Better for me; Better for the Earth.
For years, this mantra has been a foundational element of the all-natural and organic bread movement. With strong roots cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s, organic and all-natural categories continue to draw new consumers looking to experience health and well-being through tasty food.
Today, organic and all-natural products are no longer associated solely with health food stores. Ubiquitous, they’re widely available in both the center bakery aisle and the perimeter bakery. A February USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) report found organic products are now available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly three out of four conventional grocery stores.
Data from USDA ERS shows that consumer demand for organically produced goods continues to show double-digit growth. Organic food grew by 12.8% in 2020 to about $57 billion, a faster rate than conventional food, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Washington, D.C. Organic bread and grains account for 9% of category sales with price premiums remaining high in many markets.
Mordor Intelligence predicts that the global bread market will register a CAGR of 1.43% (2019-2024) with fortified, clean-label and organic bread being the preferred bread categories across the world. The global organic bread flour market was valued at $635.2 million in 2021 and is growing at a CAGR of 6.15% (2021-2027).
Rise in health-conscious consumers
Continuing interest in all-natural and organic products, which require production without genetic engineering, ionizing radiation or sewer sludge, can in part be explained by more consumers possessing a growing sophistication regarding the connection between food and health and the impact of one’s purchases on the earth.
Ardent Mills, Denver, regularly conducts research to understand key drivers and identify new areas of opportunity for innovation. Coined Drivers of Innovation, the consumer-induced research has led to a focus on ingredients in the food as medicine and the well and good spaces.
“The food as medicine category showcases the true health potential of organic grains and flours through solutions that may offer functional benefits that can help contribute to gut health, higher fiber and protein and immunity boosters,” said Matthew Schueller, director of marketing insights and analytics, Ardent Mills.
As understanding of the organic market grows, manufacturers are working closely with customers to identify the right approach to educate consumers on what organic is – and isn’t – and why it matters, shared Lindsey Morgan, Ardent Mills’ head of product marketing.
OTA found that ongoing interest in organic is boosted by younger generations, the outspoken Millennials and Gen Z consumers who use all-natural and organic purchases to promote ecological balance and biodiversity. This includes the ongoing popularity of whole and alternative grains and plant-based proteins that supply nutrition, protein and fiber to diets. These consumers seek out products with a deeper focus on quality and transparency and a demand for products with natural ingredients and functional attributes, making bread the perfect vehicle.
A study from the American Bakers Association (ABA) found that 78% of Millennials eat carbs and most of those consumers (70%) have also purchased bread in the last week. Ninety-four percent of US consumers say they purchased a bread or bakery item in the last six months, according to the Barry Callebaut Baking report.
“Their (ABA’s) collective consumption indicates that consumers are not concerned with eating bread so much as they are looking for bread that identifies with the nutritional descriptors of ‘whole grain,’ ‘freshness’ and ‘natural ingredients,’” said Alexander Salameh, COO, Bakery de France, Rockville, Md.
Bridor, USA, Boucherville, Canada, is one of a growing number of bakery manufacturers looking to increase the ability to meet bakery demand with frozen and parbaked bread products that lower complexity and alleviate issues caused by labor shortages in the bakery. In keeping with European traditions, Bridor’s soft artisan breads, oval-shaped bagnat breads, buns and rolls and artisan-style loaves emphasize a minimum of ingredients. Products within its Clean Label program ban more than 150 undesirable ingredients.
Long before the creation of organic certification and the establishment of the US National Organic program in 2002, there were bakeries producing all-natural breads with organic ingredients. These bakeries served an audience already knowledgeable of the benefits of natural ingredients in the form of delicious organic breads.
One of those examples is Alvarado Street Bakery. The Petaluma, Calif.-based bakery began baking organic breads in 1978. Today, the worker-owned and worker-operated business continues to support organic farming that encourages the health of its customers and workers while protecting the environment. Applying “outside the box” baking, the company incorporates ingredients such as hemp, hops, flax, chia and coffee flour milled from the fruit of ripe coffee cherries to demonstrate the versatility of healthy whole-grain products.
