Organic is a term that for producers of baked goods can bring a sense of dread, complete with images of long nights spent on recipe R&D and even longer days trying to find steady sourcing. But we have good news for you: there are a number of operations that are making the change as we speak, and doing so with great success and surprising ease.
First and foremost, when it comes to recipe R&D, almost all agree it’s no different than that which you would apply to your conventional products. And while the cost-competition aspects of organic product development do present challenges, these producers say that not only is making the change worth it, but that even a little bit can go a long way — and having but a few organic ingredients can be promoted in a manner that will begin to increase profits with every step you take toward that official USDA seal.
“You can still have an organically-sourced product without having certification for your product,”says Kelsey Smith, a worker-owner at Small World Food, a bakery/fermentary that offers breads and granolas with organic and sustainable ingredients, all sourced as locally as possible. “Food producers are allowed to specify which of their ingredients are certified organic, and the percentage of them within the product.
“For a smaller operation, this means you can directly communicate your ingredient standards with your customers and therefore still capture the sales that are growing in the organic industry without being certified. But for larger operations, the investment of becoming certified is more beneficial. The USDA seal can quickly and effectively communicate your product standards to customers who you may not be interacting with face-to-face, but may find a higher price tag hard to justify without the seal.”
But outside of the seal, exactly how difficult is it to take one’s products and create an organic line?
“While emulsifiers and stabilizers can be a challenge to mirror,” Smith says, “it typically isn’t an issue when minor differences exist, as many people who choose organic over conventional products know that the lack of these ingredients will result in a different product. Being cost-competitive is a bit more of a challenge. Usually, it requires making a smaller product than the conventional options and possibly limiting which markets to be in.”
And of course with baked goods, sourcing and incorporating basic ingredients like flour is a major concern. Which kind you use and where you get it from will require a certain amount of experimentation, but it’s not near as arduous as some may fear.
This is according to Zachary Golper, co-owner and founder of Bien Cuit, a retail and wholesale bakery that is well on its way to making the crossover, sourcing out more and more of its ingredients organically, especially flours.
“Committing oneself to a new miller or distributor is taking on a series of hoops to jump through that take time and careful consideration,” Golper says of making the switch. “There is always the question of food cost and bottom line, and the customer never likes to see their prices go up. So making a shift in flour sourcing is either a practical decision regarding improving the quality of the bread and pastry, or an ethical one. If there is a way to make financially sound, ethically responsible decisions, I think it is in the best interest of all bakers to move in this direction.”
Smith concurs, but also acknowledges it can be a rocky road. “Typically the hardest part of organic product development is sourcing,” she says. “Not all ingredients are available or cost-competitive for the organic industry, and this can be limiting when developing new products. It’s important to determine the availability of an ingredient before investing too much time or energy into it.”
So in the end, is it really worth it?
“Absolutely,” Golper says. “We have made an ethical decision to move more and more in that direction, and are year over year increasing the landscape we affect.”
“It is 100 percent worth offering better quality products to customers from a morally, ethically, and profitability stance,” Smith agrees. “As food awareness grows, people are looking for clean label products that are better for their body and for the environment.”