Bakers use innovation to help Canadians make healthier choices

By Paul Hetherington

There’s nothing we love more than the smell of fresh baked bread in the morning… except maybe the smell of fresh baked muffins or cinnamon buns or just baked goods in general. Almost every Canadian eats bakery foods in one form or another and regularly purchases the bulk of their baked products from large commercial bakeries, an artisan factory or smaller local bakers. In order to meet the needs of their clientele for healthy, simple, clean and affordable products, bakers have evolved their craftsmanship according to consumers’ demands.

Bakers have a long history of improving the nutritional value and quality of their products in order to help Canadians make healthy and educated food choices. Product improvement started as early as World War II, when the government was concerned about the lack of iron in the diets of some Canadians. This led to the decision to add iron to the bread supply. Canada became one of the first countries to adopt this standard. Then, in 1953, the Canadian industry introduced vitamin-enriched bread. This bread proved to be the model food to deliver extra necessary vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin and niacin to consumers.

A proud history of baking

Bakers can also be proud of their historic support of folic acid fortification. The enrichment and fortification of flour in Canada had a huge impact on the reduction of neural tube defects. Mandatory folic acid fortification of the food supply was implemented in North America in 1998. In the years after mandatory fortification, the prevalence of neural tube defects in Canada decreased by 50 per cent. The Baking Association of Canada (BAC) is delighted with this positive outcome and our members support for it.

Bakers have also been very supportive of the voluntary efforts to reduce trans fat in baked goods. As indicated in recent publications, 97 per cent of the products assessed for trans fat in the marketplace meet current recommendations. We are proud of the many advancements our industry has accomplished in making the food supply healthier for Canadians through voluntary commitments.

Leaders in innovation

Bakers consider themselves skillful leaders on sodium reduction. Sodium is an important functional ingredient in the baking process as it stabilizes yeast fermentation rates and strengthens the dough and plays an important role in preventing or delaying spoilage which is a key safety component. Even with technical challenges, bakers successfully reduced sodium levels in white pantry breads by 13 per cent and wheat pantry breads by 16 per cent — demonstrating that the voluntary approach to sodium reduction is successful. Bakers are committed to continue further sodium reduction while delighting consumers with the taste, texture and freshness they have come to expect from their baked goods.

Nowadays, a growing number of consumers desire products that are as natural as possible. Consumers want to go “back to nature” and seek minimally processed baked goods containing fewer additives and preservatives. They want to understand and be able to pronounce the ingredients in their food. While clean label claims is as hot a trend for the bakery industry as it is for the entire food industry, the free-from movement is not far behind and became popular with consumers who are making the choice to avoid certain ingredients or categories of food for health.

bakers baking technomic statistics

Encouraging creativity

Gluten-free is one of those trends, which has forced bakers to be creative and bake gluten-free breads and baked goods, using alternate grains that do not contain gluten such as quinoa, teff, amaranth, buckwheat and pulse.

However with the demand for gluten-free came a lot of misinformation about the positive role of wheat and bread products in the diet. In response to this BAC was a founding member of the Healthy Grains Institute whose mission is to inform and enhance Canadians’ knowledge and understanding of the health benefits of wheat and other grains. The Healthy Grains Institute is guided by an independent and multidisciplinary Scientific Advisory Council consisting of recognized plant science and nutritional experts from across North America. The Healthy Grains Institute is Canada’s only authoritative voice devoted to promoting and defending the health benefits of wheat and other grains.

By uniting the wheat and grain industries to deliver a consistent and national message to key stakeholders, the Healthy Grains Institute works to address consumer misconceptions resulting in unnecessary reductions in the consumption of wheat and other grain-based food. Through its digital properties on Facebook, Twitter and its website, the Health Grains Institute communicates science-based facts about the health benefits of wheat and other grains in a consumer-based format.

Meeting consumer demands

Consumer demands for clean eating and free-from claims will continue to grow. Fueled by social media, consumers are seeking transparency from food companies about where and how their products are made, what ingredients are in them and how these ingredients are produced. While consumers want great tasting, cost effective, safe products, retailers also want long shelf life. According to the Guelph Food Technology Center, bakers took the following creative approach: They removed or replaced artificial ingredients with more natural alternatives; and they created short, simple ingredient lists, making them easier to read and indicating less processed product.

With a variety of products hitting the bakery shelves every day, from indulgent to healthy, made with whole grains or ancient grains, containing pulses and vegetables, in various shapes, and textures, for every kind of eating occasions. . .the bakery business is far from boring or stale.

About the author:

Paul Hetherington is President and CEO of the Baking Association of Canada (BAC), Canada’s trade association representing the country’s more than $8 billion commercial, retail and in-store bakeries as well as industry suppliers. BAC’s members currently represent some 80 per cent of the nation’s production capacity of a wide range of breads and rolls, cakes, pastries, cookies  and other sweet goods along with semi-finished or par-baked, frozen products. For more information, visit