Bakery spotlight: why the feelgood factor still matters

By Michelle Knott

- Last updated on GMT

Bakery tastes: consumers are looking for sustainable ingredients with provenance
Bakery tastes: consumers are looking for sustainable ingredients with provenance

Related tags Baker Bread Flavor

Mounting pressure from health groups hasn’t deterred consumer desire for ‘feelgood’ foods.

Key points

While industry regulators and lobby groups have pushed fat, sugar and salt reduction to the top of the health agenda, many consumers have other ideas.

“Consumers are increasingly looking at the ingredients, provenance and nutritional attributes of products, making decisions based on this rather than looking for front-of-pack claims such as light, or low fat,”​ claims Sarah Mace, founder of Primal Joy, which makes handmade gluten-free snacks and foods.

In fact, with bakery and confectionery, there is a whole list of trends that – rather than having a direct link with improving health or curbing obesity – may be better described as ‘feelgood factors’.

The inclusion of premium, sustainable ingredients is one example, provenance is another and so is the appeal of all things artisan. Special diets as a lifestyle choice, such as vegan, gluten- or dairy-free, can all be grouped under this umbrella and, of course, everything must give a nod towards natural and clean-label.

In other words, consumers are either hungry for a story behind their favourite treats, or see them as a part of a wider lifestyle choice.

“Consumers will examine the social and environmental impact as well as process and provenance of a product – for example, whether it is handmade, local, healthy or natural,”​ Mace claims.

Consumers are looking for more ‘natural’ products (return to top)

There is no question that consumers are seeking reassurance on the quality of foods by demanding more ‘natural’ products, says Graham Booth, technical manager at specialist ingredient supplier Thew Arnott.

“This has led many manufacturers to firstly clean-up their list of ingredients and then to capitalise on this development and push further to present their products as free-from, minimally processed or even organic in order to appeal to particular consumer groups.”

Some of these trends can be lucrative. For example, artisan loaves can command several times the price of their ready-sliced cousins and are predicted to grow at 11.6% year-on-year in the UK, according to the latest Federation of Bakers’ British Bakery Market Report​.

British Bakels’ ancient grain bread
British Bakels’ ancient grain bread

British Bakels is tapping into the specialist bread theme with a range of ancient grain bread products.

“What’s old is new again – consumers are seeking products that are recognisable, as opposed to revolutionary, taking comfort in modernised updates of age-old formulations,”​ says marketing manager Michael Schofield.

Ancient grains fall heavily into this theme, with ingredients such as teff and quinoa becoming more popular among consumers, Schofield adds.

“We have encountered a greater interest in speciality breads among our customers and an important driver of our business is our new product development process,”​ confirms Richard Jansen, md of Pan’Artisan, which makes a range of dough-based products for the foodservice industry.

Sour dough is growing especially strongly. The big challenge with sour doughs is the bulk fermentation time, which can run anywhere from 24 up to 60 hours, and ingredient suppliers are finding a range of ways to speed the process up.

Pan’Artisan, for example, offers a sourdough Dough Ball that has already been mixed and proved, so that a considerable amount of the time and specialist judgement is removed from the process.

Meanwhile, Bakels positions its Artisan Bread Complete premix family as an easy way to enter this sector, delivering the flavour and aroma of slow-fermenting sour doughs in a bulk fermentation time of as little as one hour.

Sales of its Artisan Bread Complete have grown by more than 240% in a year, the company says.

But for some in the ‘real bread’ movement, there can be no speedy shortcuts. Peter Cook is an award-winning artisan baker who distributes his wares around Herefordshire and Worcestershire. He is also a brand ambassador for California Prunes, which he uses in his prune and pumpkinseed sourdough.

The rise of the craft baker (return to top)


There has been a surge in demand for craft bakers in general, Cook confirms. “There are other artisan bakers opening up all over the country. People want real bread,”​ he adds.

In addition to time (it takes Cook three days to make one of his white loaves) the main difficulty in making bread entirely from scratch is variability.

