Bread’s fortunes are rising thanks to healthy ingredients and global influences

By Sean Moon
March 16, 2016
Bread’s fortunes are rising thanks to healthy ingredients and global influences

As a mealtime staple for countless generations around the globe, bread has developed a well-earned reputation as a so-called “staff of life.” But while each culture has its own recipes and interpretation of what makes a good bread, today’s interconnected culinary community is bringing an ever-expanding array of ingredients and flavours to Canadian restaurants for the discriminating bread consumer.

A mere few decades ago, most bread was relegated to the ever-present bread bowl on the dinner table or Junior’s lunch box as a carrier for simple sandwiches. Today, Canadian consumers are exposed to a growing variety of ethnic and cultural variations of this timeless favourite, ranging from Mediterranean flatbreads and pitas to artisanal varieties featuring sprouted ancient grains. The question is, how can such a cherished staple adapt to the modern consumer’s evolving palate and lifestyle concerns while still providing the flavours and textures that have made bread such a popular food?

Looking at some of the more recent trends in bread and bread ingredients, we begin to find an answer to that question. Whether it is a return to the “slow food” espoused by our grandparents (or great-grandparents!), the addition of unique flavours and seasonings or an increasingly savvy dining public that is on the lookout for high-quality, craft-made products, bread just never seems to go out of style.

Hot bread trends

“Bread is a hot category right now with a variety of styles trending simultaneously,” says Elaine O’Doherty, marketing manager of Ardent Mills. “Sourdough breads continue to trend up, as do fruit and vegetable breads such as lemon, banana, and zucchini. Breads made with sprouted and other whole grains are really connecting to the deep social need for rebirth and renewal in Canada, driving tremendous innovation and exploration in this sector. Lastly, one thing to never be underestimated is the power of the consumer’s sweet tooth, which continues to grow the popularity of sweet breads like brioche and sweet rolls.”

Artisan breads are also growing in popularity, despite the recent spate of books and diets based on a wheat-free lifestyle, says Laura MacLeod, owner of the Old Apothecary bakery in Halifax.

“Artisan bread and slow food go hand in hand. Bread processed using traditional methods, minimal mixing, combined with long fermentation time, using ingredients carefully sourced, are not the enemy they have been made out to be,” says MacLeod. “In simple terms, bread that is processed quickly is completely different to the methods many bakers are coming back to.”

Expecting the best

Consumers, it seems, are returning to a desire for quality crafted products that not only taste great but are also perceived as better for their health. Educating the public is an important factor, but so is addressing the needs of consumers who want nothing but the best when it comes to their bread choices.

“It’s a matter of educating our customers about how we are doing things differently and why that matters,” says MacLeod. “I feel like we have a real opportunity to change the way people eat for the better if they understand that information.”

Sandra Zanette, director of marketing and business development at Backerhausveit bakery, says an increased focus on quality is leading many consumers to become more choosy, particularly regarding issues such as health.

“Artisanal high-fibre and multigrain breads which are typically positioned as a healthier alternative to white bread are showing continued growth and demand,” says Zanette. “As well, quality driven specialty breads and rolls are also seeing traction as consumers look to upscale their complete meal experience while seeking out natural ingredients and authentic ethnic flavours.”

Recognize quality

Sophia Rouleau, marketing manager of ACE Bakery in Toronto, agrees, adding that “chefs and consumers are recognizing better quality bread and bread ingredients more than ever before, and realizing that the bread in a dish is just as important as the protein or filling. Bread is, after all, 50 per cent of the burger or sandwich experience!”

Bakers and operators say there are many benefits to be reaped from current trends, but there are challenges as well. Setting yourself apart from the run-of-the-mill is one of the most obvious benefits, as is building a more positive reputation with customers.

“The key benefit from adapting to these trends is that you earn a reputation for leadership in the industry, and for using creativity in uncharted territory,” says Daniel Marciani, corporate executive chef of Ardent Mills. “The challenges are many. Trends are in constant flux and are sometimes quite difficult to execute properly. They tend to be hot for a few months before they taper off. It’s best to look at trending techniques and ingredients that can sustain hype through a few years. Trends that are adaptable or that lead to other ideas are the best way to go.”

