While artisan bread has always enjoyed a dedicated audience, its growing and diverse range of global flavors and ingredients are attracting new followers. Consumers can choose from tried-and-true, old-world formulas or new options with ancient and heirloom grains that add a distinctive aroma, texture and flavor while boosting artisanal appeal.  

Don Trouba, senior director of go-to market at Ardent Mills, cites a growing interest in heirloom grains that naturally contain gluten such as spelt, einkorn, white Sonora and rye. Easily incorporated into doughs, the grains in cracked and flaked form can add visual and textural appeal. The Denver-based company collaborates with bakers to develop complete savory baking mixes with its broad portfolio including high-protein flours like Kyrol and Hummer and ancient and heirloom grains. 

“Breads with innovative ingredients have made their way into the center aisles and along the store perimeter as well as becoming a main feature on many menus,” said Kathy Sargent, global innovation director, Corbion, Lenexa, Kan. “Consumers are driven to this category in search of more exciting eating experiences and international flavors.” 

A growing awareness of food, how it’s produced and who produces it points toward a new level of mindfulness around consumer purchases and purchasing behaviors. Mintel predicts an increasing awareness of conscious consumption as cited in its Global Food and Drink Trends 2030 report. Companies that support and mirror such values will in turn receive support from like-minded consumers. 

Family-owned Bakery de France, headquartered in Rockville, Md., is one of many baking manufacturers seeing a shift toward authenticity and transparency as consumers seek out real, simple ingredients and total product disclosure. The company, which makes sandwich rolls, loaves, dinner rolls and baguettes, partners with Eric Kayser, a French baker, to develop authentic artisan product.  

“Consumers are beginning to understand that bread is not the enemy and are becoming more focused on the ingredients and processes,” said Brittany Ryan, marketing manager, Bakery de France. “High-quality, all-natural products are falling into a perceived ‘health halo,’ and artisan bread is being viewed as ‘better for you’ bread.” 

This includes a growing belief that flour is natural and healthy. The ongoing shift toward foods and ingredients possessing health benefits and functional wellness is echoed in the growing global functional flour market, according to the IDDBA 2020 What’s In Store report. FactMR estimated global sales of functional flour to grow at a CAGR of more than 6.5% through 2025.  

Curious which shoppers were buying the bread, Bakery de France conducted a consumer survey. Results found the average frequent fresh bread shopper is a 40-something-year-old female who values food exploration and prioritizes quality over price. This shopper is 20% more likely to regularly buy natural or organic products. Research from Corbion found Gen X consumers rated artisan breads as “most fresh” as compared with other available breads.  

“In our Bakery de France research, we discovered that around 80% of consumers perceive ISB artisan bread as fresher and better tasting than pre-packaged bread,” said Terry Flaig, director of retail sales, Bakery de France.  

IDDBA’s What’s In Store report discovered similar findings, citing growth in packaged bakery with growing consumer demand in health and wellness. This includes callouts for 100% Natural, Organic, Multigrain, Omega DHA, absence of negatives, no HFCS, non-GMO, dairy-free, low/less carbohydrates and plant-based ingredients. More commonly seen on packaged bakery products, IDDBA suggests instore bakeries employ similar tactics on unpackaged bakery products using shelf talkers and other signage. 

Understanding that what’s important to consumers includes and extends beyond the label, Bridor USA, Boucherville, Canada, offers more than 300 clean label products. Its program includes product bans on the use of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, bleached flour, HFCS and partially hydrogenated fats and oils. Its lines, including imports from France made in the European baking tradition, are known for a crisp crust and honeycomb crumb. 

Upscaling the perimeter 

Artisan bread’s distinctive crumb contributes to an overall visually rustic look. Eye appeal is necessary to coax a perimeter customer to pick up, smell and assess a loaf or boule for crispness and freshness, according to Ben Rizzitello, vice president sales and marketing, Anthony & Sons Bakery, Denville, N.J.  

