Local and regional bakery ingredients continue to play a more significant role in today’s bakery and overall food industry, setting a course for a deeper commitment to sustainability in the bakery marketplace.

“The significance of local and regional bakery ingredients is on the rise,” comments Tim Webster, chairman and chief executive officer at Farmer Direct Foods. “Consumers, retailers, and bakers are increasingly concerned about the origins and production processes of their food. This heightened awareness has led to a growing demand for transparency and the ‘farm to table’ experience. At Farmer Direct Foods, we are committed to this principle through our proprietary Identity Assured™ process. This allows us to trace our regeneratively grown wheat back to the farms, providing full transparency into the inputs, conditions, and methods used to produce our artisan quality flour products.”

Regenerative agriculture is a movement focused on farming and grazing practices designed to create a more sustainable and resilient food system that can support the long-term health of both the environment and the people who depend on it. Some benefits of regenerative agriculture include improved soil health, increased crop yields, and reduced reliance on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. 

Farmer Direct Foods’ regenerative practices also focus on improving the well-being of farmers and farming communities. The company utilizes a network of multi-generational Kansas farmers who adhere to a set of regenerative farming guidelines. In exchange for committing to these guidelines, Farmer Direct Foods pays its farmers a premium for their crops and shares a portion of the company’s profits. 

Farmer Direct Foods is squarely focused on the promise of positive environmental outcomes, including improved soil health, carbon capture, water conservation, biodiversity enhancement, and the reversal of climate change.

“At Farmer Direct Foods, we take this commitment seriously,” Webster shares. “We have implemented a comprehensive program that our growers follow to ensure these outcomes are realized. Additionally, we are currently piloting a third-party verification system for our regenerative farming program to further strengthen our commitment to sustainability.”

Advantages offered by local and regional bakery ingredients and brands include a sense of local pride and community support, he adds.

“I think this Kansas Bread Basket that we operate in goes a bit further. We are extremely proud of our growers, and we know bakers and consumers love to know who it is that grew their wheat, milled their flour and it’s not a conglomerate that is too big to care deeply about individual growers,” Webster says.

Identity assurance within the food chain represents a critical component within the food chain because it establishes a foundation of trust, which is paramount to building a reputable brand and ensuring consumer confidence, he adds.

“The response from both customers and consumers has been overwhelmingly positive, encouraging, and reinforcing for Farmer Direct Foods. Actions (purchases) mean more than words but the reception to date has been phenomenal,” Webster shares. “Our commitment to local and regional sourcing, regenerative farming, and identity assurance aligns seamlessly with the broader trend toward sustainability in the bakery marketplace. It's a holistic approach that supports both local communities and the environment, making it an integral part of the sustainability movement.”

Key goals of Farmer Direct Foods at this time include expanding distribution through new customer and distributor relationships and building the most robust and verified regenerative grower network that will allow Farmer Direct Foods to supply this critical input to other millers to move the cause forward faster than it might otherwise happen. In addition, the company is fulfilling its mission to be the leading source of regeneratively grown, artisan quality flours.

“We are making significant progress in building a national brand startup atop a 30-year-old farmer-owned co-op, which is no small feat,” Webster says. “We are on track with our outlined goals and have some very exciting prospects on the horizon. Stay tuned. The future of food is regenerative, and we believe the future of flour is Farmer Direct.“

Local grain movement  

A highly informative and important discussion related to the rising importance of sustainability occurred at a Nov. 5 in-person event, “From Cover Crop to Table Top: The Ohio Local Grain Economy,” attended by dozens of farmers, millers, retailers and others at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio.

The event was sponsored by the Artisan Grain Collaborative and Dorothy Lane Market with the Bread Bakers Guild of America, Sarah Black of Sarah’s Breads, and The Mix at Columbus Sate Community College.

