Vegan and plant-based bakery items fulfill a consumer desire for food as medicine and a form of self-care.

Greater acceptance of the term ‘flexitarian’ could allow more people to ‘flex’ into choosing vegan and vegetarian options.

Over the past 10 years, manufacturers have become increasingly in tune with consumer desires. This is in evidence by the continuing and often unpredictable currents of culture, identity, economic and entertainment that are creating a hyper-individualized approach to physical and mental health regarding how we choose to eat, according to Signs, Codes & Trends: How semiotics can align your brand with culture, The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. For some, this includes seeking out a plant-based or vegan lifestyle to accommodate concerns of health, animal welfare, environmental and/or human needs.

“Although vegan claims are growing, only an estimated 9% of consumers adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet,” according to Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager, Cargill, Minneapolis.

Cargill’s proprietary ClaimTracker research found among the general population, vegan claims have low impact, with 50+ other claims, including plant-based, registering higher purchase impact scores. “In contrast, plant-based claims achieved high-impact status with plant-based eaters, landing among the dozen most impactful claims included in the survey,” LeDrew continued. “This suggests a plant-based claim has a broader reach for both average U.S. consumers, as well as those who identify as a vegan or plant-based eater.”

Gauging the audience

Since many breads are commonly vegan, it makes sense that much of the innovation and growth in vegan baked goods is present in the desserts section, according to SPINS, Chicago. Mattson, Foster City, Calif., finds its clients are not targeting vegan consumers who still represent single digits in terms of market size.

Instead, Mattson recommends claims around plant-based or animal-free, which appeal to vegetarians and flexitarians, representing a wider market. During the 52 weeks ending Aug. 13, SPINS found bread and baked goods labeled vegan are growing at 5.8% compared to bread and baked goods not labeled vegan growing at 8.1%. In baked goods, coffee cake (28.9%), cupcakes (16.5%), muffins (24.1%), and pound cake (46.5%) showed growth.

“Label callouts of animal-free, cruelty-free, plant-based and veg-forward, appeal not only to younger consumers but can also be beneficial in terms of sustainable business practices that can also be good for the bottom line,” said Barb Stuckey, chief innovation and marketing officer, Mattson. “While one claim such as plant-based or animal-free is good, two claims are better.”

While the formulation of some vegan products can be simple, as in the case of artisan breads, vegan baked goods often have their challenges. Additionally, sourcing plays a role in ensuring vegan ingredients were processed in a vegan manner, according to Brian Ingram, marketing manager core portfolio and innovation, Dawn Foods, Jackson, Mich.

Evolution of the terms used within the marketplace is causing Dawn Foods to evaluate its approach, according to Ingram. He stressed ensuring customers know how to maintain the integrity of the vegan product as it gets to the end consumer including the use of marketing materials to help customers stay up to date as the market evolves.

“There is a fear of eating vegan and plant-based products if one isn’t vegan or vegetarian, but the term flexitarian is growing, and more people continue to flex into vegan and vegetarian,” he continued. “Therefore, it is a reminder that these products are for everyone, not just those abiding by a strictly vegan diet.”

New calculations

An ongoing demand for transparency and a desire for more veg-forward eating is finding companies incorporating ingredients in relation to the health of the planet and its population. This includes judicious use of precious resources that in turn help consumers facilitate conscious consumption, according to Mintel’s 2030 Global Food and Drink Trends report.

But the removal of certain ingredients can represent a complex challenge. Strong flavors, such as chocolate (either from cocoa powder or a plant-based chocolate), certain spices (such as cinnamon) or fruit filling, can help hide off-flavors, making them a good choice for vegan applications, according to Cargill.

A lack of eggs, which provide emulsification, can impact volume, texture, flavor and color. Milk contributes softness and moisture, provides baked goods a finer crumb structure, aids in browning and contributes to overall flavor. When both eggs and milk are removed, brands must replace those functions, typically turning to combinations of starches and hydrocolloids (gums) to fill in the formulation gaps, according to Dave Lindhorst, technical services manager, Cargill.

Despite the growing adoption and mainstreaming of plant-based and vegan eating, Alexandre Mahou, food service sales manager  - west, Overseas Food Trading, Fort Lee, N.J., acknowledges there is still work to be done around lingering misconceptions of vegan goods. These include a lack of adequate nutrition and some controversy around the use of vegetable fat as it relates to the subjects of deforestation, high processing and hydrogenation.

