With sales growth averaging seven per cent a year, functional baked goods are becoming major players in Europe and Australia. Patrick McGuigan samples the latest launches containing prebiotics, soy, omega-3s and calcium
Until recently, bakery has been something of a poor relation in the functional foods family, overshadowed by more grown up sectors, such as dairy and beverages. While heart-healthy juices and probiotic yoghurts have proliferated, bakers have preferred to meet health trends with 'low-in' products. This has resulted in many breads with reduced salt, carbohydrate, fat or gluten, but a far smaller number of products with truly functional ingredients providing specific health benefits.
However, the situation is beginning to change. In the past three years, functional bakery products have started to gain success in Australia and continental Europe with ingredients such as prebiotics, soy, omega-3s and calcium. The US and UK are less advanced after being sidetracked by the low-carb phenomenon, but exciting new products have begun to emerge.
According to Euromonitor International, functional breads in Western Europe, the US and Australia were worth $506 million, $516 million and $38 million, respectively, in 2004, with the compound annual growth rate for each country since 2002 at around seven per cent.
Pauline Taggart is business development manager at ingredients supplier National Starch Food Innovation, in Manchester, UK, which supplies Hi-maize resistant starch. She explains why the industry has been slow to promote:
"Bakery is a more traditional industry. Less money is spent on marketing, especially communicating the benefits of new products. This is in strong contrast to companies like Danone and Nestlé, who extensively advertise their dairy products. If more money was spent, the bakery industry could leverage increased sales. After all, bread is a staple part of the diet."
Taggart predicts that the current state of affairs will change in the near future with more spent on advertising, but she warns the message must be clear. "Previous mistakes, as seen in the dairy industry, include over-promoting the science behind the concept, for example, Nestlé LC1. Companies need to ensure that the benefits are realistic and relevant to consumers. Also, they should reinforce the goodness rather than create scandals around the newly discovered 'baddies'.
"In the future, consumers will look for products that offer multiple benefits that they can relate to. With a mature functional dairy market, it is now time for the bakery sector to take over and provide a wider selection of functional products."
Christine Nicolay, marketing and communications manager at Belgian inulin and oligofructose supplier Orafti, says the baking industry woke up to the potential of functional foods at the beginning of the decade, after taking its eye off the ball in the 1990s.
"Bakery was one of the first functional foods in the '70s and '80s. It had a powerful message promoting digestive health with added fibre and wholemeal. But it got complacent, and some of its success was taken away by breakfast cereals. In the 1990s, the dairy industry started fishing in the same gut health market with probiotic yoghurts and drinks. Now the baking industry has realised it has to do something about it, and is looking to enhance bread and add something extra."
She adds that in the last three years, many companies in continental Europe, particularly Germany, the Benelux countries and Spain, have started using Orafti's Beneo dietary fibres to make prebiotic and added fibre claims for products such as bread and biscuits. To make a prebiotic claim with Beneo, products must contain either five per cent oligofructose or eight per cent inulin.
"Bakery is an ideal vehicle for functional ingredients because you eat it every day. In Spain, for example, we have worked with a company on prebiotic biscuits because they are traditionally eaten with coffee for breakfast. Another Spanish customer is also making a calcium claim because research has shown our Beneo Synergy 1 mix of inulin and oligofructose can enhance calcium absorption by 20 per cent."
The UK market may finally be catching up with its continental competitors, after plant bakery Warburtons announced the launch of Healthy Inside prebiotic loaf last July. The first launch of its kind in the UK, the wholemeal loaf contains inulin, with three slices providing more than one third of the 5g recommended daily amount.
Category manager Claire Simpson says sales have been 'really positive' since the launch. "We have supported Healthy Inside with advertising in women's consumer magazines because focus group research we carried out showed that young women were most interested in digestive health," she says. "There is good awareness of digestive health in the UK now. Dairy products have helped introduce the concept, but so have TV programmes about nutrition."
Warburton's other functional loaf is All in One, which was also launched in 2005. A white loaf with the fibre content of wholemeal bread, it is positioned as a way of adding wheat germ goodness into fussy kids' diets, while also being low GI.
"Litesse is very white and doesn't affect crumb colour. It can be dry blended with a bread improver or the other dry ingredients of a standard white bread dough," says bakery and cereals application manager Peter Thomson. "We've also found that as little as 4g will give a prebiotic effect."
