Natural Foods Merchandiser

Get baked—5 trends from the Healthy Baking Seminar

Biscotti experts mingled with muffin mavens. Cookie connoisseurs buttered up bread bakers. They all gathered at the Healthy Baking Seminar Wednesday to discuss which trends are on the rise and which are falling flat. Here’s a sample of what’s hot, straight from the bakers’ ovens:

1) Baking beyond wheat—Gluten-free is going strong. The good news for retailers and manufacturers? These products have a built-in audience that is easy to tap into it if you know where and how to spread the message. Jules Shepard, founder of Jules Gluten Free, which manufactures gluten-free flour blends, says she gets help from email listserves and celiac disease associations. “The gluten-free community is so virile,” she says. “You need a lot less money for marketing and advertising than you think.”

2) Better tasting allergen-free foods—Because of the increasing demand for gluten- and other allergen-free foods, product developers are spending more time in their test kitchens to make goodies that taste as good (or better) than their traditional counterparts. “[With gluten-free], people are breaking out of the rice flour box,” Shepard says. “You can’t expect consumers who ordered pizza from Papa John’s last week to all of the sudden want to eat rice-flour, cracker-crust pizza. It’s about finding alternatives that mimic what the consumer is used to.”

3) Sugar-free sweets—Scott Florence, president and chief executive officer of Hill & Valley, the largest exclusive manufacturer of sugar-free and no-sugar-added bakery products in the United States, said his company uses nutritive sweeteners such as maltitol, which are derived from corn and processed by companies like ConAgra, because they provide sweetness without the insulin-level spike associated with conventional sugar. However, these types of sweeteners can be costly, and some in the natural foods industry question the source and processing of these alternatives—for example, auto manufacturer Mitsubishi sells a sugar substitute—preferring to stick with more clearly-defined sweeteners. The key, Florence said, is to know your customer. “You really have to know what kind of consumer you are trying to attract,” he said. “You have to ask, ‘what’s the point of this formulation?’” While a person with diabetes is willing to pay more for sugar-free foods out of necessity, other consumers aren’t so quick to pay the premium.

4) Stealth health—Simon Stevenson, pastry chef and bake shop manager for the University of Massachusetts, said healthier foods are sometimes a harder sell. “I can put out a great vegan zucchini bread, but if I mark it ‘vegan,’ no one will touch it,” he said. Along those lines, there is a growing trend toward baked goods made with whole grains that taste and look like old-fashioned white-flour creations.

5) Integrity and value— While the core natural products consumer doesn’t need to be convinced of the value in natural and organic, mainstream customers are sometimes turned off by the term “natural,” perceiving it as nothing more than marketing spin, said participants in a roundtable discussion at the seminar. “It comes down to integrity,” said Karen Trilevsky, founder and chief executive officer of FullBloom Baking Co., which makes natural, organic and gluten-free baked goods. With no government definition of what constitutes “natural” and no regulation of “natural” label claims, consumers are confused about why they should invest in natural and organic products. “Customers would still rather pay $1.39 for a [non-natural], non-organic bar vs. $1.99 for an organic one,” she added. It’s up to retailers and manufacturers to relay the value message.

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