Editor Dan Malovany wonders whether biotech wheat, if grown in the United States, might give organic baked goods a much deserved shot in the arm.

Get with the Program

Sooner or later, an old fart like me has to get with the program. That’s what everyone has been telling me for years. Unfortunately, every time I get with the program, it changes. To make it worse, I’m always the last one to know. What do you mean someone changed the rules?

Take, for example, organic baked goods. I had come to the conclusion that they’re never going to be anything but a niche that could be nicely profitable for some specialty bakers. That is, of course, if it weren’t for the price of organic flour being so dang expensive along with price-sensitive consumers who look at a $5 loaf of organic bread and put the $2.69 loaf of an all-natural kind in their shopping cart.

Quite frankly, the majority of consumers don’t see that much of a difference between all-natural and organic breads, except maybe the sticker shock. Studies have repeatedly shown that products such as 100% whole wheat organic baked goods don’t provide that many more benefits than their all-natural counterparts. Organic has its small but intensely loyal following of health-conscious, high-income consumers who are willing to spend the extra bucks for those products, but no matter what the hype-masters say, they’re far from mainstream.

Outside of the occasional negative fad diet craze, baked goods are considered genuinely wholesome, which is good news for the industry, but not for organics. Bakery products don’t have synthetic hormone issues like milk. They don’t have the pesticide issues of fruits and vegetables. They don’t have the e-coli or gobs of other health safety concerns as in the meat industry. That’s why sales of organic baked goods haven’t caught on like in other food categories. There’s simply no boogie monster to scare consumers to pay more for what they perceive as a “safer” option.

Of course, biotech wheat might add fire to organic baked goods sales. Currently, there is no commercial production of genetically modified wheat anywhere in the world. If farmers began growing biotech wheat, however, would Americans give a rat’s tail?

According to a recent white paper supported by a whole lot of wheat groups and the Independent Bakers Association, some studies show that genetically modified ingredients are not a big issue in America. In fact, biotech wheat, albeit not a silver bullet, is hardly a bad thing because it might bolster the output of wheat per acre and might make it more competitive against higher-volume biotech corn and soybeans. In fact, the paper notes, it could help bolster wheat stocks by 20%. I should note that the American Bakers Association did participate in the development of the paper, but declined to endorse it at this time due to ongoing questions regarding consumer acceptance.

However, non-GMO purists argue that global acceptance might be a bigger issue. Most European countries and Japan very likely may balk at buying genetically modified wheat. So may some natural food retailers who consider genetically modified, all-natural bread an oxymoron. Depending on your perspective, biotech wheat may be the boogie man, or silver bullet, that organic baked goods producers need to scare Americans into doling out more money for their products.

Of course, a better way to get consumers to join the organic bandwagon might be to wrap those products around the issue of sustainability, as Franz Family Bakeries is trying to do. The Portland, Ore.-based baking company recently launched three hearty organic breads under theGreen Earth Bakingbrand and wrapped the line around an environmentally friendly marketing plan. In addition to being organic, the products are made from locally grown wheat and packaged in biodegradable bags. The company also is leveraging the fact that it has installed an oxidizer to get rid of volatile organic compounds from its oven emissions.

Going green is a natural competitive edge that organic product producers should endorse.

Even an idiot like me gets that.

Dan Malovany, editor