bread_bodyDespite the tough economy, which has affected many bread bakers in the past few years, the bread aisle is getting some hits, and not just at bats. The market is showing signs of life and energy, as new products are being introduced that show a lot of creativity, imagination and an eye with consumers in mind. And bakers are doing their homework. They’re listening to consumers’ likes and dislikes and demands for quality, price and better-for-you options. They’re taking cues from consumers for new niches and special needs, such as adding more whole grains and developing tastier gluten-free products, for example, and formulating products that are healthier, more cost-effective and even more sustainable. They’re also making big contributions to the success of the market in various ways.
One way is by moving faster on customer requests for quality ingredients, authenticity and implementing food safety practices, which is in line with the enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Another noticeable factor is the addition of special ingredients, enhancements and other benefits that improve the taste of bread without adding preservatives.

Outside-the-box ingredients
Hostess Brands’ pacesetting food brand, Nature’s Pride, has met with success with its hearty wheat bread. That’s because it’s probably the first brand to incorporate pure olive oil in its 100% natural Flax variety, which it says not only provides a good source of fiber but also is baked with Omega 3-ALA. The Irving, Texas, company says that as consumers continue to add heart-healthy products to their diets, Nature’s Pride has answered their call with its expanded line of new Hearty Wheat with Flax.

The Nature’s Pride line is also the first to provide a source of Omega 3-ALA, which comes from flaxseed, a good source of fiber and provides 22 g. of whole grains per slice. Like all Nature’s Pride breads, it’s baked using only all-natural ingredients, has no artificial flavors or colors, no trans-fats, no artificial preservatives and contains no high-fructose corn syrup.

“Nature’s Pride continues to address the needs of Baby Boomer and Gen-X consumers who are seeking to increase their consumption of ingredients such as fiber, olive oil and Omega-3 that provide nutritional benefits,” says Laura Pitlik, director of marketing for Nature’s Pride. Since its introduction, Nature’s Pride has drawn rave reviews from consumers looking for a balance between great taste and nutrition, she adds. The brand marked the first of Hostess’ bread products to be introduced by its parent company in several years, and has become one of the company’s most successful product lines, having grown to include several varieties of 24-oz. hearty breads, 20-oz. traditional soft breads, Premium Harvest buns and rolls as well as OvenClassics breads.

Pitlik points to a recent study by The Hartman Group that indicates that Gen-Xers are increasing their consumption of fiber (74%), whole grains (63%), olive oil (58%) and Omega 3-ALA (53%), and that Baby Boomers are experiencing a similar trend: fiber (74%), whole grains (64%), olive oil (66%) and Omega 3-ALA (59%).

“Nature’s Pride Hearty Wheat with Flax is the latest introduction to our award-winning portfolio of 100% natural breads,” she added. “In addition to delivering the perfect balance of great taste and nutrition consumers can always expect from Nature’s Pride, this new variety is the first to be baked using pure olive oil and the first to provide a good source of Omega 3-ALA, making it an ideal addition to our tasty, wholesome assortment.”

Another hostess brand, Merita, has a long-standing 110-year history as a Southeastern favorite. Now expanded, the line includes two new bread varieties—Merita Smartwhite and Merita made with Whole Grain White—and new packaging.

“The Merita brand is rich in Southern history and has been enjoyed by families for generations” says Ann Oades, director of marketing for Merita bread. “In the South, nothing goes together better than good food and good family, and Merita is proud to be a part of these traditions,” she says. “Merita remains committed to bringing Southern families the same delicious, quality breads with more nutritious choices than ever before.”

The first major change in more than three decades is the new packaging features, such as an updated logo, richer colors and a contemporary design. The bags also incorporate the Merita quality guarantee, which reminds consumers that the brand ensures quality and fresh-baked taste in every loaf.

Smartwhite provides 5 g. of fiber per serving, the same amount of calcium as an 8-oz. glass of milk, is a good source of nine vitamins and minerals and 1/3 less sodium as regular white bread. At only 50 calories per slice, Smartwhite is baked in the South for the South.

