KANSAS CITY — America’s bread revolution continues to evolve, as retail bakeries solidify the production and marketing of appetizing bread packed with functional ingredients for hungry consumers across the country.

Walking into Messenger Cafe + Ibis Bakery in the Kansas City Crossroads district provides one with the experience that the founding partners had from day one of building their bakery and coffee-roasting business. Seated in the heart of the Great Plains, it looks unlike anything you’ll find nearby: three stories of high ceilings, open-concept coffee roasting and bakery floors, and verdant plants.

Chris and Kate Matsch at Messenger Cafe + Ibis Bakery did not necessarily foresee in the manifestation of their dream that Ibis became a brand in its own right — far beyond the rather straightforward bread provisions that founding partner Mr. Matsch felt would complement coffee.

“The intent was that we would have an ethical coffee company,” Mr. Matsch said. “We would have bread as part of the coffee experience because bread and coffee go well together. At that point, I don’t think we knew how big the bakery piece was going to get.”

Ms. Matsch at the pastry and bread counter at Messenger Cafe + Ibis Bakery pointed out “the challenge I faced was helping the public understand why our bread had a higher price and ‘Why bread?’ at all at the height of the gluten-free craze. I explained the quality of the ingredients we used, and that the lengthy, painstaking process actually made a difference for people’s health. Every time I explained to a gluten-free customer that our bread was digestible and nutritious, their response — whether through body language, verbal engagement or a purchase — gave me data on how to explain what we were doing more concisely and effectively.”

Ms. Matsch came up with a curriculum for communicating to customers, including a way to answer the many customers who asked, “Do you have anything gluten-free?” She explained the breakdown of gluten during the sourdough process — where good bacteria does its part to sort of “pre-digest” flour — and trained staff members on educating customers as well.

“As a former teacher, training staff and educating customers was an easy fit for me,” Ms. Matsch said.

Exposure to the foodservice and farming communities also provided them with avenues to be taught and to learn more from the farmers, customers (many of whom were home bakers, world travelers or very health-conscious) and staff who had been in the food or coffee industry for a longer time.

“I see the Kansas City community being a really cool opportunity for us to engage with hyper-regional food culture and identity,” Mr. Matsch said. “There are people doing what we’re doing in other cities. I get excited talking to people about how to do this successfully throughout the US because that can open up a lot.”

Functional knowledge

Curt Wagner, a corporate chef with General Mills Foodservice, pointed out that retail bakeries need to understand the overall importance of functional ingredients.

“As our attention has shifted due to health concerns through the COVID-19 era, I believe bakeries may want to take note of how they can create new items with health benefits included,” he said. “For instance, are there ways to incorporate different anti-inflammatory spices into their baked goods, such as ginger or matcha? These not only add another flavor note but add a health benefit to the item you are making.”

By adding proteins, probiotics and prebiotics, minerals, botanical extracts, fatty type acids, and anti-inflammatory spices, he added, the bakery business will see the next “cronut” come to fruition.

To help embrace new product applications, Mr. Wagner said education is the answer.

“Through education, we need to be sure folks understand how to use the correct amounts, because too much can literally leave a bad taste in your mouth and too little has no flavor,” he explained. “Sampling my creations will also allow person to understand the profile you are trying to target. It’s also very easy to go online to see what flavors pair well with each, then it’s up to your own imagination.”

Seeking to improve

AB Mauri is constantly looking for ways to improve products for customers. Recently, the company has been working on a high-protein bread mix within its Burgen lineup of products.

“We have researched a wide variety of proteins on the market and blended these to deliver higher protein and fiber while delivering excellent flavor, texture and shelf life,” said Nicole Rees, product director for AB Mauri North America. “We have also altered our oxidation solutions to accommodate these new ingredients to help ease processing challenges for bakers.”

AB Mauri’s latest solutions for emulsifier replacement that help stabilize clean label dough systems now include ingredients supporting health considerations, but not gluten formation.

The clean label trend for bread is still relatively young; many of the clean label ingredients in use today were developed decades ago.

Now that bakeries are more accepting of cleaner ingredients, it has renewed efforts to develop better, more cost-effective alternatives, Ms. Rees said.

Replacement of traditional synthetic oxidants and emulsifiers for dough strengthening has been relatively successful. However, there is still room to improve both reject rates and volume in many cases via more effective enzymes and newer ingredients. The most significant cost associated with switching from traditional to cleaner label formulations is the cost of mold inhibition.

