Start 2021 off right with 21 on-trend attributes of the evolving better-for-you bakery category:

  1. Open to interpretation – Unique to each consumer and largely defined by what’s NOT on the label, better-for-you products can include elements of gluten free, no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, non-GMO, organic, low-sugar or low carb. Often containing the nourishing aspects of protein, fiber and whole grains, better-for-you products are designed to nourish the body, tread lightly on the environment and align with consumers’ personal values.  
  2. Attributes - Characteristics of better-for-you are varied and subject to consumer interpretation, trends and, in 2020, a worldwide pandemic. Popular traits include, but are not limited to, elements of simple, organic, plant-based, sustainable, ethically sourced, clean label, fortified with fiber and superfoods, lower sugar and no HFCS, low sodium and the inclusion of heart healthy brans and ancient and whole grains. 
  3. Audience – The undeniable influence of Millennial and Centennial/Gen Z consumers continues to boost the better-for-you category. These demographic powerhouses spend more time thinking about their food purchases, looking for health claims, sustainability, transparency and clean label ingredients. They are more willing to pay a higher price for items that meet these expectations, and their buying habits influence their parents and shape the eating habits of their young children.  “Millennials and Gen Z are very focused on what they eat, and they want to make sure the food they consume is good for them,” said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator, IDDBA, Madison, Wis. “These groups are also experimental when it comes to food. Better-for-you and experimental eating are drivers that can go hand-in-hand.” 
  4. Making connections – Today’s consumers want to connect with the brands and the companies they do business with, including looking for ingredients, products and brands that tell a story. Companies must be prepared to answer questions regarding where a product was grown, how it supports an individual’s health goals and the sustainability of a product’s ingredients and packaging. The Colorado Quinoa Project from Denver-based Ardent Mills allows consumers to connect the dots between the farmers, customers and the nutritional content of the end product. 
  5. Health focused – The pandemic continues to heighten awareness of health and wellness, prioritizing foods made with quality ingredients. The desire to ward off illness and remain healthy is causing a temporary shift away from the convenience of mini-sizes and portion control to the wellness benefits available with enhanced fiber, vitamins and inclusions, according to Corbion’s research. The Whole Foods trends report predicts blurring lines between the supplement and grocery aisles with the incorporation of superfoods to calm and support immunity. The use of food to cope with the stresses created by the pandemic offers manufacturers an opportunity to create better-for-you items promoting longevity, strength and mental well-being, according to JoAnn Rupp, global market insights manager, Corbion, Lenexa, Kan. “It’s important to differentiate what’s happening in the short-term during the heat of the pandemic and how long-term trends are impacted,” said DeeAnn Roullier, marketing research insights specialist, Cargill, Minneapolis. “At its core, this is a health crisis and as such, we anticipate the pandemic will accelerate consumers’ focus on wellness and the healthfulness of their overall diet and nutrition.”  
  6. Targeted diets – Personalized health and wellness often necessitate a unique diet. Mintel found that one in three Millennials and Centennials/Gen Z profess to follow a lifestyle embracing variations on vegan, keto, paleo, high protein and Mediterranean diets. As the primary buyers of ethically sourced and sustainable products, Millennials are more likely to follow these dietary-based lifestyle choices, according to Innova Market Insight. Continuing mainstream appeal and acceptance of plant-based offerings prompted Barry Callebaut, Chicago, to present a series called Eating Lifestyles via BC LIVE. The “bite-sized” sessions demonstrated how to win with consumers who are choosing lifestyles like vegan and keto. During the series, the company introduced the new dairy-free “milk-like chocolate” and a dairy-free plant-based high-protein coating.  
  7. Sugar reduction – The influence of gluten-free, keto and paleo diets that restrict sugar continue to intensify sugar’s bad-guy reputation. In order to meet renewed interest and consumer expectations around reduced-sugar products, bakers have the option of reformulation or downsizing full-sugar portions. Using a combination of stevia, erythritol and chicory root fiber, Cargill can help bakers reduce sugar content by 25% while also benefitting digestive health. “Whether bakers are boosting protein, cutting sugar or crafting keto friendly formulations, the key to success is making the required ingredients adjustments without diminishing sensory appeal, especially in indulgent treats,” said Allison Leibovich, senior technical service specialist, bakery, Cargill. 
  8. Protein power – The health halo of protein continues to find applications throughout the better-for-you category. Use of plant-forward ingredients and heirloom grains such as spelt, einkorn, barley, quinoa, chia and chickpeas offer ways to formulate with the addition of more protein and fiber while also telling a story of sustainability and transparency. 