National Starch Food Innovation has also developed high-fibre white loaves with its Hi-maize resistant starch.
Beyond fibre and prebiotics, one of the most exciting new trends in bakery is omega-3 breads. In Australia, Up Omega 3, under George Weston's TipTop brand, has grown to be one of the largest bread brands, with an estimated 13 per cent share of the bread market. Launched in 2002, the bread contains encapsulated tuna oil from Nu-Mega. Its success has been helped by a strong marketing campaign that included advertising on radio, TV and cinema screens. A seminar for doctors, nutritionists and health professionals to explain the benefits of DHA was also organised at the bread's launch, and point-of-sale materials explained its health benefits in-store.
In Canada, Cali-Wraps omega-3-enriched tortilla wraps launched nationally at the end of 2005. They are made with Ocean Nutrition's encapsulated Meg-3 fish oils. Ian Lucas, vice president of global marketing at Ocean Nutrition, says the international market is 'primed' for omega-3 bakery products. "The market is really active. Consumers are becoming more educated, and the big players are starting to move in."
In the US, several omega-3 breads have launched, while Lucas says his booth at Food Ingredients Europe was overrun with people keen to develop omega-3 products, including baked goods. "We had an unbelievable amount of interest, particularly from companies in Italy, the UK and Germany," he says. "CEOs from major companies were coming up to us to say they want to start a project right now."
Seeds have also proved a popular ingredient for adding omega-3s to bread. French bakery chain Paul, for example, launched Lin-dispensable bread with linseeds last year.
"It has been a great success," says marketing director Fabrice de Rouet. "We have been helped by the advertising of major branded products (that contain omega-3s), such as oil and yoghurts. People understand about omega-3."
At Pizzey's Milling in Canada, which supplies milled and whole flax seeds, Julie Pizzey says: "Functional bakery is purchased primarily by the baby boomer population, who are now moving into middle and retirement age," she says. "It was hampered by the low-carb craze, which hardly assisted our efforts to promote bread as a vehicle for functional ingredients. Fortunately, low-carb has made way for the whole-grain movement. Whole grains are a great complement to functional ingredients."
Pizzey adds that the success of current labelling laws for omega-3s and flax seeds may encourage the US Food and Drug Administration to further loosen label claims on what manufacturers can and cannot say.
Other bakery products have targeted heart health, as well as women's health, by adding soy. Minneapolis-based French Meadow's Woman's Bread and Men's Bread, for example, feature AdvantaSoy soy isoflavones from Cargill. The bakery company flags up the heart-health benefits of the soy in both breads. In the Woman's Bread, its ability to prevent osteoporosis and fight menopausal symptoms is also highlighted. The Men's bread includes fava beans to boost the zinc content, which has been shown to fight prostate cancer.
"Around 40 per cent of our customers are on low-carb diets, but we haven't noticed any drop in sales yet," says president and founder Lynn Gordon.
Burgen Lin-Soy in Australia has also been specifically designed for women. Claimed to boost phyto-estrogen and omega-3s, the bread also contains folate, which is important for the health of babies developing in the womb. It is part of a range of functional breads under the Burgen brand, which, like Tip Top Up, is owned by George Weston. Weston's sister company in the UK is Allied Bakeries, which also launched the Burgen brand, but with less success.
Its Burgen Cholessterol bread, launched at the beginning of 2004, included Abacor — a combination of isolated soy protein, soy fibre and soy phospholipids — developed by Norwegian company Nutri-Pharma. Promoted as reducing cholesterol, the bread was withdrawn in 2005 after disappointing sales. Allied says it now plans to relaunch the Burgen brand this month with a low-GI positioning.
According to Mike Clenshaw, development director at Nutri-Pharma, Cholessterol bread failed because Allied didn't back it properly.
"Allied never really supported Cholessterol, which was immensely frustrating because both parties had put a lot of time into it," he explains. "I'd go into my local supermarket, and it would be sitting at the bottom of the shelf, with no explanation, just looking sad. Compare that to the money that goes into marketing products like Actimel and Yakult."
This story goes to show that although bakery may be catching up with the functional big boys, success is by no means guaranteed. New products still need strong marketing support to grow up to be big and strong.