Thanks in part to whole grain and natural trends, artisan bread is appearing on menus while consumers are buying artisan bread at retail, too.

“Even a few years ago, white tablecloth restaurants served artisan bread and everyone else served a hamburger bun or a plain Italian bread,” said Ken Skrzypiec, eastern vice-president of sales, director of technical services for Brolite Products, Inc., Streamwood, Ill. “That has changed. That segment has blurred.”

Chris Bohm, senior bakery technologist for Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kas., added, “Go into any quick-serve or casual restaurant, and you will find at least one artisan bread offering. Consumers today are looking for healthier options that provide a strong taste experience and are made from quality ingredients.”

Ingredients such as whole grain, fruit and enzymes have assisted bakers in the artisan uprising.

“When the artisan movement started to pick up momentum in the mid-1990s, larger commercial bakeries realized the potential,” Mr. Bohm said. “Many constructed bakeries within their current bakeries to produce this style of bread and roll, which is now known as artisan.

“Because this type of bread required specialized equipment and processes, a portion of their current square footage was dedicated and equipped with all that was necessary. As volume in this segment has grown over the years, fully dedicated lines and even facilities have replaced the ‘bakery within a bakery.“

Ciabatta is an example of an artisan bread that has become popular, Mr. Skrzypiec said. Translated, ciabatta means “slipper” in Italian. The irregular bread has an open cell structure with many holes, Mr. Skrzypiec said.

The troubled economy may have had a positive effect on artisan bread sold at retail, he said. Consumers are eating more at home and willing to spend more money on the bread they eat at home. The time convenience of par-baked artisan bread has become a popular option for home meals, Mr. Skrzypiec said.

“Everyone is so pressed for time,” he said. “The people that are working are working extremely hard and for long hours. A lot of them don’t have time to do full meals by themselves.”

Par-baked bread has improved in quality over the past few years, which has helped out fast-casual restaurants, said Mitch Stamm, an associate instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. Shock freezers that prevent moisture loss are another benefit for par-baked bread, he said.

“Par-baking was tricky in the beginning, but I think they are doing a wonderful job now,” he said.

At the retail level, Mr. Stamm praised the quality of product from Phoenix-based Simply Bread Bakery, which sells artisan bread to such outlets as Whole Foods Market and AJ’s Fine Foods, a gourmet market. Jeffrey Yankellow, executive vice-president/executive chef of Simply Bread Bakery, uses sourdough cultures to maintain freshness. Simply Bread’s loaves require 36 to 72 hours to ferment.

Mr. Stamm said fermentation will play a factor in the future of artisan bread.

“I think you are going to see just longer and longer fermentation coming in,” he said.

Raisins add sweetness, fiber

Mr. Stamm and his Courrone Aux raisin bread this year won the artisan category in the third annual America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest sponsored by the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif. Raisins, a natural sweetener, provide nutrients, and they are a good source of fiber, Mr. Stamm said. Raisins provide 2 grams of dietary fiber per 40-gram serving size, according to the California Raisin Marketing Board.

Another natural sweetener option, honey, allows for a more robust fermentation in artisan bread, Mr. Stamm said. According to the National Honey Board, Firestone, Colo., honey may act as a coloring agent and flavoring agent while adding moisture to bakery products.

Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J., recently introduced Grainulose cereal-based sweeteners, including rice, oat, rye and wheat sweeteners.

“Our cereal-based sweeteners are ideally suited for use in baked goods such as bagels, Italian, French, rye, dark and light pumpernickel breads, rolls and crackers, as well as beverages, confections and other processed foods,” said Joe Hickenbottom, vice-president of sales and marketing at Malt Products Corp. “Furthermore, because Grainulose cereal-based sweeteners are humectants, they promote moisture retention and longer shelf life.”

Shelf life should be addressed when using freshly milled whole grains in artisan bread, Mr. Stamm said. Freshly milled grains, which may go rancid quickly, should be stored in a refrigerator or a freezer, and a bakery may have limited freezer space.

According to the Whole Grains Council, Boston, whole grain items on menus in U.S. casual dining restaurants increased 36% from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010. The increase was 28% for fast-casual restaurants. Consumers also are becoming more aware of ancient grains, which are whole grains, Mr. Skrzypiec said.

“Even though they may be thousands of years old, most people had never heard of quinoa or teff up until a year or two ago,” he said.

ConAgra Mills, Omaha, offers a line of flour made out of ancient grains amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.

Mr. Skrzypiec added new enzymes have contributed to the quality of artisan bread as have natural conditioners and natural flavors.

