The evolution of bread

“It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Like most sayings that have stood the test of time, this old chestnut has a lot of truth to it. When shoppers of yore were finally able to buy pre-sliced bread at their local bakery or supermarket, it was indeed a cause for celebration and wonder.

But times change. And for a long time now, bakers have had to deliver far more than pre-slicing to keep their customers happy. Recently, that pace of change has accelerated like few other times in bread industry history.

“The days of only having the choice of white or wheat bread are long gone,” said JoAnn Rupp, global market insights manager for Lenexa-based Corbion. “Consumers today have so many options when it comes to buying and consuming bread.”

Take artisan and specialty breads. Their growth in recent years has been tremendous, with demand driving not only higher volumes but an explosion of varieties. Much of that, Rupp said, is due to growth in the diversity of the grains used.

“An increasing number of specialty breads made with specialty grains such as sprouted grains, ancient grains, chia, flax and teff are making their way into the center aisles and along the perimeter of grocery stores.”

The evolution of the bread category has also included a big jump in the number of flavored breads on the market. The number of new breads that are flavored with fruit infusions and spices has almost doubled since 2008.

Banana, cranberry, corn and herbs are just a few of the many flavors that are currently trending, Rupp said.

In addition to grain diversity and flavor, ethical claims have also been on the rise in the bread world. According to Innova Market Insights’ Bread Products Trend Analysis Report, 45% of new breads make an ethical, transparent or clean-label claim. Ethical packaging, no additives/preservatives and allergen-free are some of the most popular.

Ingredients drive the change

Whatever the innovation, ingredients have played a central role in the recent evolution of bread, led by enhancements in the solutions that deliver on extended freshness and cleaner labels.

For example, Corbion’s Ultra Fresh® enzyme solutions offer several days of extended freshness for in-store bakery products and up to 45 days of extended freshness for packaged baked goods, Rupp said.

“Not only do the solutions help bakers meet consumer preferences, they also reduce waste caused by stales and offer additional selling opportunities from fuller shelves.”

To align with bakers’ needs, Corbion tailors its enzyme solutions to address specific aspects of freshness, including softness, moistness, resilience, tenderness and shelf life.

Another Corbion solution that has helped its customers spread their wings and create new products is Verdad® MP 100, a naturally fermented solution that functions as a clean-label mold inhibitor.

Because it’s a natural, authentic process, fermentation has played more of a key role in ingredient formulations within the bread category, Rupp said. As more consumers demand tasty products that stay fresher longer with simpler labels, fermentation allows bakers to meet those expectations.

And thanks to increased interest in fermentation and advancements in technology, one bread stalwart — sourdough — has had a big revival in the artisan bread category.

The attraction of sourdough, though, goes beyond fermentation, Rupp said. Taste is huge, of course, but so is a general awareness of health benefits and the authenticity of the dough.

“The days of only having the choice of white or wheat bread are long gone. Consumers today have so many options when it comes to buying and consuming bread.”

JoAnn Rupp, Corbion

A healthier choice

Speaking of health, nutrition experts, health organizations and the government are in agreement: consumers need to increase their consumption of whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of the grains in Americans’ diet be whole grains.

In 2016, a proposed federal bill, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act, discussed rolling back the whole grain requirements to 80% “whole grain rich.” Whole grain rich doesn’t mean the food is 100% whole grain, but that at least half of the grains in the food are whole. When the bill says “80% whole grain rich,” it means that only 40% of the grains need to be whole.

One of the biggest challenges the baking industry faces with standards like these is labeling, Rupp said. “Whole-grain content is not disclosed in the Nutrition Facts panel. If whole grains are listed in the ingredients statement followed by multiple refined grains, consumers would have no way of knowing that they could be consuming mostly refined grains.”

According to a study by CSPI, nearly half of consumers misidentified refined-grain bread as whole grain.

Fortunately, the industry is fighting back to clear consumers’ confusion. The Whole Grains Council’s Whole Grain Stamp, for instance, clearly identifies how many whole grain servings are included in a product.

Blending and craft breads have played a major role in the evolution of the bread category, Rupp said. By incorporating ancient grains and alternative flours into product formulation, bakers have been able to meet the growing demands for healthy, nutrient-dense baked goods, while creating unique eating experiences for adventurous consumers.

Ancient grains and alternative flours deliver a slightly nutty flavor consumers love, and they’re high in fiber and protein. The popularity of plant-based foods is driving much of that growth. According to a report from FMCG Guru, 42% of consumers say they get their protein from plant-based alternatives.

Another reason alternative flours are so popular, Rupp said, is that many of them — chickpea, soybean, pea and others — are gluten-free. That allows bakers to cater to the growing free-from demands while filling the nutrient gaps in gluten-free products.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact craft breads have made on the bread category. When they’re creating their latest breads, bakers are more focused than ever before on authenticity and craftsmanship. Consumers want breads that not only deliver on health and nutrition, but that are unique and delicious.

Bakers and their supplier partners are there to meet the challenge, always on the lookout for the next “greatest thing since sliced bread.”