LOS ANGELES — The demand for allergen-free in-store baked foods continues to surge — and not just among people who have allergies. Many consumers are attracted by ancillary health benefits that allergen-free products often provide.

Gluten-free and dairy-free are the focus of La Brea Bakery’s allergen-free offerings, said Jonathan Davis, senior vice president of R.&D. for  Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery, a division of Aryzta L.L.C.

The company currently offers two varieties of sliced gluten-free bread – white and a multigrain made with flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and millet. La Brea Bakery first launched its gluten-free bread in 2016. They’ve since been “tremendously well-received,” Mr. Davis said, winning several industry awards.

“That success, coupled with the positive reception by consumers, made us realize how high the demand for allergen-free baked goods was, and we set our sights on expanding the portfolio,” Mr. Davis said. “We’re hoping to share news of additional gluten-free foods in the coming months.”

In addition to gluten-free, almost all La Brea Bakery bread is suitable for people with dairy allergies, he said. Three exceptions are its Toasted Sunflower Honey, Three Cheese Semolina Loaf and Jalapeño Cheddar Loaf bread.

Lenexa, Kas.-based Corbion offers a variety of allergen-free solutions for instore bakeries, including gluten-free mixes and bases and gluten-free frozen dough cookies, said Kathy Sargent, Corbion’s strategic innovation director. The company’s gluten-free products allow customers to produce baked foods without the hassle of additional technology, special processes or new formulations, she said.

Corbion also makes an egg replacer, Function Plus 250W, that’s dairy-free, setting it apart from the competition.

“Most egg replacers on the market today contain ingredients such as gluten or dairy, which can trigger certain food allergies,” Ms. Sargent said.

Corbion’s Function Plus products deliver the tolerance needed to maintain product height, and they have the resiliency to withstand injection, handling and distribution, Ms. Sargent said. They’re also built on functional protein —and, in most cases, can match and/or exceed the protein content of an egg.

In the whole-egg replacement category, Corbion offers four products:

  • Bro-Eg, which can replace fresh or frozen whole eggs in bakery products;
  • Cara-Eg, which can replace 25% to 50% of liquid whole eggs in sweet baked goods and 100% of whole eggs in yeast products;
  • Function Plus 100, which can replace 25% to 75% of whole eggs in sweet baked goods; and
  • Function Plus 200, which can replace 50% to 100% of whole eggs in sweet baked goods.

To help food companies maintain the natural yolk color and overall consistency and appearance of eggs when using egg-free replacements, Corbion also offers a complementary color solution, Spice Color Blend, that consists of a concentrated uniform mixture of pure vegetable pigments and corn flour. And its Dribrite BF is a powder-base, egg-free wash solution for specialty breads, rolls, Danish pastries, pies and other sweet baked foods.

Soaring demand

The gluten-free category has seen significant growth over the past several years, in both instore bakeries and snack food departments, Mr. Davis said. That can be attributed to new diets calling for gluten-free ingredients, an increased awareness of medical conditions like celiac disease and more consumers seeking clean label foods with limited ingredients, he said.

“As a result, companies have started introducing gluten-free chips, crackers, cookies, bread and more to appeal to this growing audience,” Mr. Davis said.

With food allergies and awareness of them on the rise, demand for allergen-free foods will continue to increase, Mr. Davis said. Even people without food allergies are stoking the demand, he said.

“Many people are experimenting with popular diets like paleo, keto and Whole 30, which all call for the elimination of gluten,” he noted.

Ms. Sargent agreed.

“As (consumers) become increasingly aware of how certain foods can affect their overall health, many are shifting toward purchasing gluten-free and allergen-free alternatives,” she said. “What started out as an industry targeting those with celiac disease and other gluten intolerances has now grown to become a popular lifestyle choice for many consumers.”

The number of Americans on a gluten-free diet has nearly tripled in the past five years, Ms. Sargent said. As a result, there’s been huge growth in the gluten-free landscape with applications that go beyond bread to include cakes, pastries, biscuits, pasta and breakfast cereals. Many ancient grains — amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and teff among them — are naturally gluten-free, making them ideal for today’s health-conscious consumers, she said.

Taste and texture catch up

When first introduced, gluten-free bread had the reputation of being better for you, but lacking in taste and texture, Mr. Davis said. It became La Brea Bakery’s goal to launch a gluten-free bread that didn’t sacrifice on flavor or texture and tasted like regular bread.

“As someone with a family member who is gluten intolerant, this was a very personal project for me, and I wanted to make sure these breads were as good as they could be,” Mr. Davis said.

On the road to achieving that goal, La Brea Bakery realized it had something very big going for it: simplicity.

“From the beginning, La Brea Bakery has always used as few ingredients as possible when making our breads,” Mr. Davis said. “We never used artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, but focused on making them with high quality, minimal ingredients. Because of our commitment to quality, we were able to ensure that the same great taste found in our regular breads was consistent in our gluten-free breads as well.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Davis said he expects to see more varieties of gluten-free foods and other free-from products hitting the shelves to keep up with consumer demand in the category, particularly as it relates to bread.

“We’ve expanded our portfolio to include demi-baguettes, made with ancient heirloom grains, which we see as a continually evolving trend in baked goods,” he said.

In addition to taste and texture, crumb structure, processing tolerance and production costs are among the hurdles bakers face when it comes to allergen-free products, Ms. Sargent said. For example, wheat gluten provides certain viscoelasticity properties for baked foods and helps retain gas bubbles in dough, which impact crumb structure, texture and mouthfeel.

“Allergen-free product developers are challenged with finding solutions that mimic the original gluten properties and dough tolerance necessary for commercial production,” Ms. Sargent said.

Corbion works closely with its customers to help them address these and other challenges related to producing allergen-free baked foods, Ms. Sargent said. The company has seen tremendous improvements in the production of chemically leavened applications like cookies and muffins.

“With today’s technology, it’s a lot easier to make gluten-free cookies and muffins with similar texture and mouthfeel to traditional cookies and muffins with gluten,” she said. “On the other hand, yeast-leavened products prove to be more challenging to reformulate due to the critical gas retention capacity needed during fermentation and baking.”