According to The Nielsen Co., U.S. supermarket sales of products promoted for all-natural content reached $21.8 billion for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 2, 2010, which marked a 5% increase from $20.8 billion in the previous 52-week period.

Caravan Ingredients offers a Pristine line of simple label products.

“Our Pristine products in the base form, such as Pristine Crack ‘N Good Wheat base and Pristine Artisan Italian base, are extremely easy to use as only water, yeast and flour need to be added,” Mr. Bohm said. “Pristine Wheat Ferment Enhancer is a naturally fermented wheat sour that adds great fermentation flavor without the lengthy fermentation time.”

Caravan Ingredients recently developed Pristine Crack ‘N Good Wheat base, a natural, egg-free cracked wheat base that yields dough with increased extensibility and greater absorption, according to the company. Finished products containing the base have a darker crumb color than typical wheat products and a crunchy crust. Grains are clearly visible.

“Caravan Ingredients offers a wide variety of products for the artisan segment,” Mr. Bohm said. “Depending on what need a customer needs to address, we have ingredient systems in place for freshness issues, flavor and time reduction, while always keeping in mind the need for the clean label.”

Ingredient combinations

Fruit, cheese and spices also are making their way into artisan bread. Marge O’Brien, consumer insight manager for Caravan Ingredients, said, “Some of the most prevalent flavors that we see in the artisan/specialty/crust bread segment today are Asiago cheese, rosemary olive oil, roasted garlic, wheat, multi-grain, garlic and jalapeño.”

Mr. Stamm said he sees such combinations as Asiago cheese and jalapeños or white chocolate and apricots. Sadie Rose Baking Co., San Diego, offers such artisan batard bread as Asiago and Parmesan, caramelized onion, fig and honey, kalamata olive, and walnut.

Mr. Bohm said advances in processing and equipment have addressed previous problems of incorporating inclusions like fruit, nut and seed mixtures into artisan bread.

Mr. Skrzypiec said new equipment and new technology have made it easier for wholesale bakers to become involved in artisan products. Stress-free makeup equipment, for example, does not work the dough as much.

Innovations in equipment and ingredients may keep the grain-based foods industry churning out new and creative artisan products for some time.

“I see that segment of the industry just growing,” Mr. Skrzypiec said. “It is nowhere near saturated at this point.” 

Panera, La Brea show proof of artisan trend

The histories of La Brea Bakery and Panera Bread Co. show man — and woman — does not live on sliced, rectangular bread alone. Both companies have reaped profits from artisan creations.

La Brea Bakery, Van Nuys, Calif., opened in a 1,500-square-foot store in Los Angeles in 1989. Now the company sells artisan bread nationwide in grocery stores and restaurants and offers more than 300 varieties of bread and rolls. Last year the company launched Antipasto Bread, which has a crispy crust and soft interior crumb and is designed to be used as the base for a variety of artisan appetizers.

The origin of Panera Bread Co. dates to 1981 and the founding of the Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. by Louis Kane and Ron Shaich. Au Bon Pain Co. in 1993 purchased the Saint Louis Bread Co., a chain of 20 bakery-cafes in the St. Louis area.

In 1999 all of Au Bon Pain Co., Inc.’s business units were sold with the exception of Panera Bread. The corporation was renamed Panera Bread. Since then, the company’s stock has grown thirteen-fold. Panera Bread Co. operated 1,421 bakery cafes as of Sept. 28, 2010. In 2011 the company has a unit development target of 95 to 105 new bakery cafes.

Pizza makers create artisan crust

Artisan ideas in the grain-based foods industry have drifted into the pizza category. Chains, for example, have added multigrains and acai berry to pizza crust.

RedBrick Pizza Worldwide, a fast-casual chain based in Palmdale, Calif., created a pizza crust made with acai berry.

“A typical whole wheat pizza tends to be dry and bland, but RedBrick’s whole wheat artisan crust has a unique, flavorful taste because of the combination of the acai berry, 100% pure virgin oil and multigrains,” said Jim Minidis, company president.

NakedPizza, New Orleans, offers a crust made with an Ancestral Blend of 10 grains. NakedPizza, which launched as a takeout and delivery business in 2009, draws its name from its use of all-natural ingredients.

“(Artisan pizza crust) is another huge category,” said Ken Skrzypiec, eastern vice-president of sales, director of technical services, for Brolite Products, Inc., Streamwood, Ill. “People are looking at different ingredients to differentiate themselves. They are adding grains. A lot of different thoughts are going into this now instead of just a plain white crust.”