NEW YORK -- Reducing carb counts in the in-store bakery is anything but simple since carbohydrates form the basis of most baked foods. It doesn't mean that ISBs can't enjoy extra sales from low-carb baked goods, however, according to an expert on ingredients and manufacturing.
Dan Ettling, president of International Bakery Consulting Services, Vancouver, Wash., told SN there are many alternatives that can result in a reduced- or lower-carb product. Not all need be expensive.
"The development work that I've been involved with so far has been for the manufacturers trying to build on shelf space," he said. "They have the capability to invest the time and energy in developing something, and they're going to become very good at what they do."
To be sure, carb content is clearly having an impact on category growth, but it remains only a single factor.
According to Morgan Stanley's equity research division, the primary U.S. consumer packaged goods manufacturers "have only now begun to respond" to demand. The firm noticed two main tracks among them: Either they are reformulating products to reduce carbohydrate content, or highlighting existing low-carb foods on packaging.
Ettling, who has worked with chains like Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., and Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., said ISBs that do scratch baking of signature items have been looking at several options. Reducing carbs to a reasonable ratio -- 6 to 8 grams in a bread, for example -- can help spur demand while maintaining qualities like taste that help build subsequent sales.
"When you try to get down to 2 or 3 carbs, it becomes much more difficult to even make it look like bread," he said, adding that the best candidates for low-carb breads include those with flavorful grains or the rye varieties, since they can mask the off flavors produced by low-carb ingredients.
"The most difficult item to make is the white dinner roll because it's nothing more than flour," he said.
Bagels are also extremely difficult to duplicate in a low-carb version because the leathery crust that's the signature of an authentic bagel is created by gelatinizing starch on the surface, using boiling water or steam. "If you take that starch out, it makes it more like a doughnut-shaped dinner roll," said Ettling.
ISBs have several options to pursue on the ingredient level when developing scratch, low-carb items. Some recipes will allow for the addition of fiber, which accepts a lot of water and is not digested, Ettling noted.
Another choice relies on recipes using altered ingredients, such as non-digestible starches or proteins, to offset the decreased carb count. Non-carb ingredients like fats and eggs can also be increased, said Ettling.
"We can do some replacement without significantly altering the basic product," he said. "It's often a matter of one offsetting the other. You have soy flour that can be used to run up protein and fat, and reduce the carbohydrates."
Similarly, boosting egg counts can help retain the volume of bread mixes with reduced carbs since the "eggs coagulate at a lower temperature than starch." Of all the possible substitutes, fiber is likely the least expensive additive that produces a huge volume of proofed product, Ettling said.
While focusing on CPGs, one conclusion the Morgan Stanley report reached is that "there appears to be little impact on traditionally more indulgent products." It cited chocolate confectionary as largely unaffected by the dietary trends currently at work. Ettling agreed, saying his retail efforts would concentrate on specialty items that manufacturers do not make.
"Low carb isn't cutting into traditional business, but it can add to the business," he stated. "People aren't going to go on low-carb diets every day for the rest of their lives. Some hard-core people will live that way, but most people are going to enjoy regular baked goods during special occasions throughout the year, and diet in between."