Whole grains? Zero trans? Par-baked? Been there, done that. Today, formulating trends for baked foods and snacks are moving along to gluten-free, satiety and even high protein. That’s where consumers are going, and they’re taking product developers with them. Is it any wonder that bakery formulators often feel like strangers in a strange land these days?

A lot has happened since the International Baking Industry Expo-sition (IBIE) convened in 2010.

Alignment of the stars

Gluten-free was just a twinkle in the eye of a few pioneers. OK, more than a twinkle. Supermarkets, especially natural food stores, have carried such items for many years. But only recently have technological improvements in ingredients come to the aid of this category, now growing by leaps and bounds. A 2012 report from Packaged Facts, New York, found 18% of American adults buying gluten-free products, which puts today’s $4.2 billion category on track to reach $6.6 billion by 2017.

Consumer interest energizes formulation needs and ingredient innovation. That’s certainly been the case with gluten-free. “In the past few years, we have seen an increase in the interest for non-wheat flours, which is driven by the awareness and growing demand for gluten-free products,” said Patrick O’Brien, bakery marketing manager, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, IL. The company introduced two bulk flour systems derived from rice and tapioca and designed specifically for gluten-free bakery applications. “They allow production of high-quality gluten-free baked goods that are indistinguishable from wheat-containing alternatives,” he observed.

The gluten-free category supports considerable innovation. “There is not a single-ingredient solution for replacing wheat flour when formulating gluten-free products,” noted Brian Scherer, director of R&D for Penford Food Ingredient Co., Centennial, CO. The company’s new entry into the field of gluten-free formulating blends structuring ingredients, food starches and hydrocolloids. “Attributes important to creating a high-quality, gluten-free product include raw dough workability and machinability, structural formation during baking and crumb structure in the finished product,” he said.

Rice starch, once the chief gluten replacer, has been joined by a roster of hydrocolloids and, most recently, flours milled from sorghum and pulses, a category that encompasses dried beans, chickpeas and lentils. These ingredients move gluten-free formulations beyond bland and give more nutritional value to them, too. These flours have high water absorption and high contents of protein and starch yet are low in fat.

“Precooked bean ingredients increasingly find use supplementing or substituting for wheat flour,” noted Brook Carson, director of R&D, ADM Milling, Overland Park, KS. “Bean powders, or flours, are interesting additions because they offer nutritional benefits such as increased fiber as well as moisture retention.”

Grain sorghum offers an economical choice, but there’s more to it than that, according to Ms. Carson. The company’s sorghum flour has a light color and neutral flavor, suiting it to use in bakery mixes, flour blends, gluten-free cookies, multigrain breads and tortillas. “Like many of the other grains and flours that are now getting attention, sorghum flour has unique characteristics that have been overlooked for a long time because wheat flour has been the standard,” she said.

Also new on the radar are non-GMO ingredients. Visitors to IBIE can expect to see more exhibitors than ever before offering such materials. Although California voters turned down a biotech food labeling initiative, many more legislative attempts are pending. The discovery of gene-engineered wheat growing in an Oregon farm field earlier this year cast a spotlight onto this subject. Announcement by Whole Foods that it would require labeling of the presence of GMO materials in foods sold in its stores also pushes this movement.

Ingredient suppliers such as Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, KS, are acting on the trend now. It recently introduced non-GMO emulsifiers. “The non-GMO area continues to gain popularity with consumers,” said Steve Baker, scientist in the company’s Caravan’s Emulsifier Innovation Center, “and it is important for us to be able to offer our customers the solutions to enable them to compete in this area.”

The high frontier

There’s no clean-label aisle in the supermarket … yet. But the buzz created by consumer thought leaders about food additives has increased substantially since IBIE 2010. With more people asking what’s in their food, more processors are trying to limit their companies’ exposure by taking out ingredients with “chemical sounding” names. But these are usually the ones involved with optimizing performance in the industrial setting.

Many consumers pursue wellness through high-quality food experiences, according to The Hartman Group Inc., Bellevue, WA. “Fresh, real and clean form the basis for the evaluation of the quality and healthfulness of food,” said Laurie Demeritt, the group’s CEO. “Describing foods in this way enables consumers to focus more on what’s ‘good’ and less on self-discipline.”

According to the research firm’s Health + Wellness Deep Dive report, 60% of the 1,700-plus consumers surveyed said it is important that foods be made with recognizable ingredients. Fifty-seven percent said that “made with simple, real ingredients” is important.

Bakers and their ingredient suppliers hear the message clearly, and now, they have more ways to answer the call. “Consumers want clean-label products, and they increasingly request these from bakers,” said Ralph Besand, regional manager, Cain Food Industries, Inc., Dallas, TX. The company has fielded a rising number of inquiries about clean-label ingredients from its bakery customers. He observed that big foodservice chains also want clean-label foods from their bakery suppliers.

Consumers also search ingredient lists on processed foods seeking “real” ingredients — the ones they have in their own home kitchens. Honey is a great example.

“Today’s consumer is more aware than ever about the ingredients in the foods they eat,” said Catherine Barry, director of marketing, National Honey Board, Firestone, CO. “Honey plays an important role in sweetening bakery foods, giving bakers the opportunity to sweeten their products with an ingredient with exceptional familiarity and trust with consumers. This is very important to a growing segment of consumers who intensely read labels and crave more natural and clean products.”

Progress on Earth

Oh, there’s still plenty to be accomplished in developing products that take their cues from formulating trends seen at IBIE 2010. For example, whole grains continue to gain ground, and shortenings continue to evolve.

With consumers now viewing ancient grains as “supergrains,” there’s a growing body of science that could prompt a revival for rye, often seen only as an Old World grain. Consumption of rye has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cut insulin response, alleviate metabolic syndrome and fight inflammatory factors.