Nathalie d’Harveng, founder and CEO of Nats Rawline, a Belgium brand of plant-based raw cakes that partnered with Overseas Food Trading, Ltd., is familiar with the necessary trial and error of formulating vegan desserts. The vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free product replaces egg in the desserts with Yumgo, Paris, a 100% plant-based ingredient.

Mindful formulation

The desire to use plant-based ingredients to replicate traditional textures and flavors with an emphasis on sustainable and locally sourced ingredients is another strong trend in vegan baked goods, according to Abe’s Vegan Muffins, West Nyack, N.Y.

The company designates its product as vegan in order to clearly address the allergen concerns critical to its customer base. Additionally, ensuring nutritional balance is another factor that product developers need to consider when formulating vegan products, according to Kalyna DeAngelo, social media and marketing coordinator, Abe’s Vegan Muffins.

La Brea Bakery, Los Angeles, is witnessing creativity with the use of alternative dairy products in vegan baked goods. These are what Jon Davis, culinary innovation leader, Aspire Bakeries, describes as a “coffeehouse assortment” of milk as an enrichment agent for baked goods. This includes La Brea Bakery’s new launch of a vegan brioche bun that replaces traditional animal-based ingredients with plant-based substitutes.

Davis points out that it will always be important to gauge your audience and focus on how products will be perceived by the consumer when you are looking to make a decision around using plant-based or vegan in your marketing.

La Fournee Doree, Les Achards, Vendée, France, is a family-owned and family-run bakery offering vegan diversity to US retailers. Operating under the Brioche Gourmet label, its plant-based bakery products replace traditional eggs, milk and butter with non-animal products. These include brioche buns, a sliced loaf and individually wrapped croissants and chocolate croissants in the laminated vegan pastry category.

“Innovation is one of our core values. We are always following market trends,” said Julie Doudoux, manager, international products, La Fournee Doree. “We cannot resist a good challenge, so there was no hesitation when the market opportunity became clear and converged with increasing requests for plant-based brioche from family, relatives and friends.”

Sweets from the Earth, North York, Ontario, is another company committed to demonstrating vegan desserts do not lack flavor, texture or indulgence. Vegetarian since childhood, president and co-CEO Ilana Kadonoff attended pastry school to learn the craft and science of baking. There, she discovered no animals or animal by-products were necessary in the making of delicious baked goods.

Made with 100% plant-based ingredients, the products offer flavors without compromise of dietary choices with a focus on the long-term reduction of sugar, sodium and carbohydrates and increasing fiber and protein content, according to Marc Kadonoff, vice president and co-CEO, Sweets from the Earth.

“We believe that our commitment to providing delicious and wholesome plant-based desserts goes beyond just offering baked goods,” Ilana Kadonoff concluded. “By incorporating plant-based education into our marketing, we aim to be a reliable source of information for our customers on their plant-based journey.”

Open to Sustainability

The Hartman Group continues to see greater nuance when it comes to sustainability nomenclature, with 42% of consumers familiar with the term sustainability. For many companies, sustainability is synonymous with a future focus, leading with innovation and responsibility.

  • Abe’s Vegan Muffins’ new packaging has reduced plastic by 60%, versus its old packaging.
  • La Fournee Doree is developing more sustainable products within its vegan range. The company is also working on reducing its use of palm oil, launching a range of brioches free of palm oil, in addition to a reduction in packaging waste and decreasing energy consumption.
  • Cargill’s LeDrew hypothesizes that it will be interesting to see how the push for more sustainable food choices impacts the plant-based bakery space, and if those concerns prompt more consumers to embrace plant-based eating.
  • Overseas Food Trading has been a carbon-neutral company since 2016 and is also working toward becoming a zero-waste company by sourcing natural and organic products and sustainable embellishments.
  • Sweets from the Earth builds sustainability into its innovation, R&D, product development and facility and planning processes. Cakes and cheesecakes are baked and sold in the same energy-efficient, recyclable pans, eliminating the need for washing dishes, saving valuable water resources, using only biodegradable cleaners to clean its facilities, and using recyclable packaging.
  • Aspire Bakeries, playing across all its brands of La Brea Bakery, Otis Spunkmeyer, La Francaise Bakery and Oakrun Farm Bakery, is committed to the ethical sourcing of ingredients with ongoing initiatives and activities designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy, water and waste going into the landfill. 

This article is an excerpt from the October 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Vegan Bakery feature and more in the digital edition here.