KANSAS CITY, MO. — Rising ingredient costs and ingredient availability were the center of conversation at the American Society of Baking’s Coffee Break hosted by Bill Zimmerman, director of sales, national accounts, AB Mauri North America.  

Vital wheat gluten, oils and emulsifiers are the ingredients most vulnerable to supply chain issues now. Concerns were raised about the future price of honey and other sweeteners in light of import controls that could have an impact not only on supply but on the price of these ingredients.

The shortage of vital wheat gluten has had bakers reducing their reliance on this ingredient. For Schwebel Baking Co., Youngstown, Ohio, the strength of the flour has eased the company’s reliance on vital wheat gluten. While the company hasn’t experienced a disruption in vital wheat gluten supply, that hasn’t come without hard work.

“We’ve had to secure gluten well in advance. Obviously there was a time when there was some concern that we would run out,” said Mike Elenz, vice president of manufacturing, Schwebel.

Like other bakeries on the call, Schwebel reached out to a supplier to find enzyme technology that would help reduce the bakery’s reliance on gluten in case Schwebel found itself unable to source vital wheat gluten.

Joseph’s Bakery, Lawrence, Mass., and Mile High Bakery, Denver, both said that because of the vital wheat gluten shortage, contracts with suppliers simply couldn’t be fulfilled, and enzyme technology allowed the bakery to either completely pivot with a quick reformulation or have it as a backup plan.

Another backup plan Mr. Zimmerman sees is more bakers increasing the protein requirements for flour and blending in more spring wheat to reduce the reliance on vital wheat gluten.

Ken Schwenger, president of Bakery Concepts International, also stressed the importance of fully hydrating the vital wheat gluten so that it is fully functional. This can be done in a pre-hydration system.

“Gluten is very hydroscopic and if you pre-hydrate it properly, to say 300%, you can cut the usage rate by about 20% because it’s fully functional,” he said.  

What is so striking about the current situation is that it isn’t specialty ingredients that are in short supply.

“We’ve heard of those issues, and they aren’t occurring with what we would classify as specialty ingredients,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “These are mainline commodity ingredients, stand-by ingredients we’ve always used.”

Other ingredients impacted: emulsifiers and the edible oils that provide the base of these ingredients. Much of this shortage can be attributed to government mandates that are redirecting the supply of oils to biofuels. And on the horizon, honey could see an increase in costs as Congress considers import controls.

Duarte Raposo, director of R&D and innovation, Joseph’s Bakery, said the company is already seeing issues with honey supply due to supply chain challenges.

“We are having issues procuring enough of the totes that we need for the remainder of the year and next year,” he said.

Enzyme technology came up often as one solution to reducing the reliance on these key ingredients.

“These technologies aren’t designed to replace but to reduce,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “These enzymes enhance the functionality of gluten or sweeteners, which leads us to be able to reduce their usage.”

For example, enzyme-based technology can enhance the sweetness profile of a sugar reducer. However, these ingredients aren’t without their own challenges. Because many enzymes overlap with one another in a formulation, it can be easy to overdose. That can impact product quality.

“You have to be careful with enzymes because you can’t just jump into one because it can interact with another one,” Mr. Elenz said. “So we take a cautious approach. We look at one, fine tune it through all our products, and if we need to make a change, we do the same process over and over again.”

Mr. Zimmerman agreed that this is the best practice when working with enzymes, but he did note that these solutions aren’t often impacted by market swings.

“This is due in large part to the low use levels in various bakery formulas, in particular compared to oils, gluten and sugar,” he explained. “Some enzyme solutions can be used as low as 1 oz per CWT of formula flour, and can provide a significant impact on the dough or batter system. Additionally, enzymes are generated through more sustainable fermentation processes, making them less dependent on crop volatility.”