“As a bulk of artisan bread sales are driven by impulse, aesthetics play a critical role in consumer purchasing behavior,” Ryan said. “Many consumers today are extremely leery of purchasing products not merchandised in a bag. Likewise, consumers have pre-determined how a product will taste based on the packaging. If a customer cannot see, recognize or connect with a product they will be less inclined to purchase it.” 

Sargent points out packaging could become more important with increased online shopping in the post-pandemic era as consumers look to purchase prepackaged breads and freeze them for later use. Understanding the importance of extended freshness for bakers, Corbion offers its Ultra Fresh® solutions to improve tolerance, quality and robustness while extending freshness through freeze/thaw cycles and cutting. The company also offers pre-soaked grains to reduce incorporation time in artisan formulations. 

Cognizant of the changing needs of retail bakers, Bakery de France’s high-hydration doughs allow the ability to bake longer and darker prior to freezing, making for a quicker refresh in stores, according to John Salameh, chief executive officer, Bakery de France. “We certainly understand the need for simple, easy-to-use premium products for retailers as labor hours continue to be a challenge. This has proven to be particularly important for our customer during the COVID-19 outbreak.” 

Anthony & Sons Bakery is also providing bakers with products that require less handling inhouse. The Artisan EZ Freezer to Oven® line of products featuring Rustic hero, dinner rolls, demi baguettes and Pane di Casa Italian bread is designed to crisp on the outside in just 3-5 minutes. Because these are not par-baked items, a quick warming crisps the outside crust while maintaining a moist center and superior crumb. Also, there’s no skilled labor required, so the bread can quickly be ready on demand for a hot bread program and the bakery can control what they’re putting out, reducing waste.  

“Par-baked in the hands of an inexperienced baker can result in over baking, which will cause a dried-out product and shorten shelf life,” Rizzitello said. “With this, there’s no need to set up product the night before, to defrost breads or for a proof box or steam-injected oven, just remove it from the freezer when needed and bake.” 

The recent runs on grocery stores during the beginnings of the pandemic demonstrated how such an option can allow an instore bakery to keep product in stock. Even in understaffed and less-than-ideal environments, the department can save on labor because the bakery doesn’t need to set up the day before like frozen or allow time to defrost, according to Rizzitello.  

Rediscovering Old World methods 

In times of struggle, many find comfort in the known entities. This includes rediscovering the tried-and-true foods humans have enjoyed for generations. One example being flatbreads, which can be traced back to the Neanderthals. Consumers throughout the world who have long enjoyed tortillas, nan (naan), lavash, gorditas and pita, now are discovering new flatbread versions in torta sul testo, damper, coca, fatir, gozleme and mana’eesh.  

Flatbreads also offer consumers delicious options for hand-held, on-the-go eating. “Hand-held is a trend that’s relevant for breads in general,” said Warren Stoll, marketing director, Kontos Foods. “Whether it’s grabbing lunch to go or a quick take-home meal at the supermarket deli, consumers want to walk out with a food that’s ready to consume. The artisan element offers a genuine and home-spun aspect.”  

Kontos, Paterson, NJ, produces more than 60 varieties of flatbread including Greek pita, Indian Naan, Hispanic gorditas, crepes, pizza crust and lavash. Because each pocketless piece is hand-stretched, Stoll refers to the flatbreads as “snowflakes.” The use of oil and air pockets created during hand-stretching allow the product to fluff when warmed, creating an oven-fresh bread perfect for wrapping. The company also offers a new pita product designed to warm in the oven in its own paper bag.  

Other innovations include infusing whole and ancient grains into artisan bread staples. Part health and wellness, part old-world charm, whole grains are a way to offer artisan with a premium upgrade. To highlight the whole-grain content of its breads, Chicago-based Wholesome Harvest, a division of Grupo Bimbo, teamed with Oldways Whole Grains Council (WGC), Boston, to call out the whole grain attributes of its products.  