While calcium propionate is extremely effective and inexpensive, clean label replacement in a cost neutral manner is particularly difficult and remains a big priority, she said.

As for bagels, a significant challenge with bagels is maintaining a long shelf life while also being able to control texture and toasting quality.

“Aggressive enzymes that work in dry bagel doughs with relatively short bake times can have a negative impact on texture and the formation of a crisp texture when toasted,” Ms. Rees said.

New behaviors

Corbion’s Kathy Sargent, director of global market strategy, said consumer behaviors will continue to evolve in new ways. This means bakeries also need to be open to adapting their traditional business model in order to address consumer demands, which can be done without losing their core identity.

“We are arming our customers with educational resources and insights to help them stay informed on consumer and market behavior changes in order to help them quickly adapt when needed,” she said. “We’re also supporting our customers by providing custom solutions for their unique portfolios and helping them bring relevant packaging, messaging and point of sale materials.”

Jon Olinto and Rosenfeld, co-founders of One Mighty Mill, discovered that farmers wanted to grow healthy wheat again — without pesticides and with sustainable crop rotations that build strong soil. As one example, they work with Matt and Sara Williams, who harvest hundreds of acres of organic wheat in Linneus, Maine. In the mill’s first year of business in 2019, they purchased more than 220,000 lbs of organically grown grains from partner farmers in Maine.

Further, One Mighty Mill commissioned a mill from Andrew Heyn, the only stone mill builder in the United States, so they could stonegrind organic wheat into the fresh, nutritious, flavorful flour. The mill is located at their flagship bakery in Lynn, Mass., a community they are helping revitalize.

“We supported our farmers’ transition to organic by investing in over 120,000 lbs of transitional wheat grown by our partners in Maine,” he explained. “In turn, we helped them convert almost 100 acres of their fields to certified organic in time for this year’s harvest in September 2020. We dream of building more local mills in communities across America.”

The company’s AP Flour contains 11% protein, the standard for all-purpose flour, while its bread flour checks in at 13% protein, the norm for bread flour. Because their flour is packed with fresh germ and bran, customers might not get quite the same lift in baked foods as with conventional, but that should be the only slight difference in the finished product (and a whole lot more flavor). One Mighty Mill produces three types of bagels: whole wheat everything, whole wheat cinnamon raisin, and whole wheat plain.

“The one thing you may want to tweak when using our flour in a recipe is the amount of hydration or liquid — water, milk or fat (in the form of eggs, oil or butter),” he said. “The coarse texture of OMM’s flour and its abundance of germ and bran can sponge up liquid. Be prepared to add a splash of water if a bread or pizza dough looks dry toward the end of mixing.”

By securing organic wheat from Aurora Farms in Maine and building its own stone-grinding mill in Lynn to make its products, One Mighty Mill started the revolution against processed flour, according to Whole Foods Market. After only one year since the company’s launch, One Mighty Mill’s growth has been incredible. One Mighty Mill packaged bagels and tortillas are available in Whole Foods bakery departments, as well as fresh milled flour, pancake mix and bagged whole grain pretzels exclusive to Whole Foods Market on the shelves of grocery aisles.

Tracking consumer trends

Puratos, one of the bakery industry’s leading ingredient suppliers, recently debuted a new consumer survey conducted around the world as countries emerge from lockdown. The new insights expand on their 2019 findings and add a critical public health dimension to Puratos’ proprietary Taste Tomorrow insights platform. The results offer a compelling view of consumer behavior changes before, during and after the pandemic and new opportunities for bakery, sweet goods, and chocolate companies.

Sample findings include:

  • 75% of consumers indicated they would snack as much or more in the future than they did before COVID.
  • 38% of consumers indicate they are uncomfortable purchasing unpackaged bakery items.

While the latest Taste Tomorrow survey focuses on US consumers, Puratos leveraged its global network to conduct the same survey around the world as countries emerged from lockdown. The results show that US consumers are adapting differently than many other countries in response to the pandemic, which has broad implications for large manufacturers.

In addition, there have been notable shifts in what US consumers perceive to be the most important product qualities when choosing bread, sweet goods, or chocolate, especially for packaging, health and hygiene. While much remains uncertain around COVID-19, the results offer an important roadmap for the bakery industry to stay ahead of consumer needs in 2021 and beyond.