“The baker has to have a lot more skill to generate a consistent product from day-to-day,”​ he says.

Interestingly, while ‘real bread’ bakers such as Cook shy away from the technical solutions that enable true gluten-free, he says that people who experience discomfort when eating fast-fermented, factory-produced bread often find that eating slow-fermented breads helps.

“It doesn’t help coeliacs, but long fermentation softens the gluten so people who are just intolerant to wheat often find they don’t have a problem,”​ he explains.

Sweet bakery products are naturally more indulgent than savoury, but they’re certainly not immune from the consumer desire for a feelgood story.

This extends to the desire for artisan tradition, as demonstrated by gingerbread manufacturer Image on Food (IOF), which has recently licensed the 200-year-old Billington’s Gingerbread brand and recipe.

Billington’s has previously been made entirely by hand.

“Using the handed-down secret Billington’s Gingerbread recipe, we have developed the method for manufacturing in our modern bakery, to create a biscuit that is consistent with the original product while also being recognisable to its fan base,”​ says IOF’s artisan baker Tim Hopcroft.

Sweet bakery products as ‘permitted treats’ (return to top)

GF Multiseed (cookie recipe) (1) bakels

Younger consumers in particular see sweet bakery products as ‘permitted treats’, according to focus groups run by Dawn Foods, which makes ingredients for American-style bakery items such as muffins, cookies, doughnuts and cakes.

“Indulgence is ok with this demographic and they see bakery as the natural category to give them a treat, which must be of premium quality,”​ says Chris Jenkins, cluster director for UK & Ireland at Dawn.

“Natural is today’s buzzword as consumers look for ingredients lists that are free from artificial colours and flavours. As part of our Project Sunrise programme, Dawn has been actively involved in moving many of its products, category by category, to include natural flavours and colours as well as introducing cleaner ingredient lists,”​ he adds.

The power of fibre

Chicory-derived inulin is one ingredient that suppliers claim can help tap into more than one of the feelgood trends.

For example, Sensus says it helps improve digestive wellness and provides an ‘added fibre’ labelling bonus.

In addition, inulin can help overcome some of the technical challenges of gluten-free, according to Sensus technical manager Brigitte Peters.

“Despite their health credentials, gluten-free products can be difficult to formulate and are often dry,”​ she says.

“But our research has found that, as well as boosting nutritional profile, Frutafit inulin provides valuable functional benefits, like improving texture, enhancing appearance and increasing moisture levels in baked goods.

‘Added value for label-conscious consumers’

“Plus, as a natural ingredient, it provides added value for label-conscious consumers,”​ Peters adds.

Meanwhile, Beneo has been conducting trials with inulin and oligofructose and has shown that it is possible to reduce the sugar in chocolate chip cookies by 30%, with the company claiming no negative impact on the end product’s taste or texture.

“Sugar-reduction in indulgent bakery applications is linked to many technical challenges including maintaining sweetness, appearance, texture, crunch, colour, biscuit strength and dough handling properties,”​ says Rudy Wouters, vice president at Beneo’s Technology Center.

“The results showed that sweetness, taste and crunchiness were the same as the full sugar variant, yet the cookies were higher in fibre and clean label.”

Gluten-free goes from strength to strength (return to top)

The free-from lifestyle trend – and especially gluten-free – shows no sign of slowing, with recent research from Technavio predicting a compound annual growth rate for global gluten-free of 12% to 2021.

“The demand for free-from products is strong. Within this, gluten-free accounts for more than 50% of the total free-from category in the UK,”​ says Bakels’ Schofield.

“This trend is being driven largely by the millennials.”

Bakels has developed a range of gluten-free mixes to serve this market, Schofield explains.

“Our range of bread mixes in the varieties of white, multi-seed and artisan, coupled with confectionery mixes of chocolate brownie and muffin, deliver the quality to a market where consumers are screaming out for something special,”​ he adds.

