Wooing the modern baker

To meet the demands of today’s enthusiastic home bakers, a variety of new and innovative baking ingredients are hitting store shelves

Home baking is hot, with the trend being fuelled by everything from popular TV shows such as The Great British Bake Off and YouTube channels that offer step- by-step instructions, to food blogs and Instagram feeds featuring home bakers’ proud postings of their latest creations.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in self-taught bakers and cake decorators, many of whom bake to express their creativity,” says Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing. “And there are those who bake because they want more control over the ingredients that go into their food.”

And when it comes to those ingredients, more Canadian consumers are looking for “authenticity and real ingredients” in their baked goods, according to a 2018 Sector Trend Analysis Report by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, including real sugar and real butter.

At the same time, large global brands are working to add healthy or functional elements to their home baking ingredients, while new, smaller brands are also cropping up to meet the demands of today’s consumers—whether that’s premium quality, organic, vegan, packed with protein, gluten free, non-GMO, or all of the above.

What are the current trends in baking ingredients? “The top three trends are alternative flours with sprouted grain flours coming into demand; vegan alternatives (such as nut milks and vegan “butter”) and superfood add-ins such as chia, matcha, and acai berries,” according to Charmian Christie, a Guelph, Ont.- based culinary instructor and author of The Messy Baker.

Indeed, today’s home bakers have access to a wide array of flours. While gluten-free, unbleached and whole wheat varieties have been around for some time now, these flours are being joined by almond flours, spelt flours, rice flours, sorghum flours and even flours from unexpected sources such as insects. Moreover, nutrient-rich ancient grains such as amaranth, buckwheat and kamut are making a comeback.

Healthy baking has been the mission of Bob’s Red Mill since the mid-1960s when its founder, Bob Moore, discovered stone-grinding flour mills as a way of making whole grain flour. “No modern technology can match the old-world engineering of a stone mill,” says Matt Cox, the company’s vice-president of marketing.

Today, the Milwaukee-based food company offers more than 400 products, including 59 varieties of baking flours.

“We continue to see an increased interest in home baking ingredients, particularly gluten-free and grain-free flours,” says Cox, noting “our top baking ingredients in Canada are our gluten-free and paleo-friendly flours (like almond, brown rice, coconut and tapioca flours), and new grain-free flours like cassava.”

Bob’s Red Mill also offers innovations like a gluten-free vegan egg replacer, reflecting the plant-based trend. Another example of this trend is a new vegan butter out of New York called FabaButter. Fora, the company behind it, has been getting a lot of positive press for the butter, which is made from aquafaba (the brine water leftover after cooking chickpeas) and is said to be close to the real thing in terms of taste and consistency.

Chocolate chips are also evolving to meet the demands of today’s consumer, with numerous fair trade, organic, dark chocolate (which has a health halo) and/or sugar-free options hitting the market. Ottawa’s La Siembra Co-operative’s Camino brand, for instance—known for its certified organic and fair trade chocolate—offers a wide array of baking chocolate products, including unsweetened (sugar-free) chocolate chips that are 100% cacao, launched late last year.

Effective merchandising of baking ingredients starts with understanding what customers want and offering quality products—along with signage and displays that draw attention. For instance, one Metro location currently features some of its alternative flours on a stand-alone display among other “locally sourced” products.

Metro also inspires baking ideas by including recipes in its flyers and stores. “We support all the traditional baking holidays,” says Alan Dunn, a category manager at Metro. “And we try to inspire additional occasions such as baking with fresh produce in the summer, and less traditional baking holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween.”

Furthermore, you may want to try organizing products according to lifestyle. This could mean creating a gluten-free section, a gourmet section, a vegan section, a dietary restrictions section, and perhaps even dividing organic and non-organic items. “This makes it easier for consumers to shop,” explains Nourish’s McArthur.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’August issue.

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