KANSAS CITY - Today’s interest in organic may be intensified, but organic’s growing popularity is nothing new. Consumers are eating more organic food and using more organic products than ever before, according to the 2020 Organic Industry Survey released by the Organic Trade Association. The US organic sector posted a banner year in 2019 when organic food sales reached $50.1 billion, up 4.6% from the prior year.

To meet growing consumer demand for organic options and to take hold of opportunities in the organic space, bakers must adhere to rigorous manufacturing requirements and secure a reliable supply chain of organic ingredients, all while delivering the delicious sensory experience consumers expect of baked goods.

Influenced by COVID, all staple categories, including breads, rice and grains and baking supplies, such as flour and baking yeast, are expected to see increased growth in 2020, provided supply can meet demand. 

Laura Batcha, chief executive officer and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, points out that normal lives have been brought to a screeching halt by the coronavirus.

“The commitment to the organic label has always resided at the intersection of health and safety, and we expect that commitment to strengthen as we all get through these unsettled times.”

The location of organic hotspots has not changed significantly in recent years. They are particularly strong on the West Coast, where a single hotspot of contiguous counties stretches from California to Washington. Smaller hotspots also appear in the northern Midwest anchored on Wisconsin, in several parts of New England and the northern Mid-Atlantic states, plus a few additional isolated areas.

Based on sales data from the past three calendar years, the 2020 Specialty Food Association's annual State of the Specialty Food Industry Report reveals a robust specialty food industry hitting $158.4 billion in sales, a 10.7% increase since 2017.

Foodservice and online sales continued to grow through 2019, prior to the pandemic, with food inflation playing a role in the three-year industry growth as unit sales did not keep pace with dollar sales. In brick-and-mortar retail, the specialty food and beverage market continued to outpace sales of all food, growing three times faster than the entire food and beverage market during 2017-2019. In 2019 more categories than ever before (12) achieved at least $2 billion in annual sales.

"The impact of COVID-19 on the specialty food industry cannot be underestimated," said Bill Lynch, interim president of the SFA. "Food retail is an essential business channel and while that has been beneficial to sales for our members, many of whom are small businesses, the overall landscape is both optimistic and uncertain."

Flavors and fragrances

Understanding the movements influencing flavor and fragrance trends is critical to navigating changing demands and uncovering new opportunities. Representatives from Flavorchem and Orchidia Fragrances, presenting at the Flavors and Fragrances 2020 conference, delivered a curated presentation revealing the top trends influencing both sectors and how those trends translate into the flavors and fragrances seen in the marketplace today.

Home Sanctuary: COVID-19 has fueled demand for products that promote exploration and discovery at home. Unique flavors and fragrances offer a heightened sensory experience for adventurous consumers and create opportunities for niche products to expand into the marketplace. Brands trial their latest scent offerings with a variety of discovery kits that consumers can test at home

Health & Wellness: The quest for better-for-you alternatives remains strong as consumers seek out products with added benefits. Food and beverages that contain immunity, digestive and other functional claims and fragrances featuring relaxation and energy claims gain immense traction. Mintel reports that 45% of millennials would give up alcoholic beverages in order to improve their health as margaritas and peach bellinis transform into both mocktail beverages and scents.

Responsible Consumerism: Consumers trust and support brands with a strong purpose as sustainability turns into an expectation. Clean and free-from labels usually require products to exclude specific processed ingredients as consumers gravitate toward more naturally based food and fragrances. Reduce, reuse and recycle remains a top priority as brands look ahead towards more eco-friendly practices.

Retail response

There is clear evidence that supermarkets are embracing organic and all-natural bakery products in a positive manner.

ShopRite has announced it is expanding and rebranding its award-winning Wholesome Pantry and Wholesome Pantry Organic product lines that are available at all of its stores in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Wholesome Pantry products will also be available at Fresh Grocer stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer are supermarket banners of Wakefern Food Corp., the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the country.

The popular private label brand of clean ingredient, affordable foods is being reintroduced this month with an updated look and feel, select new and innovative products, and a fresh tagline, “Food Set Free.”

“We’re thrilled to be introducing a bold new look for this beloved brand,” said Chris Skyers, vice president of Own Brands at Wakefern Food Corp. “Since its debut four years ago, the Wholesome Pantry line has offered delicious, free-from and organic products that are both budget-friendly and accessible. Now we’ve taken it to the next level, updating the brand with even more innovative products that we’re confident our shoppers are going to love.”

