As artisan breads become more and more popular, ingredient suppliers are evolving to meet the demands and challenges of this dynamic industry.

“Consumers associate artisan breads with freshness, authenticity and high-quality ingredients, so they align well with many of the emerging trends we’re seeing in the larger food industries,” says Andy Vollmar, director of food ingredients and specialty grains for Maumee, Ohio-based The Andersons Inc.

The trend can be explained largely by three “S” words, Vollmar says: storytelling, simplicity and sustainability. “Consumers are curious, and they want to know where their food comes from,” he says. “Artisan bread makers are realizing they need to share the story behind their products. Because of this, bakers are demanding a stronger connection to the farm, and we are well-positioned to facilitate that transparency in the supply chain. We regularly connect bakers with the farmers who are growing their ingredients.”

Demand for simple, pure ingredients among consumers also plays a role, Vollmar says. That’s why The Andersons’ products contain no additives and are made from 100 percent whole grains.

Don Trouba, senior director, go-to-market for specialty products for Denver-based The Annex by Ardent Mills, says there’s “an allure” to trying foods that were popular more than a century ago. “Ancient grains have a history, a locality and an ethnic tradition that many consumers find simple, comforting and reassuring.”

And the uptick in use of ancient grains, he says, has been accompanied by an increased interest in artisan. “Breads made with things like white sonora, rye and spelt are re-emerging,” he says. “In the past, wheat varieties were chosen for high yield and ease of growing. More and more, we are seeing more farmers looking to do something different and wanting to add more value to their farm.”

Scott Simon, director of technical service for ADM Milling, a division of Chicago-based Archer Daniels Midland, says that as the sandwich category evolves by offering more trendy, higher-end choices to entice consumers, the profile of gourmet artisan breads, which offer value and differentiation in foodservice operations, is rising.

“Artisan quality in retail-packaged bread is a growing trend,” Simon says. “Developers are putting a greater emphasis on higher quality flours and the inclusion of hearty specialty ingredients in addition to the use of special culinary processes.”

Courtney Schumacher, bakery marketing specialist for Beloit, Wisconsin-based Kerry, a division of Ireland-based Kerry Group, agrees  that artisan breads are continuing to become more popular in the U.S. As consumers become more aware of what they’re eating, she says, they’re demanding a return to more natural- and artisan-type breads, like sourdough.

“In addition to allowing consumers to feel better about what they’re eating, artisan breads are perceived as being more premium than traditional sliced bread,” Schumacher says. And with nearly three out of four U.S. bread-eating consumers willing to pay more for better quality bread, she says, citing Mintel data, artisan, small-batch breads help satisfy consumer demand for better quality, premium products.

Technology, creativity, variety

ADM’s broad range of high-quality flours — including organic and sustainably sourced options — and specialty ingredients such as heritage grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, help developers create new artisan products, Simon says. “We also provide in-depth technical expertise and consumer insights that help developers move from concept to launch faster to capitalize on this trend as quickly as possible.” 

Artisan bread baking is a long process, Simon says. Not only that: the use of limited ingredients means tolerance and consistency challenges can make growth and scale-up difficult. ADM, he says, works closely with developers to create custom solutions that can help minimize these problems. 

Incorporating whole grains and seeds in combination can create unique flavors and textures and a rustic, artisanal aesthetic, says Jerome Davis, technical solutions analyst at Innovative Bakery, a Tualatin, Oregon-based division of Ardent Mills dedicated to artisanal bread making at scale. “Seasonal bread loaves have become increasingly popular,” he says. “Pumpkin spice bread and apple strudel bread are popular in fall and winter. Spring and summer favorites include peach cobbler and blueberry bread.

Kerry produces a wide range of clean label ingredients for artisan breads, says Peggy Dantuma, the company’s director of technical sales. Products include biobake enzymes for shelf life and processing, sunflower lecithin for dough tolerance, non-allergan glaze for enhanced appearance and seasonings and natural bread flavors. Also on the roster: Kerry’s UpGrade,  a natural antimicrobial ingredient used to replace chemical preservatives, such as calcium propionate, which can be applied to yeast-raised and chemically leavened breads.

