Consumers are demanding more products be made wheat flour, such as their morning bagels.
The baking industry is experiencing double-digit growth in both organic and whole grain products. Organic wheat flours are used in a variety of products, and improved whole wheat flour varieties also are finding their way into the market. These new flours often offer added health benefits, such as more fiber, and allow manufacturers to make new health claims.
Organic products have shown steady growth in the past decade, but the commercial baking industry seriously entered the organic market only recently. "Our company has been a participant in the organic market for several years, but in 2006, demand for organic flour outstripped the supply chain," says Dan Portley, senior vice president, sales and marketing for Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass.
It is difficult for the supply chain to quickly react to the demand for organic flour. It takes three years for farmers to convert their fields to organic, challenging mills to keep up with demand. When it comes to organic flour, Pete Levangie, executive vice president, revenue and strategic planning at Bay State Milling, recommends that bakers approach it as a long-term partnership. "Developing an organic line requires collaboration, sharing the risk and compensating all levels of the supply chain."
The main issue limiting further expansion of organic bakery products in 2006 was not price but availability. According to Portley, drought conditions limited wheat production, but the recent snows in the western U.S., where much of the U.S. wheat crop is grown, provides a better outlook for supply in 2007.
ConAgra Mills, Omaha, Neb., has been an active player in the organic market since 2000. It offers a variety of organic soft wheat, hard wheat and whole grain flour. "Supply has not been an issue for us–growth in organics has been steady, and with our forecasting team, we have been able to meet demand," says Mike Veal, director of marketing for ConAgra Mills. "However, as with any sharp increase in demand, there can be a lag in supply, so planning is essential. We work with our customers from concept through test market so that our organic supply is in place to support a national launch."
Many bakers start with the objective of developing a "100% organic" product, but it can be difficult to source other organic ingredients, such as yeast. An alternative is to meet the "organic" requirements, which allows up to 5% of the total ingredients to be non-organic. To be "100% organic," the flour can not be treated, Levangie says.
When deciding which label to aim for, bakers must know their customers. An "organic" product may satisfy many consumers, but certain companies, such as Whole Foods, require "100% organic" products.
Another recent flour trend is whole grain, which is gaining serious momentum, and consumers are adopting more whole grain bakery products as part of their diets. The rise of whole grain consumption is not only a U.S. phenomenon, it is on the rise in Canada, as well. In Canada, whole wheat flour only needs to contain the endosperm and the bran, but to be considered whole grain flour, the flour must contain the entire kernel–the endosperm, bran and germ. "Therefore the emergence of whole grain has really opened up a new category for Canada," says Elaine O’Doherty, marketing manager for Horizon Mills GP, Rexdale, Ontario.
The initial growth of whole grains is attributed to major manufacturers, such as Sara Lee and George Weston, says Levangie. "Now the middle tier of cereal, snack food and specialty wholesale manufacturers are continuing to develop more products with whole grain," he adds.
When using whole grain flour, bakers may need to increase the amount of water in the formulas to compensate for the higher fiber, Veal says. He also adds that bakers may need to reduce mixing times because the bran in whole grain flour can cut the gluten strand. Adding gluten or dough conditioners also might be necessary to carry the additional fiber and maximize volume, he adds.
Bay State Milling has seen 30% growth in whole grain ingredients, and Levangie feels the next few years could see 20% to 25% additional growth per year. Growth in the whole grain flour market also has been spurred by new white wheat varieties.
Initially, white whole wheat was used primarily for breads and buns, but is now used in healthful snacks, sweet goods, cookies, bagels and tortillas. "The past year has shown a big push in schools and foodservice where whole grains and fiber requirements have become a point of emphasis. Using extra-fine white whole wheat presents very few processing challenges, especially for flat products, such as tortillas and pizza crust. In breads, where volume is more critical, other adjustments may be needed, including the use of dough strengtheners," notes Nick Weigel, director of bakery platform and technical services, ADM Milling, Overland Park, Kan.
White whole wheat also allows bakers to overcome consumer resistance to the perceived faults of whole grains. "Bakers have found that these varieties allow them to incorporate whole grains into baked goods while reducing some of the perceived detrimental sensory effects of traditional whole wheat flours," notes Kyle Marinkovich, marketing manager for Horizon Milling, Minneapolis.
Those detrimental sensory effects include the bitter flavor often associated with red wheat, the traditional source of whole wheat flour. "When working with red wheat flours, many bakers will use a combination of sweeteners to develop a pleasant flavor profile," says Weigel. Other adjustments include adding specialty proteins and fibers. Often bakers will use 1% to 3% (flour weight) wheat protein isolate, or add digestion resistant maltodextrin to complement the fiber of whole wheat flour, he adds.
The industry continues to find ways to improve flavor of whole grain products. Sunflower, spelt, triticale and other whole grains, as well as natural sweeteners like honey are being used to improve flavor and aroma, notes Levangie.
Much like organic labeling, bakers have to decide which whole grain label suits their customers’ needs, "100% whole grain" or "made with whole grain." The decision is often product specific, as some applications are more challenging to convert to whole grain, Weigel says.
Other healthful trends
Some traditional flours are taking on new roles, for example, identity-preserved varieties. Originally designed to improve food safety, identity preservation has evolved to include flours with specific flavor and bake characteristics, such as crunch and crust color. Planning and coordination with the flour mill can ensure that bakers achieve the ideal flour or blend of flours for their next healthful or niche product launch.
New products also are being introduced to add to the healthful aspects of bakery products. Horizon Milling’s GrainWise Wheat Aleurone is an allnatural ingredient derived from the aleurone layer of wheat bran, which contains a concentration of desirable nutrients. GrainWise contains 45% dietary fiber, B6, niacin, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and most major antioxidants and phytochemicals, says Horizon’s Marinkovich.
ConAgra, the maker of organic Ultragrain® whole wheat flour, also offers Sustagrain®, a whole grain barley product. Sustagrain features three times more fiber than oats and nine times more fiber than brown rices, Veal says.
With consumer demand for more healthful bakery products growing, and consumer awareness of health claims increasing, bakeries will have to meet the demand. Suppliers and bakers will have to work closely to meet consumers’ needs.