Why did Gonnella Baking switch to unbleached flour for all of its frozen dough products? Under a program it calls “the true nature of bread” rolled out this month, the Schaumburg, IL-based company offers improved formulations with fewer additives as less processed alternatives while keeping the same flavor and quality in its products. Tom Marcucci, vice-president of sales and marketing, noted unbleached flour provided a more wholesome perception for its artisan, ethnic, hearth, rye, whole grain and multigrain frozen dough items where the color of the flour doesn’t affect appearance, as it would with white bread.

But why make the move now? Why not five or 10 years ago? “Good question,” Mr. Marcucci said. “We did things previously because we said they were the industry standard. We used to say, ‘We do it that way because we always have done it that way.’ But that’s not acceptable anymore.”

The rollout of “the true nature of bread” campaign and the opening of a 2,000-sq-ft research center in Schaumburg in May are not a coincidence. These activities reflect a migration in philosophy at Gonnella Baking. They also reveal how bakeries today must strategically invest to meet their customers’ ever-changing needs. “It’s one thing to respond to customers’ demands,” Mr. Marcucci noted. “It’s another to anticipate them.”

With competition so intense, especially in the foodservice and in-store bakery channels, a point of differentiation eventually determines which companies are successful. “Gonnella has been historically known for its high-quality products,” he said. “We would like to add that we are known for innovative products as well.”

The research center allows Gonnella to not only focus on the exact science of baking but also combine it with creative brainstorming to develop new products that customers either want or, as Mr. Marcucci said, “didn’t know they wanted, but they do now.”

Unbleached flour reflects the broader trend toward cleaner, simpler labels, according to Mr. Marcucci. Clean label is a journey for most bakeries. With the R&D center, he added, Gonnella has the map to get there.

Gonnella could have named its research center an “innovation center” — a term that marketers and PR agencies love. Certainly, creating innovative products is the primary objective for this investment, but “research” followed by “development” is the core to creativity. “Being technically correct is the foundation of everything we do,” Mr. Marcucci explained.

To determine “what” products to produce and “how” to make them, bakeries need to partner with their customers to discover “why” consumers want them. And in the case of unbleached flour or myriad other clean-label ingredients, “why not” try something new.