Rivaling Scratch

by JENNIFER BARNETT FOX
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Convenience and its benefits are craftily manipulated by consumers and manufacturers alike. Baking mixes, which have long enjoyed the convenience moniker, are being surpassed by frozen and par-baked items for their ease of preparation and consumption. Despite a bump outside the convenience category, baking mixes maintain their appeal among consumers with product introductions free of gluten, sugar, artificial flavors and preservatives.

Baking mixes not only offer consumers a shortcut to meal preparation but can also connect “better-for-you” and “healthier” brands with consumer perceptions of health and wellness. The link between a brand and its perceived health benefits was highlighted in a recent Q&A between Brandweek and James White, president of Lucerne Foods, Safeway, Pleasanton, CA. Mr. White observed, “Consumers are looking for a more fully integrated solution to health — one in which you can go to one brand that satisfies in terms of eating right.”

Much like a brand can cater to a particular group; baking mix manufacturers are reassessing their evolving audience through ingredient innovation and recognition of consumers’ desire for health and indulgence. A March 2007 report “Baking & Dessert Mixes” from Mintel, Chicago, IL, found indulgence trends and baking mixes featuring premium ingredients help drive sales.

Today, the desire to indulge is combined with a caveat that those products also be free of artificial ingredients, hydrogenated oils and trans fats and include alternative and natural sweeteners. The free-from trend has spurred many new product introductions and is also a major catalyst of innovation in the baking mix category. Evidence of the popularity of these free-from products was evident at The Natural Products Expo West, Organic Fancy Food and All Things Organic shows as well as the All Candy Expo earlier this year.

MOTHERS OF INVENTION. A number of the new introductions debuting at trade shows this year were created by mothers looking to reduce the number of artificial ingredients consumed by their children. Naturally Nora, a line of all-natural cake and frosting mixes, was the brainchild of Nora Schulz. Unable to find an all-natural confetti cake mix to bake with her daughter, Ms. Schulz sought to create an allnatural mix. Citing a rise in food allergies and a growing health consciousness among consumers, Ms. Schulz predicted continuing consumer interest in the manufacturing and processing of food.

“Two to three years ago, we saw the beginning of a rise in products addressing allergy intolerances and food sensitivities,” Ms. Schultz said. “I believe we’ll see more gluten-, dairy- and soy-free foods on the market as food manufacturers and consumers embrace ingredients that address new allergens.”

GROWING AUDIENCE. The rise in gluten-free baking mixes has been particularly embraced by consumers with Celiac Disease (CD) and caregivers of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The audience for gluten-free foods continues to escalate. Recent estimates indicate that 1 in every 133 people have CD, and 1 in every 150 are diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder.

The temperamental aspect of gluten-free baking makes the availability of gluten-free baking mixes a boon to frustrated consumers looking to maintain a sense of normalcy in their meals. Without mixes, gluten-free consumers must experiment with a variety of flours, gums and emulsifiers to produce a taste and texture comparable to foods containing gluten.

Pamela’s Products, Ukiah, CA, produces wheat- and gluten-free baking mixes designed to add to the consumer’s quality of life and promote success in the kitchen. All Pamela’s Products baking, pancake, bread, cookie and cake mixes have recipes on them to encourage experimentation. The all-natural mixes are free of chemical preservatives and trans fats.

“As a gluten-free consumer, it’s difficult to find consistencyasahomebaker,anditbecomesamatteroffinding a good mix as a foundation to work from,”said Stephanie Robbins, director of marketing, Pamela’s Products.

The mixes also combat isolation by providing food alternatives normally eliminated in a gluten-free diet such as cakes, cookies and bread. The company also sponsors an annual contest that focuses on creating recipes that can be enjoyed by gluten-intolerant consumers and those who are not.

“Pamela’s Products works to break down the stigma of having to eat differently and, in turn, recognize that gluten-free eating can be really good,” Ms. Robbins said.

