Bakers battle misinformation with education

by Charlotte Atchley
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By simply giving in to consumer demand for what they think equates to a cleaner label, the baking industry runs the risk of continually losing by reinforcing the idea that maybe these ingredients really were bad all along.

CHICAGO — Despite Oprah Winfrey’s recent endorsement of bread, the baking industry has battled misinformation about nutrition and ingredients for years, and with social media, the attacks are faster and more furious than ever.

It remains to be seen whether Ms. Winfrey’s endorsement will turn the tide and put bread in the public’s good graces again, but until then, Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., St. Catherine University, offered guidance to the industry during her breakout session at the American Society of Baking’s annual BakingTech conference in Chicago, Feb. 28-March 1.

In her presentation “Is Bread Toast?” Dr. Jones took a critical look at the industry and grain-based foods in this current climate created by social media. Dr. Jones did get in a few punches at fear-mongering food bloggers and consumers who sometimes make demands based on misinformation, but much of her talk called on the baking industry to educate rather than give in to these demands.

Julie Miller Jones, St. Catherine University, Wheat Foods Council
In her presentation “Is Bread Toast?” Dr. Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., St. Catherine University, took a critical look at the industry and grain-based foods.

“We don’t give consumers the opportunity to put risk into context,” Dr. Jones said, urging industry leaders to take the time to really evaluate each consumer outcry to determine whether the best course of action was to acquiesce or use the outcry as an opportunity to educate.

To help determine whether the proper course is to educate or relent, Dr. Jones suggested bakers weigh the risk of removing the offending ingredient against the perceived benefit. Understand why the ingredient is being used in the first place, and if it’s for functionality, look for ways to teach that to the consumer and regain their trust. If that question can’t be answered, then maybe consider removing it from the formula.

“Rather than running to the woods, sit with your team to determine why it’s in your product, if it’s defensible and if there is a story to tell about why it’s there,” she explained.

By simply giving in to consumer demand for what they think equates to a cleaner label, the baking industry runs the risk of continually losing by reinforcing the idea that maybe these ingredients really were bad all along. By taking a moment to consider countering with education, the industry can potentially fight their way out of what Dr. Jones called the “outhouse.”
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