Sporting the WGC stamp, Wholesome Harvest’s whole grain-rich options include a Fruit and Seed Batard with whole and milled flax seeds, raisins and dried cranberries (16 grams of whole grains). A Multigrain with Sorghum flour bread contains 29 grams of whole grains and the Seeded Rye with Tri-color Quinoa including farina, triticale and amaranth offers 18 grams of whole grains. 

Bread that’s inclusive 

To further assist the body in breaking down the carbs within grains, bakers rely on the age-old, nearly alchemic process of fermentation. Izzio Bakery, Louisville, Colo., believes in the easier-to-digest benefits of natural ingredients. Its methods include hand-shaping, using only the necessary ancient ingredients and applying controlled and extended fermentation with some doughs resting up to 72 hours before baking.  

Sourdough bread may be one of the most well-known examples of fermentation. La Brea Bakery, Los Angeles, is well-known for its decades-old sourdough starter. Last year in celebration of its 30th anniversary, La Brea Bakery offered special edition breads featuring sprouted grains, alternative flours and the 30-year old original sourdough starter created by founder Nancy Silverton. Its Reserve breads (a sourdough demi-baguette and a French demi baguette) feature single origin heirloom wheat grown in Big Sky Country, Montana. The company also produces a gluten-free sliced white and multigrain sandwich bread for use in its bakery cafe locations. 

Gluten-free options featuring alternative and ancient grains and formulas using longer fermentation can offer consumers with gluten sensitivities a welcome opportunity to enjoy bread again. One handheld option is Kontos Foods’ gluten-free wraps in 9- and 12-inch sizes. Ardent Mills’ gluten-free 5-grain flour blend features ancient grains and can also be blended with other functional flours to develop multigrain blends. While these products are not appropriate for celiac sufferers or the gluten intolerant, the age-old processes can offer a new lease on bread for some consumers.  

“Although challenging from a product development standpoint, gluten-free ingredients absolutely have a role in the artisan bread space,” Trouba said. “Consumers who are following gluten-free diets still have a desire for many of the same benefits of gluten-containing breads, including the nutrition, taste, texture, appearance and story.”  

Professional and home bakers looking to brush up on their artisan bread production skills only need to look to the services of The Bread Bakers Guild of America, Petaluma, Calif. Considered to be the definitive resource for all aspects of artisan bread in America, the guild provides a modern edge to an age-old practice with continuing education and technical classes taught by guild masters. Guild members include farmers, bakers, millers, suppliers, educators, students, home bakers, technical experts, and bakery owners and managers.  

“The BBGA is of huge value to my bakery,” said baker Chris Matsch, Ibis Bakery, Lenexa, Kan. “The community centered around bread is second to none, and the BBGA offers us with the ability to access seminars, recipes and updates on the industry. We’re so thankful to be a part of this wonderful organization.”

Unique Flavors and Shapes 

But don’t think that the age-old craft won’t have some innovations up its sleeve. Rizzitello sees the artisan category moving toward unique flavors and shapes based on new product development, one example being tweaks to the standard olive bread. 

“We approach innovation with experience and passion,” Rizzitello said. “We’re always working on new product development, researching, studying trends and demographic data, and looking for better-for-you solutions to simplify the retail bakery operation.”  

Looking for what consumers want and what they need includes making considerations for changes in the daypart, fewer structured meals, increased snacking, grab-and-go preferences and smaller family sizes. Updates to the size and shape of artisan products are providing new opportunities for bakers to partner with private label brands to develop custom and proprietary products, including the ability to produce less symmetrical loaves and baguettes. Using new technologies, it’s easier than ever to create artisan offerings that incorporate interesting shapes and sizes and inclusions reminiscent of what consumers might find at an independent neighborhood bakery. 

“Consumers will continue to explore and expand their palates so new flavors, inclusions and usage will be vital moving forward,” Ryan concluded. “The food industry will continue to be shaped by the trend.”