The importance of sustainability is unclear (return to top)

There are mixed views about how big a role sustainability plays in consumer buying decisions.

“Our focus groups told us that sustainable sourcing and environmental issues are less front-of-mind with consumers than we thought – probably because these issues are not within their immediate experience,”​ says Jenkins at Dawn.

“As a responsible bakery supplier though, we are committed to sustainable sourcing as much as possible; we offer sustainably-sourced UTZ-certified cocoa in some of our chocolate products as well as palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Many of our recent product launches are palm-free as well”

Bakels also offers a palm-free portfolio, with caramel, shortening and emulsifiers among the latest products to be offered palm-free.

For other suppliers, the immediate priority is to move to sustainable palm supplies, rather than eliminating it altogether.

This may involve sourcing ‘mass balance’ supplies, where the sustainable and standard palm oils are mixed in the supply chain, or ‘fully segregated’.

Upmarket bakery ingredients supplier Macphie of Glenbervie is taking this approach, according to senior research and development manager Paul McKnight.

“We are in the final stages of testing and changeover from mass balance to fully segregated palm-derived materials.

“The majority of the change has been completed with remaining functional materials, in the form of emulsifiers, being transitioned.

“This is a large-scale project with multiple testing required to ensure the changeover has no impact on the products’ performance.”

Marine bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers (return to top)

Macphie is also looking to the longer-term by taking part in the Marisurf research initiative. With 12 partners in six countries, the project is studying novel marine bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers as possible replacements for a range of products, including palm-based emulsifiers.

Marisurf has received grant funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme and runs for five years from 2015 to 2020.

“Macphie’s participation in the project is to advise on what functionality the end material is required to deliver, what the material will be used for and to what effect in the finished product,”​ says McKnight.

“When the materials have been developed, we will then make use of these in product development to confirm the material acceptability and potentially make use of the materials in the future.”

This is just one of the initiatives that have enabled Macphie to become B Corp-registered.

B Corp is a ‘club’ of more than 2,000 companies in 50 countries with a strong focus on sustainability and social responsibility.

Please click here to sign-up for our free monthly Food Ingredients, Health & Nutrition (FIHN) newsletter.

Sweet treat trends

Confectionery faces a tough challenge when it comes to making products healthier. However, the consumer appetite for sweets with an added ‘feelgood factor’ can mean a range of things, from lower-sugar options and all-natural ingredients to a nostalgic yearning for tradition and childhood.

“It is more difficult to associate health and being natural with confectionery as many products are, of course, full of sugar,”​ says Nick Hewitt, European sales manager at Thew Arnott.

“However, increasingly, consumers are after ‘sweet treats’ without the guilt of sugar and confectionery products that do not contain artificial flavours or colours​ [also known as NAFNAC] following issues raised with colours and hyperactivity in children.

“Like all categories of the food industry there is a trend in confectionery to use ingredients that are as natural as possible, and to simplify labelling,”​ he adds.

Trends in cocoa and chocolate

Similarly, a recent report from Cargill on trends in cocoa and chocolate identified health as one of the key market drivers for 2017, along with sustainability, indulgence and premium products.

“Besides the long-standing trend for sugar reduction and gluten-free, lactose-free claims are increasingly being observed in cocoa and chocolate products, with milk alternatives such as coconut milk increasing in popularity,”​ notes the report.

“Looking at ingredients seen as beneficial, the trend for protein is still booming and becoming mainstream.”

Hewitt agrees that confectionery is not exempt from the explosion in special diets.

“There is definitely increased demand for confectionery that appeals to people with special diets and those making a lifestyle choice about the kind of food they eat,” ​he says.

“Product development has seen more organic and clean-label ingredients, as well as more gluten-free, vegan and NAFNAC options.”

As an example, Thew Arnott recently launched a vegan alternative to shellac and offers various organic options, including chocolate polish, wine gum oils, guar gum and locust bean gum.

Related news

Show more

Related suppliers

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast