Bakers wrestle with the ups and downs of relying on recognizable ingredients.
The search for the clean label may not be as popular in the United States as it is in Europe, where the food and baking industries devote conferences to the subject, and the public is tuned into a labeling system that counts additives. Still, rest assured that the trend continues to grow on this side of the pond as well.
Consumers are discovering, for instance, that though the ingredient labels on their bread, bagel or pastry may boast of whole grains, that doesn’t mean the label also won’t list artificial colors and preservatives, says Doug Radi, vice president of marketing at Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Boulder, Colo.
Bakers whose customers seek ingredient lists that contain food additives are finding innovative ways to offer simple ingredient lists. In the process, they’re reformulating their baked products to include ingredients that can be listed as simple and recognizable, but that do a fair amount of functional heavy lifting within formulas. They’re also casting an eye on the way they distribute their goods and buy ingredients from their suppliers.
Saint Agnes Baking Co., St. Paul, Minn., distributes its breads, rolls, and bagels to restaurants, caterers, educational, and medical institutions. The bakery competes with the national baked-products suppliers and markets itself using by clean ingredient list. Dan McGleno, who goes by Klecko, C.E.O., follows the clean label trend with interest.
To keep products’ ingredient lists simple, short and clean while keeping costs low, Saint Agnes is continually baking fresh breads. But without preservatives, shelf life is shortened.
To help with distribution and shelf-life issues, Saint Agnes bakers maintain a list of ingredients to be purchased and used at different times of the year, month or week, depending on cost and availability. That way, the ingredients can be purchased when they’re least expensive and some baked products can be produced–and marketed–as seasonal items.
“You also can cut costs by having a runner that gets ancillary ingredients once a week,” he says. “If you want to order orange zest from one of your purveyors, cost might be double near the weekend. But if you send the runner on slower days, like Monday or Tuesday, you might pay less. You could send someone every day for different things depending on the day.”
The bakery also bakes specific products on certain days of the week and rarely varies from that schedule. The schedule is set according to ingredient price, availability and distribution needs, McGleno says.
He also recommends frequently shopping for ingredient suppliers.
“One of the biggest mistakes people can make is to go with one baking supply company,” he says. “You need several so you can compare prices. And you have to let those companies know you have other purveyors.”
Rudi’s Organic Bakery, where clean ingredients are, according to Radi, “basically our whole business model,” has found that technical challenges can come with a simple, basic list of ingredients.
“On the formulation side, since the bread industry’s been industrialized, there’s been a heavy reliance on dough conditions and preservatives, and when you can’t use those things you need to find the more natural way, whether through enzymes or basic formulation,” Radi says.
Rudi’s formulas make use of a custom proprietary blend of enzymes and ingredients. The breads are frozen during shipping—not unusual within the industry, Radi says—and dated at the sales point. Breads are sold either fresh or thawed, with a seven-day shelf life after they’ve been thawed.
A simple ingredient list means a reduced shelf life. For Erin O’Leary Stewart, founder of O’Cookies Wholesome Bites of New York City, it also means that cookies must be distributed quickly.
Though the list of ingredients that make up her cookies is short, that doesn’t mean the cookies are easy to create, she adds.
“To me, I can consider my list simple because it’s butter and sugar, but because I don’t want to use additives or preservatives and the shelf life is short, I feel like its complicated to create them and distribute them,” she says. “But after all, I’m not Nabisco. I want to stay small and local and healthful,” Stewart says.
She distributes her cookies throughout the Northeast, to coffee houses, cafés and supermarkets. Currently, she delivers with her own trucks or mails the products to get them there as quickly as possible.
“I refuse to add preservatives to give them a longer shelf life so I can sell more,” Stewart says. “I want to stay simple and organic and healthful. I don’t want any added sugars or other ingredients.”
Her basic ingredient list does help when it comes to marketing. She can tie her product to the local and organic movements.
“I definitely think around New York people love the idea of local, organic and handmade smaller companies versus the big guys,” Stewart says.
Ingredient supplier National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., is stepping up to the plate to meet what Dilke Uzunalioglu, senior associate, bakery application team, says is soon to be an even greater quest by consumers both in the United States and Europe for clean, simple labels.
The company provides three ingredients that meet this need. The first, a functional flour called Homecraft Create 765, can be used to reduce up to 60 percent of the fat in a baked product while maintaining the same texture and flavor profiles.
Functional flours Homecraft Create GF 10 and GF 20 can be used as a one-for-one swap with wheat-based flour to allow for the creation of a gluten-free product, Uzunalioglu says. The company also has recently started using its Hi-Maize resistant starch to lend fiber and nutrition to gluten-free applications and has recently created a prototype gluten-free cranberry oatmeal cookie using the starch.
The third product is a line of modified starches. The Novation starches are available as a granular or cold-water soluble product. These have the properties of a chemically modified starch but can be listed as corn or tapioca starch on the label.
All the products can be used by wholesale bakers to keep their ingredient makeup to a short list of common household ingredients, “which is the clean-label thrust,” Uzunalioglu says.
These ingredients are created via proprietary techniques that allow for the label listings. The gluten-free flours, for example, are composed of two flours that are then functionalized with a heat treatment, Uzunalioglu says.
“There’s a push to replace things like fat, wheat, salt and sugar in all kinds of foods. But those are all highly functional ingredients,” she says. “Fat provides mouth feel and wheat is a great manager of moisture, which is why you can make a crispy cracker with wheat or make a rich, indulgent pastry.”
Products like her company’s gluten-free functional flour can be used to formulate a gluten-free ingredient without the need for starches, gums, or other ingredients that a wholesale baker might rely on to mimic the mouth feel of a baked product that contains wheat, Uzunalioglu says.
“Starches, tapiocas and gums don’t hold the water nearly as well as wheat. They don’t rise like a wheat-containing product would,” she says. “So by imparting that type of functionality through our flour, you regain many of the qualities wheat provides in terms of texture and you have muffins that rise which you won’t see in the average gluten-free product.” Perhaps most importantly to the clean label movement, it removed the need for chemically modified ingredients.
The move toward clean labels is growing at an even faster pace in Europe because Europeans are familiar with E-numbers–number codes for food additives that have been assessed for use within the European Union. Consumers with an interest in clean labels can quickly look to find E-numbers they may be avoiding on food label.
“So anything with a modified starch would be considered an E-number, which is something you don’t want on your label,” Uzunalioglu says.
To further clean up their ingredient lists, Uzunalioglu and her colleagues advise customers to take a hard look at their formulas. Often, they are outdated, she says.
“Sometimes we talk with the customers and realize they use a bunch of ingredients in their formulations, but they don’t know what they’re for,” she says. “We always approach them and try to understand why they have that ingredient in there, and then we try to help them out with understanding the functionality of each ingredient.
“Some are using an ingredient that doesn’t give any function, but they just use it because they have been doing so for 20 years,” she says.
She advises wholesale bakers to ask ingredient suppliers for help with formulations that include the supplier’s products. After all, many of these products don’t allow for a simple one-for-one ingredient switch within formulas.
The switch to a clean label may have to happen gradually and in tandem with formulation, ingredient and distribution changes. But it can pay off with consumer interest and marketing opportunities, baking experts say.