French Bake-off Finds Lucrative Opportunities

Making good bake-off bread and pastries comes with complex challenges. However, thanks to today’s processing know-how and tailored ingredients, there are solutions to them all. Emeline Commun, marketing analyst, nutritional bars & bakery, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, highlighted some of them in an interview with us. 

The sweet aroma of fresh baking has been filling the air more often since the arrival of bake-off. Thanks to this convenient indulgence, consumers can enjoy oven-fresh bread or pastries wherever and whenever they like, on the spot. 

But sweet aroma is one thing; taste, texture, and appearance are another – and, the fact is, biting into a fragrant bake-off product can be disappointing. A tough crust, short-lived crispness or an unappealing shape or color is enough to spoil what should be a delicious, artisan-style experience.

Industrial bakeries have every good reason to focus their attention on the bake-off category. According to a Gira report of the European bakery market, bake-off is a beacon of opportunity in an otherwise mature market. In 2019, EU sales were forecast to grow 3.3% – with Germany, France and Spain as the biggest markets and unexplored potential in Italy and several Eastern European countries.

Dynamics in France

Today, French consumers have an increasingly busy lifestyle and with that, they change their consumption habits and purchasing behaviors. Convenience is now key for consumers when choosing food products. “This is why we see a surge in the number of fresh bakery counters at retailers and bakery chains: these “convenient” places to get bread are leading the growth of bake-off in France +2.7% in volume until 2021,” Anne Fremaux, director bakery Gira, told us. These distribution channels offer the possibility to get fresh bread all along the day and a variety of bread products for which the quality has become better over the last years. 

Several technologies currently dominate the bake-off category, and the distribution channel is a key factor in determining which technology is best for a given market. Par-baked bread is the ideal choice for retail sales direct to consumers or to bake-off outlets such as gas stations, as no skills are required for the final baking. Unproofed frozen dough, on the other hand, may require slightly more skill, as the outlet also needs to take care of the thawing and proofing process. Bake-off technology for pastries today includes non-fermented laminated dough that can be baked directly from frozen. From a distribution perspective, non-fermented croissant dough offers the advantage of being smaller and more stable to transport. The demands of storage and distribution make all types of bake-off bread and pastry complex to produce. Freeze-thaw stability and the viability of yeast must be managed to protect frozen dough against deterioration over time.

Another up-and-coming niche technology within bake-off is chilled dough, Commun highlights. Increasingly widely used in bake-off shops and pizzerias, chilled dough can either be distributed via a central bakery or made in-store and kept cool until use.

The Challenges 

Few people enjoy bread with a hard, dry crust that sticks to the teeth and is so brittle that it flakes off in chunks. But these are the quality defects many manufacturers battle with when producing par-baked bread. Contributing factors include the ingredients used to secure dough stability and volume and the ambient or frozen storage conditions of par-baked bread after it has been in the oven for the first time. Chilled dough is rarely used in the bakery industry.

The challenge for bakers is how to overcome the quality pitfalls when using bake-off technology and capture a slice of the market growth. In a survey conducted by DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, 13 European bakers and improver houses were asked about the main hurdles as they see them. 

The findings of the study show that crispness after the final baking is an important improvement area for 40% of the interviewees, while 30% pointed to shelf life in the freezer. A significant number also highlights their need for solutions that can optimize taste, texture and artisan quality. 

Whichever bake-off technology bakers choose, there will always be specific challenges to address. In par-baked bread, poor crumb stability after the first baking, for example, can cause products to ‘fold’, the specialist from DuPont illustrates. Crusts may also become brittle and flaky in the freezer, and that inevitably results in a less appealing final product.

Extending shelf life after the first baking is a primary hurdle in the lifecycle of par-baked bread stored at ambient temperature. With current market standards ranging from 10 to 15 days, new ways to keep the crumb feeling soft and fresh for longer are always of interest.

There are many good reasons for that. A longer shelf life creates opportunities to expand into remote distribution channels, stretch in-store display time and reduce waste – not to mention give consumers a sense of improved fresh-keeping quality. 

Achieving a longer shelf life means starting at the heart of the staling process:  the 70% starch content of wheat flour. From the moment par-baked bread emerges from the first baking, starch recrystallization starts to influence crumb firmness. And staling has begun.

Crispness Guaranteed

Requirements for crispness vary from product to product. The crust of a French baguette, for instance, must be quite hard and brittle, while other breads are required to have a shorter, flakier crust. The trick is to capture such preferences in a par-baked product after the second baking or in a bread made from dough that has been frozen for several months.

A sensory study at DuPont has compared the crispness of bread rolls made with DATEM, a dough-strengthening emulsifier, or an emulsifier-enzyme blend comprising lecithin and lipase. While DATEM was clearly the best choice for a harder, baguette-style crust, the blend gives opportunities to tailor crispness to other tastes. It is all about finding the solution that gives the right level of crispness for a given purpose – and which maintains crispness for the longest time after baking.

Chilled dough is an emerging opportunity in bake-off circles, driven by its irresistible ready-to-use convenience. For the producer, however, chilled dough places even greater demands on ingredient solutions that maintain its stability during storage and transportation, Commun illustrates. A common defect is the development of blisters – otherwise known as fish eyes – which give the baked bread a mottled appearance.

Market Drivers and Challenges 

Nowadays, consumer trends in France are driven by the out-of-home trend, where bake-off products see the highest growth. Consumers are also shopping more frequently in proximity stores, that are not all equipped with bake-off stations, but hard-discount stores will continue to develop their range of fresh bakery products, using the bake-off technology. Among these drivers, Gira includes the development of bakery chains and coffee shop chains. 

The French market also faces challenges such as almost no growth in fresh bread consumption, the perception of Viennoiseries as non-healthy products, and the saturation of the hypermarket segment: some players try to recapture the consumer by emphasizing the fresh food areas and sometimes come back to scratch baking. 

Despite these challenges, Gira anticipates that, in the following years, the French consumer will definitely ask for premium products. 

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