“There’s always interest in rye,” said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing at Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, MA, “but it has a strong association with caraway, which can be a polarizing flavor. Rye received a lot of attention from the artisan market because it is a component in many Old World levains and bigas. It needs to go mainstream.”

Bay State introduced a whole grain rye flour that can do the job. Its optimized granulation improves its functionality in bread, where it works well in combination with whole wheat flour. “Rye can suppress off-notes sometimes associated with whole wheat,” Ms. Zammer said. “And the new flour proves that rye breads don’t always have to taste like typical German rye.”

As much as whole grains alter bakery flour choices, a new generation of fats and oils transforms bakery shortenings. Recognition of the harmful nature of trans fats, which form during partial hydrogenation of liquid vegetable oils, led to a sea change, but the challenge has been to deliver true shortening functionality. “The question was and continues to be how to compensate for the solids that trans used to provide,” said Dilip Nakhasi, director of innovation, Bunge Oils, Bradley, IL.

Soy, canola and sunflower breeders selectively reduced these plants’ output of saturated fats in favor of forming mono- and polyunsaturated moieties. With less linolenic and more oleic content, these new liquid oils provide healthier fat profiles for bakery shortenings.

Low-linolenic soy was the first of these new oilseeds and is used today in many breads, muffins, pizza doughs and other baked foods. “Low-linolenic provides enhanced flavor stability as a replacement or alternative for all bakery applications formulated with commodity soybean oil,” said Don Banks, president, Edible Oil Technology, Dallas, and a consultant to the United Soybean Board (USB) and its Qualisoy program.

Using canola and sunflower bred to be high in monounsaturated fats, Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, developed a line of oils that addresses the baker’s frying and shortening dilemmas. “These oils help cut saturated fat content and give the long shelf life bakery products need because they are so stable,” said Dave Dzisiak, the company’s global commercial leader, grains and oils. “They can be combined with solid base stocks to get the plasticizing properties bakery products require and, thus, compare well with previous hydrogenated shortenings.”

For a number of shortening producers, palm oil provides the answer because it is naturally semisolid on its own. “Palm forms small, stable crystals that give a smooth texture and have the ability to stabilize small air bubbles during the baking process,” explained Gerald McNeill, PhD, vice-president, R&D, IOI Loders Croklaan Americas, Channahon, IL. “Entrapment of air is essential in the creaming process, giving the finished product a light texture that is not dense or hard.”

In times to come

Where is bakery formulating going? Par-baked made a big splash at IBIE 2010. But look to foods for children to be a high priority this year. Baked foods with improved nutritional content — higher in protein, for example — will make headlines, too.

The reason for the big push on kids’ foods can be found in new National School Lunch Program rules for grain-based foods. These went into effect last year, stipulating that half of grains served at lunchtime must be whole-grain-rich. Breakfast foods must meet that standard for 2013-14. But by the start of the 2014-15 school year, “all grains must be whole-grain-rich” at both breakfast and lunch. “This is a new tool to drive whole grain acceptance with kids,” observed Jeff Casper, R&D manager for Horizon Milling, Wayzata, MN. “I’ve seen good sensory results with kids and products made with our white whole wheat flour.”

Formulators must understand not only the target audience but also the setting in which the food will be consumed. “Is it designed for K-12 school food service or retail? What are the nutritional targets — more whole grain nutrition, higher fiber, lower sodium or something else?” asked Don Trouba, director of marketing, ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE. “Truly understanding consumer insights is critical and can mean the difference between success or failure once a product is on the market.

“We also know that regardless of the nutrition, taste still trumps all,” he added. “After all, if a healthier bakery product or snack food ends up in the trash rather than a kid’s stomach, it’s not doing what it’s intended to do.”

Baked foods and snacks have great potential to improve kids’ health, according to Sam Wright IV, CEO, The Wright Group, Crowley, LA. “Kids will eat these products, unlike a lot of what their parents put in front of them,” he said. “These products also tend to be small, convenient and portable in keeping with the busy lifestyle of young people nowadays. In homes where both parents work, they also provide supplemental, get-it-yourself nutrition on an as-needed basis.”

There’s yet another demographic in play as well. Many aging baby boomers now seek more nutritionally dense foods in convenient acceptable styles — in other words, a more food-like form of sports nutrition. “This is a population that wants to remain active and healthy but is having trouble managing their weight and maintaining muscle mass,” said Michael Beavan, project manager, Watson, Inc., West Haven, CT.

Serving a snack before a meal is a common approach in studies of satiety, according to Michael Bond, health platform leader, active nutrition, DuPont Nutrition & Health, Reigate, UK. Earlier this year, the company reported new research that proved the connection between satiety and a snack made with polydextrose, a dietary fiber that carries just 1 Cal per g. “This latest research provides greater insight into the optimal dose of polydextrose required to achieve satiety and its potential as part of a weight-management regime,” Mr. Bond said.

While reducing sugar and improving finished product taste, inulin and oligofructose provide an additional benefit: prebiotic fiber. “The nutritional advantages offer an extra measure of defense against obesity and diabetes, in addition to the digestive health benefits of all-natural prebiotic dietary fiber,” said Joseph O’Neill, executive vice-president of sales and marketing, BENEO, Inc., Morris Plains, NJ.

Coming back to earth, however, it’s important for formulators to know that comfort foods still rule. Americans, who continue to feel pressed by difficult economic times, love their old reliable favorites. But they’re taking them in different directions. What else could explain the chocolate peanut butter bacon pie that won the signature category during the first episode of “The American Baking Competition,” a new CBS summertime show?