BY JANE MILTON
FOOD INDUSTRY EXPERT
I would say functionality is on the rise across everything food and beverage. People are expecting more from a lot of their food. For example, Soupologie have recently released a soup that has all of your five-a-day contained within a serving. If you look at ice cream, people want dairy free, then sugar-free, then protein enhanced, then low-calorie ice cream. People expect everything to deliver more now.
People want to have their cake and eat it. They want a sweet taste, and one of the ways to do that while reducing sugar is to include vegetables, for example parsnips, or natural extracts from vegetables such as beetroot.
Consumers also look for added benefits such as protein-enhanced baked goods, which can be achieved through the use of fortified wheat or by adding proteins from pea or whey powders.
Part of the demand for functionality in baking is that people are staying away from carbs. So say you have protein-enhanced bagels, for example. This sells the product through removing or reducing other elements such as carbohydrates and sugar, but adds protein. This means that consumer wants are being met from all sides.
Genius is a good example of this – their baked products are gluten free and in their wraps, for instance, they have beetroot added to them to enhance taste and texture. It’s not enough anymore for products, such as wraps, to be simply gluten free – companies have to add something as well as take something out of the goods.
Gluten-free choices in baking, which we now see everywhere, used to be very niche. It used to be that you had to get a prescription for gluten-free products, so only consumers who had medical reasons could get the products.
Now they are a lifestyle purchase, and because of this the choices are wider and the quality has been much improved. Again, in baked goods that contain gluten, we often see protein or other nutrients being increased.
For example, avocado has been around a long time as an ingredient for desserts. For a while now, it’s been used in chocolate desserts to form a smoother batter and richer finish. People want reduced sugar and fat, and to know that something like avocado has been used will encourage them to choose these more functional options.
Beetroot, too, is increasing in popularity as something to add functionality to desserts, for example in cheesecakes. This then makes people want to eat dessert more often as the perception of desserts shifts to something that is less steeped in guilt.
I think that with the increase in life expectancy, people are aware they have to take better care of their health. There’s a vegetable bread out now with large amounts of sweet potato and butternut squash added, with no wheat; the ingredients used means it is also high in protein which is an example of how people are willing to switch to healthier options for their everyday consumption.
This multifaceted approach to more functional baking is seen everywhere: in bread, cookies, and savoury – it spans across the bakery sector. A range of different trends and choices have come together to create one, more general need for functional baking.
A degree of functionality in baking is certain to stay. Wants and needs come and go – for example, people thought avocado would be a fad but it’s highly mainstream now. I think when consumers become used to looking for functionality in baking, they’ll ask for more and we will start seeing products that push the boundaries of how much functionality a single product can hold.
The baking sector is still very traditional, however – there are smaller and more traditional craft bakeries that have been making, and will continue to make, the same kind of goods they have been for generations. Then, you have others that are more trend-conscious, and will act on things faster to lead the way.
In terms of moving away from traditions, however, cannabidiol (CBD) is looking like a good opportunity for the sector. Because of the way legislation is right now, we can only call CBD a food supplement and cannot really emphasise the functional health benefits of it. I think you will see moves towards this becoming licensed and regulated, and then companies and bakeries can start to talk about the benefits of CBD more freely.
We are already seeing hemp-based products because this inclusion is high in protein.
Though it should not be the main concern for bakeries, functionality is part of a toolkit that we can be using. Consumers are now highly aware of sugar content and different types of fat, so it is fair to assume that functionality will be incorporated in those expectations.
For the World Bread Awards, there were more entries with chia and flaxseed this year and other seeds too, all coming in from craft bakers. I definitely think that this reflects the wider use of more functional ingredients and added value in products we consume regularly.
We must look at how we can respond to all consumer concerns and demands around health to create the ultimate products for consumers.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2023