Bakers need to focus on “differentiating,” “value-adding” or “niche marketing” their companies, products and services instead of "standardizing" the process.

By Larry Blagg

It seems as though every week, we encounter a flood of media stories about how U.S. government agencies, schools, manufacturers and public and private sector members have to make products and programs “more simple,” “easier to understand,” “less complicated” or “standardized,” as though consumers are too simple to understand “value.” For the most part, these stories are accompanied by a litany of why we must lower our standards to be all-inclusive so as to appeal to the majority.

Are you as tired of reading such articles as I am?

I don’t like to see the American consumer labeled as undereducated or unwilling to learn. The fact is that our country is known for its can-do attitude and the willingness to challenge any hypothesis to further our body of knowledge, whether it’s socially, scientifically or commercially.

Reading about the products and services of such food retail innovators as Wegman’s, Central Markets, Fred Meyer, Winco and Raley’s is certainly more uplifting than hearing about the failures of companies who sought a middle-of-the-road approach and wound up with no customers in the end. (You can fill in the blanks with their names, and there are plenty from which to choose.)

Instead of devaluing Americans, let’s concentrate on the successes our citizens have displayed by “differentiating,” “value-adding” or “niche marketing” their companies, products and services.

Take Henk Balk of Utopia Bakery for example. Although Balk is a native of The Netherlands, he has been in the United States for about 10 years. Either way, he’s making a difference in the San Luis Obispo, Calif., retail scene by selling a loaf of bread for $20.

Yes, that’s right, $20!

It seems almost impossible in today’s penny-pinching environment. However, Balk’s bread brings value to the table.

His Musliknar (a Dutch Mueslibread) is scaled out at 3 lbs., 10 oz. before shaping and placement in a Pullman pan. The finished product contains whole wheat and rye flours, California raisins, hazelnuts and sesame seeds, making it quite dense and tasty. Plus, each loaf is cut into four sections selling at $5 per piece.

Utopia is selling all it can reasonably make as part of a wonderful product mix, and the bakery is doing very well, thank you.

So please don’t tell me to “dumb down” or simplify every loaf of bread in America. I’m not buying it, and neither are the consumers in San Luis Obispo.

Long live the Henk Balks of the baking world. At least they can bring value to the table without demeaning the worth of Americans.

Editor’s Note: Larry Blagg is senior vice president of marketing for the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif. Go to for more information and to register for the America’s Best Raisin Bread contest.