Gluten-free baking was also a topic of interest at the recent Institute of Food Technologists show in New Orleans, LA. At the show, Minneapolis, MN-based Cargill shared The Nielsen Co.’s finding that sales of gluten-free foods have increased 40% during the past year. In response to this growing trend, Cargill introduced gluten-free cupcakes made from a cake mix using the company’s CreamGel native tapioca starch and Satiaxane xanthan gum.
While gluten-free baking typically requires substitution and reformulation, Chebe Bread Products, Spirit Lake, IA, offers wheat-, non-GMO-, gluten- and yeastfree baking mixes. Its bread products are based on Brazilian cheese bread, pao de queijo, and Chebe Bread mixes are available in bread, pizza crust, bread stick, focaccia and cinnamon roll-up mixes manufactured by Prima Provisions Co., Spirit Lake, IA.

Recognizing the need to accommodate consumers with food sensitivities other than gluten intolerance, Prima Provisions removed the dried milk from five of its mixes to make them lactose- and casein-free. “Chebe bread is unique to the gluten-free market because it’s typically difficult to find gluten-free breads with a similar texture, mouthfeel and flavor similar to traditional bread,” said Dick Reed, president, Chebe Bread.

SCRATCH REDUX. Baking mixes provide immediate gratification. Fueled in part by the popularity of the Food Network, rising restaurant costs and a desire for familial comforts, baking mixes provide scratch satisfaction with only a fraction of the product’s original and preparation time.

Ultimately, whether the bakery mix is baked in an industrial facility or the home kitchen, great taste, easy preparation and a fair price are primary considerations. Southeastern Mills, Rome, GA, looks to fulfill these attributes with its line of biscuit, muffin and cornbread mixes. With an approach of quality, not quantity, the company recently introduced a cheddar-garlic drop biscuit with restaurant-quality, made-from-scratch taste.

“A good mix can allow you to say you baked from scratch,” said George Manak, vice-president of marketing, Southern Mills. “Mixes are a perfect way to personal- ize a product and make it your own.”

Lollipop Tree founder Laurie Lynch wanted to provide consumers ease of preparation and “better than homemade” flavor with organic and premium ingredients that wouldn’t be found in the average pantry. The Portsmouth, NH-based company recently chose to update its preservative- and transfat-free baking mix line with the inclusion of at least 70% organic ingredients.

“Other companies choose to focus on natural ingredients, but Lollipop Tree has made the commitment to go organic with QAI certification,” Ms. Lynch said. “We felt this was the healthier alternative.”

For an increasing number of consumers, the manufacturing process, packaging and impact on local and world communities are additional purchase considerations.

Lollipop Tree packaging features the designs of local amateur artists in Maine, New Hampshire and southern Massachusetts. Additionally, proceeds from the company’s monkey bread mixes support Heifer International, a nonprofit organization who that to end world hunger and poverty through selfreliance and sustainability.

Purchasing products made with fair-trade ingredients is another way companies make a positive impact on consumers and the surrounding world. Simply Organic, Norway, IA, produces a line of “nontraditional” fair-trade mixes infused with the company’s line of organic spices and seasonings. The gluten- and trans-fat-free mixes, which contain fair-tradecertified ingredients, can also be prepared vegan by using an egg substitute.

“We look for gaps in the marketplace where seasonings can play a positive role and spice up the baking mix market,” said Kory Kazimour, senior brand manager, Simply Organic. “Seasonings and spices can add flavor without the calories or guilt, and these more exotic ingredients may not be found in the typical home kitchen.”

Launched last year, the banana bread, carrot cake, Chai Spice scone and biscotti mixes partner with TransFairUSA to manufacture products and packaging that promote sustainability and benefit the people growing the ingredients. The company recently modified the 100% recycled-content packaging of its low-fat, gluten-free, organic mixes to call out the product’s wholegrain content. The packaging also contains a gluten-free recipe and suggestions to increase the versatility of the mixes.

TIME WARP. It’s no longer a onesize-fits-all world, and customization is key to consumer satisfaction in every aspect of the purchasing process. As food sensitivities, allergens and health concerns such as diabetes and obesity continue to garner increasing consumer attention, the baking mix market has the opportunity to provide consumers with foods that may not know they were missing — not to mention the occasion to introduce exotic and premium ingredients.

Whether bakery mixes are used to speed things up in the kitchen or slow the pace of daily life through baking with family and friends, they can be a perfect addition to any pantry.

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