Another longtime player in the organic category is Rudi’s Rocky Mountain Bakery, Boulder, Colo., which began producing bread and other baked goods in 1976. The company began using organic ingredients in 1991 and, in 1998, the bakery participated in an organic certification program, prior to the finalization of the national organic standards. The company’s small-batch organic breads contain between 95-100% organic ingredients, as monitored by Quality Assurance International, an independent organic foods certification company.
The solar-powered baker also collaborates closely with the farmers who produce its ingredients to minimize agriculture’s impact on the environment, conserve energy and reduce waste in-house. Through this partnership, the company continues to find inspiration for new organic bread varieties made without artificial ingredients, preservatives or GMOs including a line of bread, tortillas and English muffins made with spelt, an ancient relative of wheat.
Bakery de France attributes ongoing innovation within organic and all-natural bread products to a return to nature and finding better ways to produce naturally and efficiently – continuing an evolution, not a revolution. The company’s Free From Collection is free from chunking, moulding and processing, allowing the product to take on its own shape, just as a bread would when made by a neighborhood baker.
“Remaining true to nature is at the core of our beliefs. We believe that minimal processing with simple ingredients is inherently a more sustainable way to produce artisan bread,” Salameh said. “In certain cases, using key organic ingredients can be of varying importance to consumers. In some instances, the desire for organic products is satisfied by an all-natural process and augmented by the inclusion of organic ingredients.”
Working with formulations containing whole and ancient grains, Bakery de France relies on long fermentation to produce healthy and delicious products without the need for added sugars. To increase awareness of the whole grain content of its products, the company partners with the Oldways Whole Grain Council to engage with consumers and use packaging to tell a story.
To continue to engage with consumers, the narrative of all-natural and organic must also be accompanied by one of sustainability. These issues, which briefly took a backseat during the pandemic, are back in force according to the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. The group cites a reigniting of the topic because of “broadening and emphatic demands for social justice, a renewed spotlight on climate change and broadened concerns about environmental and social wellbeing.”
No longer just about the environment or personal beliefs, sustainability is merging as a complete moral system, one that guides decision-making with aims toward enhancing the greater good.
“Sustainability is on the minds of shoppers, especially younger consumers,” Morgan said. “Consumers are thinking more about the details of the inside and outside of the package. Where does it come from? Who is growing it? Is it sustainable?”
With increased transparency into how these questions get answered and a commitment to processes designed to minimize waste and reduce environmental impact, all indications forecast a strong market for organic and all-natural breads far into the future.
Those looking for the next level in organic innovation are increasingly turning to breads fortified with sprouted grains, whole grain seeds that have begun to sprout. Available for use whole or dried and milled into flour, the compounds supply fiber, minerals and bioactive compounds such as antioxidants.
The edible seeds of cereal grasses are composed of germ, endosperm and a protective outer layer of bran. The germ contains the concentrated oils and nutrients that enable the grain to become a sprout, and the endosperm sustains the growth of the germ as it pushes into the soil to become a plant. There are a diverse range of grains suitable for sprouting including clover, alfalfa, corn, whole grain wheat, barley, millet, rice and oats.
Those looking to further diversify an all-natural bread offering might want to consider cricket powder. Rich in B vitamins, amino acids, calcium and a rich source of protein, cricket powder is a sustainable food ingredient that uses less energy, feed, land and water than livestock and other crops.
The Griopro, Athens, Ga., process microencapsulates the fats, oils and other nutrients into tiny protein particles. The product is available in a powder or a more-coarse meal, offering bakers a high-quality, complete protein source.
The USDA National Organic program is an authorized certifying agent following all USDA organic regulations.
- 100% Organic – organic ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural)
- Organic – contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water), up to 5% may be nonorganic ingredients
- Made with Organic – Contains at least 70% organic-produced ingredients (excluding salt and water)