Ingredients and NPD

Functional agenda: Healthy ingredients receive boost during pandemic

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Function ingredients have seen a sales boost thanks to the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns
Function ingredients have seen a sales boost thanks to the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns

Related tags: Bakery & confectionery

Vegan ingredients, fruits and traditional cakes are just a few of the products benefiting from the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted increased consumer focus on health, indulgence, provenance and functional ingredients.

The bakery sector has had some interesting times in the past few months as COVID-19 takes its toll on the whole food sector.

Shoppers have filled in time during the lockdown by baking from scratch, and the period has also seen a boom in plant-based and vegan products, as consumers focus on health.

According to a recent Mintel report on the pandemic’s impact, 12% of Brits have
been attracted to veganism, rising to almost a quarter of Londoners (22%).

So, the bakery and ingredients sector has been adjusting to the ‘new normal.’

“2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging in living memory and, inevitably, consumer behaviour will change as a result,”​ says Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager UK & Ireland at Dawn Foods.

Baking in lockdown

She believes the pandemic has already caused some dramatic changes. “COVID-19 has seen an increase in consumers’ preference for traditional bakery formats and recipes. Consumers have enjoyed baking at home during ‘lockdown’ and, as a result, are seeking out familiar favourites from the cake and in-store bakery aisles – such as lemon drizzle, Victoria Sponge, scones and ginger cake,”​ she says. 

“The current climate has given consumers more time to consider their surroundings, the importance of family, and the way in which food is produced. The growing popularity of vegan foods is set to continue, with more vegan cakes available.”

Passmore predicts that natural flavours and colours will be increasingly important as consumers continue their interest in food origins, as well as health concerns about fat and sugar content.

“Fresh citrus flavours are increasingly popular as an inclusion or topping on baked products. High fruit content and origin fruit are also in demand. Consumers are looking for something a little different, though, with clementine flavour in high demand, rather than simple orange, and the yuzu flavour as a more complex citrus option than lemon,”​ Passmore adds.

Dawn’s new product development will continue to be focused on vegan products with ethical credentials, with its vegan crème cake mixes being part of a larger development programme set for launch later in the year.

Anneke van de Geijn, global marketing director, food and beverages at FrieslandCampina Ingredients, agrees that demand for more vegan ingredients is increasingly shaping the bakery sector.

‘Offering choice’

We have recently expanded our portfolio with more vegan ingredients,” van​ de Geijn says. “For bakers and manufacturers it’s about offering choices.”

The pandemic has not lessened consumers’ appetites for treats, she adds. “People are still going for indulgence, but with COVID -19, we also see people returning to traditional comfort foods.”

She agrees consumers are making healthy, mindful sustainable and ethical choices. But she argues they are “looking at the labels not just for nutritional value but also for the source of the food, how it is produced and where”.​ 

Thomas Schmidt, marketing director at Beneo Group, which offers functional ingredients derived from chicory roots, beet sugar, rice and wheat, says flexitarians and vegans remain a major growth area for bakery.

“Consumers won’t be happy with a meat-alternative bakery product (i.e. plant-based pasty or sausage roll) unless both the taste and texture meet their expectations​,” he says. “Our aim is to provide plant-based ingredients that help create tasty, sustainable meat alternatives, which truly contribute to nutrition, health and well-being.”

Meanwhile, Roberts Bakery has been at the forefront of innovation in the bakery sector with its famous insect bread.

Health and high fibre

Alison Ordonez, innovation and quality director at Roberts Bakery, says consumers’ interest in health and high fibre has prompted the company to launch products such as its Heroic Wholemeal Digestion Boost Bloomer and increase fibre content in its 800g Ultimate Wholemeal loaf to 30%. The pandemic, she says, has pushed these issues to the fore.

“Initially, this saw shoppers looking to white bread and comfort but, as time goes on, our attention to our health in lockdown means we have seen a resurgence in sales of healthier breads.”

Roberts predicts that inulin, a natural form of fibre derived from the chicory plant, will be the next ingredient to watch. “It has a prebiotic effect and has been used to aid sugar reduction and increase fibre and a small amount of protein,”​ says Ordonez. “From a manufacturing point of view it’s a really interesting ingredient as it has a multifunctional role.”

Also, the fact that it is plant-based makes it desirable, particularly in traditionally non-vegan recipes such as croissants, muffins and brioche, she says.

While acknowledging the growth in vegan ingredients, bakery supplier Rich’s says consumers want more reassurance on safety, prompting the company to accelerate a project to offer individually wrapped products.

Rich’s marketing director John Want says: “The last few weeks have changed our shopping habits dramatically, with the return of the big shop and consumers rediscovering local stores, as well a surge in snacking and a heightened focus on food safety.”

Creature comforts with health in mind

Olam Cocoa - A farmer in Ghana prunes cocoa trees

Olam Cocoa says COVID-19 has caused huge changes to people’s daily lives, spurring a demand for snacks and health and wellness products with a story behind them.

“We have also seen an increase in consumers looking for small comforts that use cocoa ingredients, like confectionery and baked goods,”​ says Wouter Stomph, head of North America ingredient development and innovation at Olam Cocoa.

“Low sugar also continues be an expectation for consumers and there’s a lot of pressure on manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in bakery and confectionery products.”

He says cocoa ingredients can play a key role in helping to provide an “intense, enjoyable flavour”, ​while masking the off-notes of some artificial sweeteners.

The firm’s TrueDark cocoa powder, under its premium label deZaan, is the first-ever natural, non-alkalised, dark cocoa powder that allows manufacturers to develop recipes and products with intense colour and flavour, but with less need for sugar and salt, he reveals. 

Meanwhile, Rafael Zegarra, global marketing director at Sweetolin, says one of the major issues with sugar reduction has been the taste of artificial sweeteners. It believes it has found a solution, creating what it calls the “first-of-its-kind”​ total fat system solution, to enable guilt-free indulgence.

The product replaces sugar with lower-calorie fibre, resulting in up to 50% less sugar in the final confectionery product and no compromise on the taste, says the firm.

Related topics: NPD, Bakery, COVID-19

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