Antioxidant assets
Antioxidants are another route to maintaining a healthy diet, preventing and repairing oxidative stress, a process that may damage cells within the body. Vitamin 3 is also good for skin health and helps functions in the immune system.

In its ongoing commitment to the bread industry, Mrs Baird’s Bakery, Fort Worth, Texas, which is operated by Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa., is fortifying its line of sandwich wheat breads with a great source of antioxidant vitamins A and E. These benefits are now included in Mrs Baird’s 100% Whole Wheat, Honey 7 Grain, Honey Wheat and Split Top Wheat breads.

“Research continues to show that consumers are more health-conscious than before, and antioxidants rank high in interest now being found in more everyday foods,” says Dan Larson, Mrs Baird’s marketing manager. “By enhancing our line of sandwich wheat breads with antioxidant vitamins A and E gives consumers another way to support a healthy diet.”

“Our customers will not notice any change in texture and flavor,” says Larson. “However, they will notice the benefits of the added nutrition on the label. For example, only two slices of our Honey 7 Grain bread provides 25% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamins A and E.”

Breakfast breads
Mini buns and flatbreads are still heavy hitters in this market. And breakfast breads are one of the hot items in the bread aisle. One of Canada’s leading natural bakery brands launched a combination of all three with Morning Rounds toastable fruit and grain buns in the United States. Ozery Bakery, a Toronto-based, family-owned natural breads company, makes breads with a variety of grains and dried fruits, seeds and muesli. The wholesome buns are a tasty alternative to calorie-laden items and were developed because Ozery felt “there was a real need in the breakfast market for a wholesome, all-natural bread that delivers taste and health conveniently,” reports company president Guy Ozery. With the launch in February of Morning Rounds, Ozery will carve out a niche in the $10 billion breakfast breads market, a growing category in both natural and conventional grocery channels.

Ozery says the company is as passionate about baking as it is about continually creating new ways for people to enjoy bread with innovative products. It also offers OneBun Thin sandwich buns and a line of pre-sliced ancient grain buns, which include Organic Kamut, Organic Spelt and Organic Whole Wheat. The toastable fruit and grain buns are available for $3.69 a six-pack in three types: Cranberry Orange; Apple Cinnamon; and Muesli, and are currently available at Whole Foods Markets, Sprouts and other retailers.

“I believe that our Morning Rounds are the first of many breakfast breads (in our case, flatbreads) that will be consumed through the day,” adds Alon Ozery, co-owner. “This happened before with the pre-sliced thin buns that we developed in Canada several years ago and then introduced in the United States a couple of years later.”

Likewise, Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, Denver, earlier this year launched a new collection of gluten-free hot dog and hamburger buns. The launch is the first time a manufacturer has made gluten-free buns available at retailers nationwide. Unimpressed with what was on the gluten-free market years back, Udi’s certified-master baker, Chadwick White, was determined to create superior gluten-free bread solely for Udi’s. After successfully combining just the right ingredients for what is now known as its signature white sandwich bread, White and the Udi’s team now offer the gluten-free buns as well as a new cinnamon raisin sliced bread and cinnamon bagels.

According to Denise Sirovatka, Udi’s vice president of marketing, these products are so important for those who live gluten-free, but who, until now, were often prevented from joining in on the great American cookout in the spring and summer because of gluten intolerance.

“More consumers are purchasing gluten-free products for a number of reasons,” she says. “An increased number of individuals are being diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance each year (one in 133 Americans has celiac disease, and an additional 3-4% suffer from gluten intolerance); others have an elevated awareness of digestive health resulting in self-diagnosis of gluten intolerance for an individual or family member. Still others want improved quality and taste in gluten-free products and the desire for a healthier lifestyle. As a result, Udi’s is driving natural/organic bread and baked goods; our consumption is up more than 200% in both the natural and grocery channels.”

Sirovatka says Udi’s is experiencing continued growth in breads using sprouted grains and artisan loaves, including baguettes and sourdough. “In the baked goods category, comfort foods are still popular, with more ready-to-eat pie options, including blueberry crumble, key lime and classic pumpkin pie. Pretzels are also hot right now, everything from pretzel bread to soft pretzels with cheese dip,” she adds.

“Now that gluten-free products are more similar in taste to wheat-containing products, consumers are looking beyond the taste and texture and seeking baked goods that are both gluten-free and nutritional,” Sirovatka explains. “The gluten-free baked goods category is expanding rapidly. Consumers are not just eating gluten-free baked goods because they are available, they are eating them because they are good.”

In fact, the most requested item from Udi’s customers (more than 61% of new product requests) has been hamburger and hot dog buns. “We worked diligently to ensure our buns taste great and have nutritional benefits,” Sirovatka says. The new soft, golden Classic hamburger buns and Classic hot dog buns are gluten-free, dairy free and contain 4 g. of fiber and 5 g. of protein. The nutritious Whole Grain hamburger buns contain 6 g. of fiber and 5 g. of protein.

Another popular Udi’s customer request is for bread containing more fiber and ancient grains. Udi’s Ancient Grain Breads contain a wholesome balance of nutrients, vitamins and earthy varieties, including Millet–Chia and Omega-Salba. Millet and Salba have been a rich source of nutrients since early Incan civilizations, and contain 6 g. of fiber per serving and more than 350 mg. of Omega 3, 6 and 9. “We are seeing bakeries more willing to consider expanding their product selection to include gluten-free bread and baked goods,” Sirovatka points out. “One of Udi’s goals is to consistently provide gluten-free, nutritionally based products to our consumers that continue to taste like the conventional product.”

Shapes and thin are in
Another brand on top of the breakfast trend, of course, is Thomas,’ but not just with its English muffins. Thomas’ has put a good-for-you spin on breakfast as, if you’re like many people, ushered in the year a few pounds heavier, getting fit is on your list. Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa., the bakers of Thomas’ Bagel Thins bagels, partnered with celebrity nutritionist Keri Glassman to help set the pace for thinner success.

The company enlisted Glassman, who is a nationally recognized, registered dietitian and leader in advancing a “whole person” approach to health and wellness, to recommend going beyond nutritious eating to include getting adequate sleep, managing stress, exercising regularly and finding joy in life.

With consumers’ vast and relentless desire to lose weight, many people end up eliminating some items completely from their diet, such as breakfast or carbohydrates. They’re also asking for portion control, and purchasing products such as sandwich thins and sliders.

“Though people sometimes try and cut calories by removing entire food groups or meals,” says Glassman, “these grand changes are not lasting, and can even be detrimental to your health. Balance and moderation are what’s most important for weight loss and management, and are keys to helping any dieter enjoy success…”

Adds Thomas’ brand manager Eileen Gonthier, “We know it’s not easy to choose the healthy option each morning, so we introduced the first-ever trim bagel to make picking that nutritious option easier and more appealing. We’re excited to be working with Keri,” Gonthier continues. “She shares Thomas’ attitude for an approachably wholesome lifestyle, and knows that taste can’t be sacrificed for nutrition. They need to go hand-in-hand to ensure long-lasting wellness.”

Bagel Thins come in four kinds—100% Whole Wheat; Everything; Plain and Cinnamon Raisin—at 110 calories each. They’re also low in fat and a good source of fiber. The 100% Whole Wheat option offers 21 g. of whole grains per serving.

Flowers Foods, which produces and markets a wide variety of fresh and frozen bakery foods—from breads, buns and rolls to snack cakes and pastries—is offering new versions of its breads in different shapes, varieties and sizes. The super-regional baker also just purchased Tasty Baking Co., Philadelphia.
“Right now, the industry is still riding the whole grain trend,” says Janice Anderson, vice president of marketing at the Thomasville, Ga., company. “Whole grain bakery foods continue to be popular with consumers, as are products that offer portion-control, reduced calories or other type of healthy option, such as higher fiber.”

Providing the best of both white bread and whole wheat, Nature’s Own Whitewheat is a 100% whole wheat loaf packed with 16 g. of whole grain in a smaller 16-oz. size. With fewer slices per loaf, this bread is great for consumers in smaller households who want to enjoy restaurant-quality premium breads. A whole grain version of Cobblestone Mill breads was created in response to consumer demand for more whole grain bread options.

