Bakeries commit to healthful ingredients

Jenifers way
Jennifer's Way in New York offers gluten-free and vegan cakes. 

Calling attention to the ingredients used in your bakery products has never been more important. Customers are asking plenty of questions about gluten-free and nut-free options, as well as other dietary restrictions, so make sure to educate your staff and implement standard operating procedures for posting ingredients on menu boards and sharing information about food allergens with your bakery’s customers.

Dieting among US consumers is declining over the past decade, according to NPD research, and consumers who are on a diet prefer their own diet. Many are getting creative in defining what aspects of diets work for them and their schedules. This also hints that consumers are more interested in lifestyles versus dieting.

Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston points out bakery owners can use feedback through social media to keep customers notified about ingredients your bakery uses and also what customers look to avoid. “Allergy issues are big,” Chang says. “We have made sure to mark our menu items vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, low sugar, etc., to respond to guests who have various allergies. We are not a gluten- or nut-free facility but we do take care not to cross contaminate with baking parchment and utensils as much as we can.”

Interest in gluten-free continues to gain momentum. Erin McKenna’s Bakery is making a name for itself by dedicating signature products to three dietary buzzwords: gluten-free, vegan and kosher. McKenna opened her first shop in 2005 on the lower east side of Manhattan in New York City and since expanded to Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida in Walt Disney World. Beyond operating a retail store at Disney World, her packaged vegan, gluten-free and kosher sweets (including chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon sugar donuts, chocolate dipped donuts and mini brownie cupcakes) are available at various Disney World locations like the Boardwalk Bakery and Disney’s Beach Club Resort.

Further, more retailers are opening dedicated gluten-free bakeries. Founded as a small retail store in 2013 by actress Jennifer Esposito, Jennifer’s Way Bakery in New York City expanded two years ago into a 13,000-square-foot dedicated gluten-free bakery where they produce gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free and GMO-free bakery products.  

A new report by NPD Group reveals that consumers perceive health as more about purity of foods rather than the absence of negatives, such as fats. Consumers are seeking items with minimal processing and are focused on avoiding “unnatural” elements, like artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, additives, and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). NPD forecasts that consumer interest in natural, fresh foods will continue to increase over the next several years.

Of note, the Food and Drug Administration has extended the deadline to receive comments on the use of the term “natural” in the labeling of food products until May 10. The FDA extended the comment period by 90 days because of public requests.

The labeling could include foods that are genetically engineered or contain ingredients produced through the use of genetic engineering. The FDA currently considers the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic, including all color additives regardless of source, has been included in or added to a food that would not be expected in the food normally.

On another front, sugar is now the top item consumers are trying to avoid in their diets and is neck-and-neck with calories as the top item they look for on nutrition facts labels. When asked what they usually look for on “Nutrition Facts” labels, calories and sugars are checked by 42 percent of adults.

Caloric intake is still a focus of consumers, as well. About 55 percent of consumers now use phone apps to track caloric intake, according to NPD.

Honey is a clear bright spot among caloric sweeteners, experiencing strong sales and volume growth the past few years. In a Packaged Facts online survey, 28 percent of consumers reported increasing their honey use over the past year or two. Consumers like that it is less processed and can be obtained from local sources and that it offers health benefits that include enzyme, antioxidant and antibacterial properties, along with vitamins and minerals.