Creates domino effect

Rouleau says adopting such trends can have a domino effect on other aspects of a restaurant’s operations, such as marketing.

“One benefit for chefs and restaurant operators adapting to these trends would be that it sets their operator apart from the conventional, which in turn creates consumer excitement, high social media engagement and becomes a ‘can’t-miss’ dining spot; driving new and repeat business,” says Rouleau. “Finding a consistent supply of high-quality bread products that are continuously innovating to keep the momentum going can be a challenge, however.”

Zanette also sees the desire for better-for-you products as an opportunity for operators to increase their market share.

“Meeting the patron requests for more health-conscious products and more natural items would provide a competitive advantage for foodservice operators that fulfill these needs. One challenge which could arise is the misconception of cost of goods. Like any item, there are grades of quality and one cannot compare a simple white bread with an artisanal added-value product.”

Global inspiration

As global cuisine and ethnic flavours continue to exert their influence on bread recipe innovation, so too does transparency around ingredients. MacLeod believes the allure of recipe innovation and creation is being able to incorporate ideas from disparate cultures.

“Bread is an important part of culture in every part of the world,” says MacLeod. “Sharing recipes and photos has become so easy you can get lost in information for hours. Having lived in Germany and experienced how core to everyday life the local bakery is, made me think about trying to bring that home — to try and create a bakery that became part of the neighbourhood routine.”

Rouleau says that while global flavours are “an efficient and easy way to incorporate new and differentiated menu offerings with an ethnic twist,” customers are also interested in knowing where their food comes from.

“Transparency of bread composition is very important – being able to proudly call out what the bread is made of, especially if minimal processing is involved, and where the ingredients are sourced.”

What’s on the horizon

Zanette points out that trends such as health concerns, ethnic food and new or newly rediscovered ingredients are all playing major roles in how bread recipes will continue to evolve.

“All of these factors are currently driving recipe innovation because they all have a place for various consumer needs,” says Zanette. “Whether it is cross-culture impact, a flexitarian lifestyle, a new ingredient capturing the attention of the media or just some old-new-world twist on a product, invention and innovation is what captures the attention of impulse sales, but quality and great taste is what retains consumers.”

So what can Canadian consumers look forward to in the world of bread over the next few months or years? Bakers say bread is no longer confined to the bowl or lunch box for sandwiches. Expect to see bread used in any number of menu items and dayparts — from appetizers to desserts — paired with a favourite wine or simply as a back-to-basics wholesome food.

From savoury to sweet

“Chefs can use breads as a breadstick appetizers (sweet or savoury), for premium French toast with Amaretto crème and fresh fruit or as a layered breakfast dish, as an enhanced crouton for soups and salads or as a dessert,” says Zanette.

Rouleau agrees, adding that desserts are a natural fit for many different types of bread.

“Offerings such as bread pudding, monkey-bread, toppings to crumbles or crisps, or even going so far as crushing toasted bread and sprinkling into ice cream are all unique ways to take advantage of its versatility. On the other end of the spectrum, bread in its simplicity makes it ideal to pair with other delectable products: cheese, wine, beer, preserves. A simple cheese board with a perfect pairing can make a compelling story, enhancing the consumer’s overall experience.”

“Steamed breads and flatbreads are catching my attention right now,” says MacLeod. “I want to see how I can adapt them to fit the slow fermentation style of bread I produce. When you are not bound by tradition and culture (the right way to do something) it frees you up to look at a recipe as a formula that can be altered instead of this is the way grandma did it.”

“Breads made with sprouted grains are well suited to take off,” adds O’Doherty. “They will look and taste the same as conventional bread, yet have the allure of something new. And sprouting hits an emotional chord of fresh beginnings and renewal. Many consumers are primed for fresh starts and a happier tomorrow.  Sprouted grains connect to that desire.”

See also:

About the author:

Sean Moon is the managing editor of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News.

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