Flowers’ fourth new variety, Whitewheat Sandwich Rounds, offer the nutritional benefits of wheat bread with the milder taste of white. The rounds have 4 g. of fiber and a mere 100 calories per serving and are designed for sandwiches, toast or can be used to make mini pizzas. With a soft texture and a nutritional punch of whole wheat, they come in a resealable package that helps lock in freshness.

“We are targeting the portion-controlled trend with Nature’s Own Sandwich Rounds,” Anderson adds. “This thinner version of a traditional bun has been one of the more exciting new products to hit the bakery category in recent years. It appeals to consumers who want less bread with their sandwiches. It also has a unique texture similar to flatbread.”

Anderson says the new products are answering a call from consumers. The company first introduced rounds in early 2010 with two varieties—100% Whole Wheat and Healthy Multi Grain—and was the first on the market with a resealable bag. In July 2010, Flowers expanded the line with 100% Whole Grain, and in February 2011, it rolled out Nature’s Own Whitewheat Sandwich Rounds. Also in February, Flowers re-introduced Nature’s Own Thin Sliced Bagels with a modified recipe and a new, resealable package. Two varieties are currently available—100% Whole Wheat and Original.

“These new products scored high during consumer testing,” she relates. “With our Whitewheat Sandwich Rounds and smaller-sized Cobblestone Mill loaf, we’re giving consumers what they’ve been asking for.”

Likewise, Chabaso Bakery, an artisan bakery in New Haven, Conn., is expanding its product line to include “even more healthy” items as well as smaller-sized items. “Some we introduced very recently, such as Classic Baguette and Sesame Semolina Sandwich rolls,” says director of marketing Dorothy Radlicz. “We have also introduced something quite unique that addresses both downsizing as well as better-for-you interests targeted at the dinner roll sub-category—our Demi Ciabatta Pull-Aparts in two flavors: Classic and Rainin Grains.”

Each ciabatta is an 8-oz. loaf made up of eight pull-apart pieces that are a mere 70 calories each. The Classic ciabatta is a rendition of Chabaso’s top-selling larger ciabatta and the Rainin Grains pull–apart, containing 13 whole grains with seeds and honey and 13% whole grains. “Product quality has to be first,” Radlicz points out. “It has to taste good, no matter what. It could be the healthiest thing on earth, but if it doesn’t taste good, it won’t sell well.”

Hearty flatbreads and pizza crusts
Rustic Crust’s Brad Sterl has spent more than 25 years in the food industry, which led him to start Ever Better Eating in 1996. The contract manufacturer transitioned to become Rustic Crust, a Pittsfield, N.J., an all-natural pizza products producer that has been recognized for four consecutive years in a row by Business NH magazine as one of New Hampshire’s fastest growing companies.

It believes that flatbread is where it’s at, having faced the challenges in the tough economy to obtain a licensing agreement that would provide it with worldwide, exclusive brand rights to the American Flatbread brand for the frozen retail grocery channel.

And today more than ever, consumers are making pizza at home, opting for fresh, wholesome ingredients for toppings and wholesome crusts. The bakery’s naturally prepared, ready-made pizza crusts are made with fresh, local and organic ingredients, such as whole grain wheat flour, fresh herbs, cold-pressed olive oil, vine-ripened tomatoes and hand-picked vegetables from small New England farms whenever available. No artificial preservatives, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or added sugar are used to make the products.

The line includes seven frozen, 12-in. Old World flatbread pizza crusts. A variety of ready-made crusts and frozen topped flatbread pizzas are crafted with hand-formed dough slowly ferments, is double proofed and baked in custom ovens for rich flavor. The heath-conscious products also include gluten-free crusts and organic crusts.

“I guess you could say I’m a bit of a Crust Crusader,” says Sterl. “I really believe that your family, like mine, deserves more than the processed food mentality.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about these and other new products in the bread aisle, go to and check out our online new products section.