the forerunners of the bans, bakeries, restaurants and food manufacturers in those areas have had a head start testing and implementing a wide range of trans-free oils and shortenings. Bakers and their suppliers need to have a close relationship, and the trans-fat bans sweeping the nation have reaffirmed that notion. Oil manufacturers have worked closely with our industry to help bakers reformulate and test trans-free oil products for the varied uses in the bakery. The kinks are not completely worked out, of course, but bakers report the trans-free oil products are much better than they were a few years ago and are becoming more accessible to them.
The obvious ingredient switch for many retail bakeries, depending on the product, has been butter. But, much confusion still remains among legislators about naturally occurring trans fats found in butter and other dairy products.
For bakery and supermarket chains that reach across numerous areas, these variances in legislation become even more complex. Whether you agree or disagree with government legislating the ingredients you use in your bakeries, everyone agrees that trans fat produced from partial hydrogenation is bad for our health. The debate lies in whether the consumer should be the one banning trans fats from his or her diet, or the government should be the one banning trans fats from the food source.
There are still pockets of the country where trans fats don't seem to be a major concern for customers, but the wave of trans fat bans has not slowed. According to Modern Baking research, about a quarter of full-line retail bakers report that trans fat is the top consumer health trend affecting their business. Among in-store bakeries, 20 percent reported sales gains in reduced or trans fat-free products last year. That number is up from only 3 percent reported in 2006.
Whether demand for trans fat-free products is coming from your customers or your government, taking a proactive approach is the best option. Investigate oil alternatives, experiment with your formulas and dig into the details of some of the legislation confusion. For example, what is considered a “serving” when you're reformulating for zero grams of trans fat per serving, and are natural trans fats part of the ban or not? Your suppliers should be able to help you with this, since they're relative veterans in the field.
Many bakeries are experimenting and moving to trans-free before official legislation reaches their area. These bakeries are using their move as a promotional tool-they've made the switch voluntarily for the health of their customers.
Akin to new software releases or new car models, you're wary to be the first to try it. But, bakers and oil manufacturers are well past their first rounds of trans-free oil options, and new blends, sources and technology will continue to emerge.