The event featured farmers, millers and bakers who are committed to regenerative agriculture and to delicious, nutritious breads and pastries made with heirloom and heritage grains and included a panel discussion and baking demonstrations. Participants included Michelle Ajamian of Shagbark Seed and Mill, Bruce Asbury of Crust X Crumb, Sarah Black of Sarah’s Breads, Joe Bozzi of Local Millers, Karen Bornarth of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, Jay Brandt of Brandt Farm, Jon Branstrator of Branstrator Farm, Anson Clement, Andrew Fisher of Good Hands Bread Company, Spencer Saylor of Metro Cuisine and the founder of The Wizard of Za, Matt Swint of Matija Breads, Dario Torres of the Culinary Vegetable Institute, and Greg Tyzzer of Dorothy Lane Market.

Tyzzer, bakehouse manager at Dorothy Lane Market, an upscale grocer based in Dayton, Ohio, shared that “as our local grain movement continues to grow, we at the DLM Bakehouse are continuously searching for ways to bridge the past with the present. We believe our DLM Einkorn Bread is a testament to this. Einkorn is believed to have originated in the Fertile Crescent more than 10,000 years ago and is considered to be the first wheat ever cultivated by humans. It is known by bakers and farmers alike as the great-grandfather of modern wheat.”

Along with einkorn’s prestigious history, it boasts unique health benefits. The grain has never been hybridized. It contains 14 chromosomes vs. 42 in modern wheat and has far less gluten, making it easier to digest. It also has high levels of beta-carotene and fiber.

“The less your handle it, the better,” Tyzzer says. “Einkorn has a unique smell and flavor (nutty) to it. We mix this as a straight dough. We only do one shaping, with 2 to 3 hours of bulk fermentation. We do 100% (bakers percentage) because it’s a special grain. We want it to speak for itself.”

Dorothy Lane Market sources einkorn flour from Brandt Family Farm in Carroll, Ohio. It’s picked up by Jon Branstrator, who mills it at his farm in Clarksville, Ohio.

“We farm with the least amount of inputs as possible,” Branstrator comments. They plant untreated seeds and cover the soil with residue, at all times. “We are regenerating micro-organisms in the soil. Each year, my soil becomes better.”

Tyzzer explains that at Dorothy Lane Market, “our einkorn bread loaf is different than most that we bake. Due to its lower gluten content, it does not get as tall as a traditional sandwich loaf. Instead, you get a dense loaf with a soft interior. We mix it with just a touch of honey before giving it a long fermentation period, so that this ancient grain can speak for itself.”

Other important ancient grains include spelt, a species of wheat defined as an ancient grain that has been cultivated in central Europe since approximately 5000 BCE. Spelt was introduced to the United States in the 1890s, but in the 20th century it was replaced by hybridized wheat in almost all areas where it was still grown. The organic farming movement revived spelt’s popularity toward the end of the century, and since the beginning of the 21st century, spelt has become a common wheat substitute for making artisanal and nutritional loaves of bread.

Today, most of the nation’s spelt is grown in Ohio, which averages between 100,000 and 200,000 acres of spelt annually, about 10 times more than any other state. This includes French’s Hybrids in Huron County and four generations of family farmers. In addition to spring spelt, the Frenches own four fall spelt varieties of their own. More than 600 acres of the Frenches’ 1,200-acre farm is dedicated to spelt.

Chef Spencer Saylor, founder of The Wizard of Za and director of catering & events for Metro Cuisine, comments that “I’m all for using more local grains in pizza dough.”

He demonstrated preparation of a red fife Sicilian style pizza dough is that it’s easily scalable. The key changes are increases in sugar, salt, yeast, and water. In dealing with larger dough quantities, it’s important that those key ingredients are distributed throughout the dough as evenly as possible.

The other keys to determine are your ideal sized pie and thickness to your crust. Use a scale to cut and weigh each ball to have exact and consistent results.

“We increase water greater than a 1:1 ratio to keep the dough as hydrated as possible. It will be a little messy to work with until you reach the knead and portioning process, but it’s integral to prevent the dough from drying out during the extended dough preparation process,” Saylor says.

Packaging options

In addition to what is happening on the farm and in the bakehouse, sustainable packaging options are critical to the ongoing success of the movement.

Marc McGregor, national sales manager, North America, for Novacart, explains how they are responding to industry needs for greater sustainability within the retail bakery environment.

