Bakers are developing breads and tortillas, from gluten-free to sun-dried tomato, to meet the latest sandwich trends.
As consumers search for more healthful foods, bakers answer the call by introducing new lines of breads and tortillas with wholesome ingredients. To that end, bakers also are stepping up to meet the needs of the growing number of people who face special dietary restrictions. Many consumers who suffer from celiac disease are searching for gluten-free breads, rolls and pastries. A certain protein found in wheat, barley and rye causes this autoimmune disorder of the small intestine, forcing those with celiac disease to avoid many traditional bakery products.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that 1 percent of Americans suffer from celiac disease, though many haven't been diagnosed. The NIH has started a campaign to raise celiac awareness and expects diagnosed numbers to rise.
Meanwhile, bakers have been finding ways to give those with celiac disease a means to have their sandwich bread and eat it too. Dan and Jane Trygar founded The Grainless Baker, Hamlin, Pa., five years ago. The bakery produces gluten-free breads, pizzas, bagels, cookies and cakes. Products are distributed mainly across the Northeast, but also are shipped nationwide.
The Grainless Baker ships 6,000 loaves of sandwich bread weekly that reportedly have the texture and flavor of wheat-based bread. And, that number doesn't include the flaxseed, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel and mock-rye loaves the bakery also produces.
Volume has doubled each of the bakery's five years in business, says Jane Trygar. Last year, the bakery constructed a new, larger facility. She attributes an increase in demand for gluten-free products to improvements in diagnosing celiac disease. It took four years for her to be diagnosed with celiac. The average number of years for diagnosing the disease has reportedly been 10.
Gluten-free bread must be baked in a gluten-free facility, she cautions. For instance, cross-contamination of problematic ingredients causes as many issues for people with celiac disease as putting wheat into a product.
Just as gluten-free consumers don't want to face life without sandwiches, many consumers who avoided carbohydrates during the low-carb craze are flocking back to bread and bakery products in droves, says Doug Radi, vice president of marketing, Charter Baking Co., Boulder, Colo. The company owns Rudi's Organic, The Baker, Superior Bakery Inc., Matthew's Bread Co. and Vermont Bread Co. bakery brands.
“I think the excitement is back in the category,” Radi says. “The low-carb trend we faced has almost completely disappeared as people realize there are good and bad carbs. They understand complex carbs, like whole wheat, are good for you.”
That realization is fueling interest in whole wheat and organic sandwich breads, bagels, buns and other sandwich carriers, he adds. Because sandwich contents include fresh vegetables and low-fat meats, consumers are turning to whole grain and organic breads to carry those wholesome sandwiches, Radi says. These educated consumers also check labels to ensure breads don't contain trans fats and include few artificial ingredients.
“If you can deliver a certified organic whole grain sandwich bread, that's a great solution for someone trying to make healthful choices,” Radi says.
He also notes a parallel sandwich-carrier trend. As consumers look for healthful ingredients in their bread and buns, they also seek to add omega-3s, fiber and antioxidants to their diets, Radi says. To meet that demand, the Rudi's Organic line recently introduced a high-fiber bread. Also, Rudi's seven-grain bread, fortified with flax, is one of Charter Baking's best sellers, Radi says.
Consumers also are looking to unfamiliar grains that may offer more nutritional benefits than wheat. Many bakers are looking to add spelt products to their lines, Radi says. Spelt offers a broader spectrum of nutrients than wheat-based products. In baking, it can be used in many of the same ways as wheat.
Tortilla producer Don Pancho Authentic Mexican Foods Inc., Salem, Ore., is expanding its line of wraps to meet consumer demand for healthful offerings, says Tom Hoffert, general sales manager.
“At this point, consumers know they have choices,” he says. “As the tortilla industry advances, consumers have seen variety in tortillas, with wraps being a specialty item.”
While the line of wraps is expanding nationwide, consumers aren't overly interested in the brightly colored tortillas used to wrap sandwiches a few years ago, Hoffert says. “They're looking for very natural colors instead of the bright, almost false looking dyes. We're using natural earth colors that are much more appealing to health conscious people.”
In addition, consumers also are looking for new ways to use the tortilla as a sandwich carrier. Traditionally, when used as a wrap, a flavored, unheated tortilla simply replaced sandwich bread, he notes. Now, consumers across the board, driven by cookbooks and cooking shows, are stepping up the ways they incorporate tortillas as sandwich wraps when cooking at home.
Consumers are using flavored wraps to create quesadillas with unique ingredients. They're also grilling them much the same way they'd grill traditional bread sandwiches.
“For a ham and cheese sandwich you can use a flavored wrap rather than white bread,” Hoffert says. “The tortilla crisps up well, so it has a brand new taste texture for the consumer.”
In addition, consumers are looking for new sandwich-carrier flavors to give sandwiches a kick. Don Pancho recently introduced a chipotle-pepper flavored tortilla and a Southwest grill-flavored tortilla to meet consumer demand for spiciness, Hoffert adds.
Unique wraps are in demand in foodservice as well as more restaurants are requesting tortillas for use as sandwich carriers, Hoffert notes.
The foodservice trend toward healthful sandwich carriers mirrors that of home sandwich preparation, says Tony Gioia, C.E.O. at the Togo's sandwich chain, San Jose, Calif. That is, restaurateurs are looking for healthful bread and wrap offerings.
Foodservice outlets are looking to enliven the wrap category with new offerings, he adds. Gioia has noted consumer requests for whole wheat and whole grain sandwich carrier options. Chain restaurants also have detected a sharp rise in the number of patrons asking for trans fat-free sandwich carriers. “People understand the nutritional benefits of breads and wraps,” Gioia says.
On the tortilla side, many consumers perceive wraps as a more healthful choice compared to other sandwich options, he adds. They're looking for more choices when it comes to sandwich wraps and the ingredients included within those wraps. For these customers, Togo's has introduced sun-dried tomato and spinach tortilla wrap sandwiches. In April, the chain introduced a whole wheat wrap, which has been selling well.
With the trend toward healthful eating showing no signs of abating and with more customers facing special dietary needs, bakers shouldn't expect the sandwich-carrier move to whole wheat, gluten-free and more healthful to diminish any time soon, these experts say.