Bakers Need to Take Bread to Next Level
By Dan Malovany
With all of the new whole grain offerings and the successful public-relations efforts by the new Grain Foods Foundation, some bread products may still have an image problem, according to Virgil Smail, head of the Grain Science and Industry department at Kansas State University (KSU).
About 20% of consumers still are watching their carbs and about half of Americans still believe that white bread is fattening, according to several Gallup surveys conducted by various baking industry organizations during the last few years. As a result, many consumers have learned to perceive refined carbs the same as fat, sugar, and alcohol in the past few years, Smail says.
These “lost” consumers will continue to believe that bread should be consumed in moderation, he notes. Low-carb breads addressed some of the concerns of weight conscious consumers, but because many of the new products didn’t taste as good as normal bread, consumers will elect to eat low carb breads only as long as they remain on carb-restricted diets.
To get the weight- and health-conscious consumers back, bakers will need to give consumers a “reason” to buy bread, not just an “excuse” to eat bread, which is all that low-carb bread offers, Smail says. Bakers need to take the issue of health and nutrition to a whole new level with a whole new approach toward formulating breads.
Smail believes that the baking industry needs to take a quantum leap and begin to develop a new generation of breads and rolls that are formulated to actually combat obesity, offer multiple health benefits and still taste good.
“‘Balance with exercise and a healthy diet’ is a good message, but the reality is that most people aren’t willing or don’t know how to do that,” Smail explains. “The opportunities for the food industry in the future are going to be to offer consumers products to help them with their diets, help them lose weight by offering satiety; help with heart health by offering appropriate fatty acids and antioxidants; help prevent cancer by offering phytonutrients and bran; fight osteoporosis with calcium supplement and so on. These claims are appearing in products one claim at a time, but consumers tend to want all of these claims in one package.
“We do not want to have to have toast in the morning for bran, a sandwich at lunch for calcium and dinner rolls at night for phytonutrients. When you eat a slice of bread, you need to view it as a positive contribution to your daily diet other than just offering flavor, taste, and comfort associated with high-quality white pan or whole-wheat bread,” he adds.
Specifically, Smail suggests that the industry needs to develop products that not only have the taste and texture of white pan bread, but that also contain high concentrations of fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients, in such a way that traditional mouthfeel and flavor are not lost.
“The problem I have with whole-bran breads, which I’m eating for my own sake because of the health benefits, is that they don’t have that flavor and texture of a white panned bread, in my opinion,” Smail says. “We need to formulate products that give us that good flavor and mouthfeel, and have the health benefits attributed to whole-bran bread.”
“We are not yet designing our products to meet specific health issues,” he adds. “We’re putting in ingredients or traits that allow us to make a claim, like ‘high calcium,’ but we’re not addressing specific health issues like obesity, colon cancer or high blood pressure or bone density by combining ingredients and optimizing their functionality. Those products that are able to address multiple health issues will be the products of the future,” he adds.
Researchers at KSU and other places in the United States and Europe are just beginning to explore ways to isolate the active compounds from wheat. Research is under way to better process wheat bran and other grain components such as the aleurone layer and germ with enzymes and fermentation to optimize antioxidant polyphenolics, fibers, and protein isolates and to maximize the functionality of these natural wheat components in wheat fractions with high concentrations of these components.  Efforts are also underway to develop products with the health benefits of whole grain without the whole-grain flavor attributes.
So far, the industry has developed some white whole wheat flours that have the benefits of whole grain and the taste and texture close to white bread. These whole grain flours are a start to offering products with good flavor and good health benefits, but only a start. Instead of focusing only on bran, Smail says, the baking industry should explore the use of fermented and other types of processed fibers. Fermented and processed fibers can offer prebiotic and satiety benefits not possible with whole grain or bran alone.  
By developing breads and rolls that address the obesity issue through offering good satiety and that also help reduce heart disease, cancer, poor colon health and other health concerns in one package will allow bakers to find a competitive edge in the market. These products can also start attracting customers back to eating bread by making them feel like they “need and should” eat bread once more for health.  Developing these products is not easy, but if companies want to ensure continued growth in consumption they will focus on these types of products in the future.