ShopRite plans to add dozens of new Wholesome Pantry products over the next 24 months, including baking, condiments, dry pasta, grains, snacks, seafood and meatless entrees. Shoppers can purchase the new products in store, or online via ShopRite’s online shopping service, ShopRite from Home.

The tagline for the new campaign, “Food Set Free,” will be prominently displayed as part of the relaunch, which will be supported by a robust digital marketing program. As part of the campaign, shoppers will be able to download online recipe suggestions and view live cooking demonstrations on the supermarket’s corporate Facebook and Instagram accounts. The demonstrations will feature members of ShopRite’s dietitian team.

“For customers looking for organic or better-for-you options, our Wholesome Pantry line is a great solution that checks a lot of boxes when it comes to feeling good about the meals you serve yourself and your family,” said Natalie Menza-Crowe, MS, RD, director of health and wellness at Wakefern. “We’re excited about Wholesome Pantry's refreshed look and feel.”

Supply side economics

On the supply side, the momentum and interest in introducing organic products continues to swell. Lesaffre North America’s portfolio of dough conditioning systems offers organic solutions for dough improvement in a variety of bakery applications, including baguettes, bagels, pizza crusts, mixes, frozen dough, par-baked, retarded doughs, no-time doughs, white breads, wheat breads and buns.

As the National Organic Standards Board evaluates whether conventional dry yeast is acceptable for organic baked goods, Lesaffre Corp. developed its Red Star Organic Dry Yeast to enable commercial bakers to produce organic bakery items even if NOSB decides to sunset conventional yeast from its standards.

“This is the first organic yeast product that craft bakers can use to satisfy organic baking regulations,” said Bill Hanes, vice president, marketing and strategy, Lesaffre. “There are no similar products in the market. Craft bakers have been forced to use non-organic yeast.”

Products and applications include Red Star Organic Instant Yeast, a baker’s dry yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) produced using ingredients that are approved for use in USDA NOP Organic Certified (95% 0rganic) products, and Red Star Organic Block Yeast, an organic leavening agent composed of living yeast cells derived from a pure culture of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Also available is Red Star Organic Certified Cream Yeast, which is a baker’s dry yeast derived from a pure strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and may be used directly as an organic liquid yeast or further processed to produce organic compressed yeast or organic yeast extracts.

Malt Products Corporation, a manufacturer of malted barley extract and other natural, nutritious sweeteners, has experienced an uptick in demand for its all-natural sweeteners in the burgeoning vegan ice cream market. The increased interest showcases both heightened consumer engagement with pantry-friendly ingredients and the particulars of providing vegan dairy alternatives with attractive taste and texture.

Finding the right sweetener for vegan ice cream has two main challenges. First and foremost, not all sweeteners are vegan certified; for example, many common sugar products depend on animal parts, such as bone char, for coloring improvement. The other issue is the market segment: consumers seeking vegan food options largely intersect with those demanding all-natural, pantry-friendly ingredients. This proclivity often eliminates from consideration high-fructose corn syrups and other prominent sweeteners, even if they could technically be considered vegan.

Once those factors are addressed, texture become another significant consideration. Here, all-natural sweeteners like MPC’s TapRite tapioca extract and RiceRite brown rice-based sweeteners offer a lower dextrose equivalent (DE), provide bulking and control ice crystal growth – bringing a creamy consistency to vegan ice cream that may otherwise be difficult to realize. Meanwhile, sweeteners like MPC’s OatRite oat extract, as well as certain vegan-certified items in its CaneRite sugar cane molasses portfolio, help provide appropriate taste to popular flavors such as mocha, crème brulee and cookies and cream.

Vegan ice cream is just one of many food and beverage applications with which Malt Products Corp. customers can experiment through the company’s new Innovations lab. The new space is designed for MPC customers to test ingredients, try new formulations and gain insight into critical flavor and stability properties. The lab incorporates a variety of recent infrastructure investments including ovens, mixers, shearers, proofers and temperature-controlled incubators, as well as analytical equipment such as spectrometers and instruments monitoring water activity and rheology.

“The emergence of vegan ice cream is a logical next step from non-dairy ice creams, which have been incredibly popular for quite some time,” said Amy Targan, president of Malt Products Corp. “Companies trying to create niche version of traditional food products – in this case, ice cream – frequently face challenges finding ideal formulations that meet specific criteria while still appealing to a target consumer subset. Many are finding our MaltRite, OatRite and certain molasses varieties as highly attractive options to sweeten vegan ice cream, which can be a delicate dance from an ingredients perspective.”

This story was featured in the November issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Click here for the full issue.