Study examines consumer preferences for bread

by Eric Schroeder
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ST. PAUL, MINN. — Taste, which long has been identified as a key inhibitor to consumer acceptance of whole grain products, may not be as much a barrier as once believed, according to a new study published in the Journal of Food Science.

The study, led by Alyssa Bakke and Zata Vickers from the University of Minnesota, examined 89 participants from the University of Minnesota campus to determine the liking patterns of consumers who preferred whole wheat bread and consumers who preferred refined bread. Of the 89 participants, 32 stated ahead of the study that they preferred refined bread, with the remaining 57 stating a preference for whole wheat bread.

Following completion of the study, though, the lines of preference were blurred, with 26 choosing refined bread, 22 choosing whole grain, 39 choosing mixed (ingredients included both refined and whole grain flours) and 2 providing no information.

"A segment of the consumer population liked refined breads better than whole wheat breads, indicating that sensory properties are a barrier to consumption of whole wheat bread," the authors wrote. "A large proportion of participants, however, liked the commercially available samples of refined and whole wheat bread equally well, which may indicate that taste is not as great a barrier as has been previously assumed."

In conducting the study, the researchers took nine bread varieties and placed them into one of four comparison sets.

The first comparison set included refined and whole wheat bread made from red wheat using equivalent methods and ingredients, while the second set included refined and whole wheat bread made from white wheat using equivalent methods and ingredients. In both comparison sets, the bread was prepared using AACC International Approved Method 10-10B "Optimized Straight-Dough Bread-Baking Method." Flour for the bread was provided by Minneapolis-based Cargill.

The third comparison set included Country Hearth Kids Choice and Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat — described by researchers as "top selling refined and whole wheat bread varieties." The fourth set was made up of two artisan refined and whole wheat blends — Breadsmith Country White and Breadsmith 100% Whole Wheat, Whole Grain.

In the case of the first two comparison sets, the bread was stored for approximately 18 to 20 hours before slicing, while the bread for the top selling and artisan comparisons were purchased within 24 hours of tasting, the researchers noted.

About 3 to 8 hours before tasting, the bread was cut into half-inch slices, with each slice then cut in half vertically so that each half contained portions of both top and bottom crust.

Prior to tasting, participants were given the option of adding butter or margarine to the bread. According to the researchers, 44 chose to use butter, 9 used margarine and 34 used no spread; 2 participants did not provide this information.

Participants then removed the bread and rated their liking of the appearance. They then tasted the samples to rate overall liking, flavor liking and texture liking. Ratings were based on a labeled affective magnitude scale with 120 points being the "greatest imaginable like" and 0 being the "greatest dislike imaginable."

Finally, the participants completed a questionnaire in which they indicated their preference for either refined bread or whole wheat bread, giving reasons for their decision.

"On average, refined breads were better liked than whole wheat breads for the panel as a whole," the researchers concluded. "This greater liking was primarily due to the comparisons between the laboratory-produced breads. Refined breads were better liked in the comparisons with equivalent ingredients and processing steps. The panel liked the refined and whole wheat top selling and artisan breads equally."

According to the researchers, taste was the reason most commonly cited for preferring a particular bread, with 82% who preferred whole wheat citing taste and 73% of refined bread backers citing taste. Texture and nutrition also ranked high on reasons for choosing a particular variety, with 94% of those who preferred whole wheat citing nutrition, compared with just 13% of refined bread consumers.

The researchers found that top selling and artisan whole wheat bread varieties were better liked than the laboratory whole wheat bread, a clear sign that bakers and food manufacturers already have found ways to increase consumer acceptance of whole wheat bread.

Another interesting finding from the study was the fact many participants who said they preferred whole wheat bread did not actually choose whole wheat bread.

"It is likely that consumers who like both refined and whole wheat breads equally are still choosing to buy and consume refined wheat bread despite the nutritional superiority of whole wheat bread," the researchers wrote. "This represents a missed opportunity to incorporate whole grain breads into the diet. This disconnect may be explained by the nearly universal appeal of refined bread.

"Individuals or institutions may serve only refined bread products because nearly all consumers will accept the product, whereas whole wheat bread products will be disliked by some. The food dislikes of a minority of consumers may dictate the eating behavior of the rest. Other reasons for this disconnect could be that whole wheat breads are less available and perceived as more expensive, and consumers have a difficult time identifying whole grains."

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