Bakers taking another hard look toward gluten-free bread

by Eric Schroeder
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KANSAS CITY — Boulder, Colo.-based Boulder Brands, Inc. made a loud entrance into the gluten-free baking business last year with the acquisition of Udi’s Healthy Foods. In short order the company stated its goal to become the No. 1 gluten-free company in the world.

While Boulder may be considered a “niche” company by some, the company’s sales are expected to approach $460 million in fiscal 2013, and a new gluten-free facility that opened in Aurora, Colo., last month will begin producing bread and boost Boulder’s ability to meet growing demand.

To this point, gluten-free has not registered with some of the nation’s largest bread bakers, but that may be changing.

“We tested gluten-free about two years ago in the Atlanta market fresh delivery and discontinued the test,” Allen Shiver, president of Flowers Foods, Inc., said during a November 2012 conference call. The products that were tested were done so under the Nature’s Own brand: Extra Fiber White and Healthy Multi-Grain. Cholesterol and trans fat free, the loaves contained 8 grams of whole grain and 3 grams of fiber per slice, and were tested in the Atlanta area in 20-oz packages with a suggested retail price of $5.99 per loaf.

But Mr. Shiver said current consumer trends have Flowers revisiting the idea of a gluten-free bread.

“We don’t have any firm plans today to enter into another market test, but it is certainly a consumer trend that’s very high on the radar, and we’re trying to determine the appropriate next step,” he said. “So, we’re focused on gluten-free.”

Meanwhile, Toronto-based George Weston Ltd. has cited the introduction of gluten-free products as a driving force behind sales gains in its Weston Foods fresh bakery division.

“Innovation is one of the areas where we are investing with a view to driving that growth,” Pavi Binning, president of George Weston, said in a July 30 conference call with analysts. “There are some good examples out there in terms of the gluten-free products that we’ve launched, (and) the flatbreads.”

The gluten-free products include All But Gluten baked goods, which were introduced in late April.

Manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free facility, the baked products meet Health Canada’s gluten-free regulations and are certified by the Canadian Celiac Association’s Gluten-Free Certification Program. The line includes whole grain loaf, cinnamon raisin loaf and sliced white loaf.

Horsham, Pa.-based Bimbo Bakeries USA created an entirely new subsidiary to gauge interest in the gluten-free market. Founded in late June 2012, Goodbye Gluten Bakeries has been offering in test markets a non-frozen, shelf stable gluten-free bread that adheres to the standards set forth by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. The company is offering two types of bread — white and multigrain — and two types of wraps — plain and multigrain — under the Goodbye Gluten label.

The new products, which use potatoes, tapioca, corn and rice, feature the tag line “great tastin’…no gluten!”

Bimbo Bakeries has not discussed its strategy on gluten-free, but Goodbye Gluten Bakeries describes its “promise” on its web site in the following way: “Goodbye Gluten products are certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, the world’s most trusted authority in gluten-free certification. This is an honor we do not take lightly. With each loaf of bread and every package of wraps we pledge to follow the quality standards outlined by the G.F.C.O., stay informed and up to date with new standards, and remain cognizant of gluten-free innovations. And last, but not least, we promise to excel in delivering delicious products for the gluten-free community.”

Another major baker, Pepperidge Farm, Inc., Norwalk, Conn., recently introduced gluten-free Goldfish Puffs snacks, but to this point has not detailed any plans for gluten-free bread.
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