Top sellers, Dantuma says, include glazes, enzymes and fermented ingredients to differentiate product appearance and remove chemical ingredients.

From peppery amaranth to buckwheat’s rich notes, grains are getting more attention for the complex flavors, textures and color variation they bring to baking, and artisan bakers and their suppliers are capitalizing on it, Trouba says.

New grains, new capabilities

Multicolored grains like black rice, red quinoa and blue barley elevate grains beyond the usual beige and brown, adding visual appeal to hearty baked applications. “We’ve seen more interest in rye flour, which is milled from whole rye berries and is closely related to wheat flour,” Trouba says. “It has its own distinct flavor and is slightly darker than more traditional wheat, depending on how much of the bran stays intact.”

Jewish rye and pumpernickel are the standards when it comes to rye, but more bakers are experimenting with the grain and breaking away from the familiar application of Jewish rye with caraway seeds, Trouba says.

The Andersons Inc. offers both conventional and organic specialty flours milled from high-quality grains used to make artisan breads, says Vollmar. The Andersons also supplies a line of ancient grains, cereal grains, corn, pulses and soybeans and oilseeds, and the company works directly with a large network of growers and procures ingredients from a variety of sources. “This allows us to work alongside bakers to provide the high-quality ingredients that help make their products come to life,” Vollmar says.

Most recently, The Andersons began introducing a line of puffed, partially puffed and flaked grains, including quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice — all of which, Vollmar says, can add bite-friendly texture to artisanal baking applications. The Andersons’ product lineup, he says, is constantly evolving to keep up with the natural foods movement and changes in consumer preferences.

“While we’ve been a well-known corn and cereal grains supplier for many years, we’ve recently expanded those offerings to include more label options (Non-GMO Project-verified, organic, kosher) and additional varieties,” Vollmar says. The Andersons also has added several new product lines, including ancient grains, pulses, soybeans and oilseeds.

And by adding processing capabilities such as cleaning, milling, splitting and puffing, the company can offer its customers a more valuable finished product that they can use in a variety of applications. The company’s Purity Foods brand has been a recognized supplier spelt for years, he says. In addition, The Andersons recently invested in more storage so that it’s able to inventory additional products that are emerging as leaders in the artisanal category.

“We’re receiving more and more inquiries for additional ancient grain flours such as amaranth, buckwheat and emmer, as well as cereal grain flours like barley, rye and whole wheat, and pulse flours such as garbanzo bean and lentil,” he adds.

Kerry’s product mix also has evolved over the years, Dantuma says, as more emphasis has been placed on clean label ingredients that meet consumers’ flavor and nutrition expectations while also maintaining processing integrity.

The company’s size and trans-Atlantic footprint helps give it an edge on the competition when it comes to product development and customer service, Dantuma says. “Kerry is prime in the manufacture of a very broad portfolio of artisan ingredients allowing formulation flexibility on a global scale.”

In the past three years, Ardent Mills has added organic durum, organic cracked wheat and organic spelt to its product mix, says Shrene White, general manager of The Annex. “Our full organic product list now includes organic whole wheat flour, bread wheat flour, all-purpose wheat flour, organic pastry flour, organic cracked wheat, organic durum, organic spelt and various ancient grains.”

In recent years ADM has begun placing more emphasis on whole grains, heritage grains and pulse blends to deliver higher value differentiation, Simon says. “As the  category continues to grow, manufacturers are trying to balance the desire for automation to deliver tolerance and consistency yet retain authenticity. Most artisan bakers want to limit the use of regulating ingredients like dough conditioners which makes selecting the right flour critical for managing fluctuations in the process.”

ADM’s technical experts, he says, can help advise on the ingredients and process needed to maintain greater tolerance and consistency. 

A major driver of the artisan bread market, Schumacher says, is consumers’ longing for authentic taste experiences. Kerry is able to capitalize on this demand, she says, with its bread flavors portfolio, which includes fermented flavors and dairy flavors. Both help deliver authentic taste experiences to artisan breads, she says.

Challenges — and solutions