“Consumers are actively looking for sustainable types of packaging. For the last few years, we have been getting a lot more requests for plastic alternatives (PET or CPET) and even aluminum foil alternatives,” he explains. “Our Ecos/OP line of bakeable paper molds has been one of our larger moving product categories, including our OP175 – 8” x 8” square molds – used for everything from brownies and cinnamon rolls to cornbread. An added benefit of our paper molds, beside the environmental factor and being a plastic or foil alternative, is that the consumer perceives the product as higher end or hand-made baked good.”

Since the majority of Novacart products are paper based, using FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper, most of Novacart’s products have always been a sustainable alternative to plastic and other types of bakery packaging, he adds.

“To get a better understanding of changing demands from the market, and to boost Novacart’s presence as a global leader in the innovation of sustainable packaging, we have recently joined the SPC – Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which is a group of packaging stakeholders who are looking to improve all types of packaging for the betterment of the environment,” McGregor says.

In addition, Novacart recently launched a new line in North America of biodegradable and compostable Dual Ovenable Containers and lidding film. The line is called Biopap (www.biopap.com/en/) and is currently being produced by one of the Novacart Group divisions in Italy, with plans to eventually start production in the US.

Novacart’s corporate R&D office in Italy is working on a number of new projects including partnering with the Italian Institute of Technology on a new joint venture called Alkivo (www.alkivio.com/en), “where our leftover paper from production of our molds and cups are used in creating biocomposites, which are biodegradable and compostable alternatives to traditional plastics,” McGregor adds.

Balance is back

Balance is the “word du jour,” proclaims Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, who spoke at Corbion’s recent Media Day 2023. “Everything in moderation is back in vogue.”

According to new research, 78% of consumers say they are “completely fine to occasionally treat yourself to bakery.”

Shoppers are reading food labels more carefully, and the health continuum is playing out in grocery stores.

83% of shoppers believe grocery should aim to reduce single-use plastics; and 68% cite packaging that is not eligible for recycling poses a heightened issue.

Where do they seek more information? More than half (53%) point to the bakery package label as their preferred source for learning more, 35% say instore signage, and 30% the store’s website or app.

“Transparency serves as an important role,” Roerink stresses. “Plant, people, animal welfare, and community are all connected.”

Abby Ceule, senior director, functional systems, points out that Corbion is casting a wide net to help bakeries achieve consistent quality and support a diverse product portfolio.

In the current economic climate, retail bakeries face more pressure to maximize product quality with longer shelf life – up to 5 or even 7 days. Those that can’t are facing extreme challenges due to labor shortages and the pressure by consumers to stretch their food dollars as much as possible.

For bread, “how do we keep that authentic crust. That’s the holy grail,” Ceule points out. “We have solutions. Now is the time to get back to innovation and understand the palates of the American consumers.”

Speaking at the Top Trends in Fresh FMI webinar with Circana, Jonna Parker of Circana explains that food costs remain an issue, particularly for low and middle-income consumers in America.

“The cost of food is too high. That perception is still the reality,” Parker says. “The idea of price to pay is as important as the actual price today.”

As a result of economic conditions, “how we shop at retail is so dramatically different” than in 2019, she points out.

Now, Americans make 200 trips per year for food and beverage purchases, more than before, but they are buying fewer units per trip. There’s been 32% higher price inflation across all foods.

At 42% higher, bakery price inflation ranks as the highest among all fresh departments.

“Yet that department is holding its own more than you might think,” Parker explains. “But we need to promote smarter if we really want to change volume moving through the system.”

A recent study conducted by Kerry reveals that one-third of consumers are willing to switch to brands or products that offer better shelf life.

This openness to change is being driven by consumers’ strong desire to act on food waste – a massive 98% of those surveyed were actively trying to minimize food waste, driven by various factors such as financial concerns, environmental considerations, and mindfulness of world hunger.

Meanwhile, 69% of consumers expressed an inclination to purchase products formulated to reduce food waste. This represents a significant opportunity for the food industry to innovate and create products that meet evolving consumer expectations.

The study, which involved 5,154 consumers across 10 countries, found that 72% of respondents believe that extending the shelf life of a product would help them reduce waste. Additionally, 74% of consumers consider preservatives to be important when making food purchases.