June 1, 2014
On any given day, change is the only thing that’s certain. Lately, the effect of social media on how fast our world changes has been making baking industry heads spin.
In February, social media got up close and personal with the baking industry when Vani Hari, founder of the Food Babe blog, grabbed the national stage with her polemic about azodicarbonamide (ADA) in Subway sandwich bread, saying it was the same chemical used to make yoga mats. Most news media outlets, national and local, picked up her story.
I used those media segments to lead the presentation “From Highly Processed to Clean Label” I delivered at the recent American Society of Baking conference. Subsequently, www.bakingbusiness.com reported my comments. So it was no surprise when a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter contacted me for an interview on ADA and clean label.
After the interview was nearly finished, the reporter asked if there is anything else that I wanted to say. It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I did have an additional comment.
“I am very disappointed that none of the news reporters have asked the next question,” I said. “There are many ingredients that are used in food that also have industrial uses.” The reporter then asked for an example. I cited calcium sulfate, which is a calcium supplement and also part of the sheet rock on your walls.
You never know if you were heard or if your comment will end up of the cutting room floor. In this case, however, I am happy to report what reporter Allison Aubrey put into the story posted on NPR’s website:
For a different perspective, I reached out to bakery industry consultant Theresa Cogswell. She pointed out that “there are many things used in industrial uses” that cross over into food use as well.
“And the assumption that it’s bad for you,” she says, is just not accurate.
Take, for instance, sheet rock, or gypsum. It contains calcium sulfate, which is also used as a food additive. In fact, it’s used to make tofu.
Hmmm. A vegan favorite contains the same compound that’s used to make drywall. Who knew?
I was thankful that this interview assisted in presenting a more balanced approach to the earlier reports. But did it really make any difference in the long run? One balanced story in the sea of social media sound bites may have only been heard by a few people, but at least, the industry side of the story had a small voice.
When a social media blogger takes a negative position on a single ingredient, companies respond. Brands, like Subway, are at risk of losing market share or, worse, losing the trust of their loyal consumer base.
With all of the media noise, it is hard to get out of the muck and focus on what is important — developing and baking the wonderful grain-based foods our consumers love. So, how do we move from a position of defense to that of offense or from negative press to positive press?
As consumers continue to examine food labels more carefully, people tend to be skeptical of things they do not understand. If they cannot pronounce the ingredient name or they have no idea why it is in their food, certain consumers will move toward the more “natural”-sounding ingredient listings. Yet those of us involved in the regulatory side of the food industry know the Food and Drug Administration has not, nor does it intend to, define the word natural.
Since March, ingredient suppliers and bakers have been working around the clock to remove ADA from their products and ingredient legends on packaging. Finding a functional, economical and label-friendly solution has been a top priority. So, even without an official definition of natural, many bakery brands are moving to more “natural” ingredient legends.