  9. Fortification – The use of natural ingredients to provide health benefits continues to win over consumers looking for better-for-you options. Innovative solutions provided through the ongoing efforts of food scientists continue to take fortification to the next level. For example, addressing heart health through the application of plant sterols and supporting immunity using postbiotics. 
  10. Organic – Long a favorite of consumers in search of healthy foods, organic certification can also offer a new way to provide consumers with an increased level of food safety reassurance with trusted traceability built-in throughout the supply chain. Bob’s Red Mill, a supplier of organic, non-GMO and Fair Trade Certified products, believes consumers desire to know where their food comes from and its impact on environmental systems. “Our relationship starts at the source – with the farmer who produces the grain,” said Matt Cox, senior vice president of marketing Bob’s Red Mill, Milwaukie, Ore. 
  11. Sustainability – The sustainability and environmental claims of a product, its ingredients and packaging resonate among Gen Z and Millennial shoppers. The holistic approach considers better for the individual and good for the planet, too. Cargill’s Sustainable Cookie Concept reduces the carbon footprint with responsibly sourced chocolate chips, pea protein, palm oil, stevia, and quinoa and pastry flours.  
  12. Authenticity and transparency – Food is about more than its effect on the body. It also includes understanding the environmental impact of a product on local communities and its overall sustainability. Ardent Mills’ quinoa portfolio of North and South American-grown quinoa includes identity preserved varieties that are traceable to the source and that also promote soil biodiversity and water conservation. “Consumers are going to lean toward better-for-you products that are more thoughtfully crafted and that also can give them a unique experience,” said Hailey Rogers, R&D chef, Ardent Mills.  
  13. Planet friendly – 54% of Gen Z are concerned about the sustainability of the planet. They want to know if a product was sustainably and ethically sourced, its journey through the supply chain and if the company shares their personal beliefs and values. These concepts drive sales by calling out the products’ ability to lighten the impact on the Earth’s resources.
  14. Fresh – Important throughout the category and particularly among Hispanic shoppers, made-from-scratch items are associated with freshness and naturalness. Many fresh items invoke a feeling of home with the inclusion of spices and other ingredients that consumers stock in their own home pantries. 
  15. Permissible indulgence – Pandemic-related stresses have elevated the importance of indulgence and have intensified the pure pleasure of eating. Inclusions of real fruit, seeds or grains offer both indulgence and health benefits. Breads, muffins, crackers, flatbreads and breakfast biscuits lend themselves to more healthful, innovative formulations, perfect for the 81% of meals being prepared at home (IDDBA COVID-19 Dairy Deli and Bakery report). “Better-for-you bakery can help consumers justify indulgence and increase occasions in which a consumer turns toward a bakery product,” said Manoela Lima, director of chocolate academy & gourmet marketing North America, Barry Callebaut.  
  16. Sourcing – Knowing the importance of providing the story behind the product, it helps to have a knowledgeable supplier who can help bakers navigate the process of re-formulation and the sourcing of ingredients. The building of sustainable, traceable and transparent supply chains can also helps keep costs in check.  
  17. Clean label – Consumers are paying closer attention to the ingredients on product labels. Although the desire for cleaner labels reflects an ongoing shift toward lifestyles that support healthier eating, clean labeling remains a moving target with no clear definition. When in doubt, focus on simplicity with recognizable ingredients and short, easy-to-understand ingredient lists. 
  18. Fats – Cargill’s FATitutes May 2020 survey found 53% of American consumers closely monitor the type and amount of fat in their packaged foods. Oils such as Pompeian’s Light Taste olive oils are a monounsaturated fat substitute that offers the potential of health benefits through a Mediterranean-style way of eating. 
  19.  E-commerce – 17% of households use online as their primary way to buy groceries, and 14% of shoppers said they plan to buy more fresh foods each trip. Although shopping trip frequency is down, basket size remains elevated, according to IDDBA’s Nov. 2020 COVID-19 report. The rise in online shopping necessitates instore bakeries have a plan to offer a range of products both online and instore. 
  20. Ancient and whole grains – The use of alternative flours such as coconut, buckwheat and chickpea offer bakers an opportunity to create new flavors and textures in products that offer a range of health benefits. Whole, ancient and heirloom grains used alone or blended with white flour can provide a healthful halo and tell a sustainability story, according to Don Trouba, senior director, go-to market, The Annex by Ardent Mills. 
  21. Comfort – Shifting consumer behavior in response to the pandemic created an uptick in the consumption of emotionally driven comfort foods and nostalgic purchases.  

This story was included in the January 2021 issue of our sister publication Supermarket Perimeter. Read the rest of the magazine here.