The bread of the future

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 10.20.27 AM

Food & Beverage Industry News looks at how sequencing of the wheat genome is set to open new doors in the development of bread for the health conscious.

Vivienne Stein, marketing services manager for Newly Weds Foods, has experienced some benefits from a side effect of the functional foods movement.

Working in the coatings and breadcrumb market, Stein says Newly Weds Foods was competing with major bakeries supplying into retail, as they collected returned bread from supermarkets to create cheap breadcrumb from their excess stock.

“However over time, developments of different types of bread with functional ingredients and additives made management of ingredient listings for crumb from returned bread very difficult. Ingredient listings became far too long for chicken and seafood processors using this crumb to include on their packaging. This became an opportunity for us as we had the ability to custom bake with a shortened list of ingredients to produce crumb.”

Stein’s insight into the increasing popularity of functional food can be painted into a trajectory of what’s to come in the future of bread manufacturing. The latest report from IBISWorld confirms that demand for basic bread is going down while “one significant growth area has been functional breads that have been enriched or fortified with nutrients”.

But will this trend come at the cost of a laundry list of ingredients in every bag of bread, or could the future of bread be the best of both worlds? A solution to boosting the nutritional value of bread without all the additives might not be too far away. Earlier this year, a comprehensive analysis of a wheat genome was published in the journal Genome Research.

The United Kingdom-led consortium provided the most complete map and assembly of the wheat genome to date. The project included input from University of Western Australia researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

The ARC Centre’s Owen Duncan, a co-author of the study, explains that this mapping will have significant ramifications for the bread industry, with the potential to breed new wheat strands that can naturally offer the benefits of functional foods, in the very near future.

Owen Duncan from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.
Owen Duncan from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

“When you know the sequence of a gene, it’s a bit like knowing the instruction manual, on how you can get the traits you want,” he explained. “Traditionally, to breed a new wheat gene from concept to commercial variety, it takes about 10 – 20 years, depending on the trait you are looking to exploit. With the sequencing we’ll see this speed up greatly. Now that we know exactly where those traits are in the genome, it could take as little as two to four years.”

This is especially good news for celiacs looking forward to better gluten-free bread products in the future. Through this study, Duncan and other researchers traced gluten proteins back to the wheat genes, and identified more than 100 gluten genes. This analysis will be vital to changing gluten content in wheat.

“We’ll be able to see what gluten is immunogenic. These are the peptides that the immunity systems of people with celiac disease react to,” says Duncan. “We might be able to modify the sequence and create glutens that are not immunogenic.”

The same theory of altering the wheat gene flows into functional foods, where extra nutrients may be able to be included in the wheat. With bread a staple of diets across the planet, this could improve the health of people the world over.   

“As for the bread of the future, I see bread as being able to be a complete nutritional source, naturally filled with all the vitamins and minerals we need, rather than having to add these in, and depend on processing,” says Duncan “We can create a wheat that could be a complete dietary source.”

Advances in wheat genome research could also help the bread industry manage input prices, by stabilising production with a more resistant strain. Duncan explains that other members of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have been able to trace back the sodium transporter – the trait that allows wheat to grow in saline fields. As a result, they increased the yield of wheat by 25 per cent.

This is all welcomed news for an industry that is suffering from decreasing margins. The IBISWorld report puts bread production revenue at $2.7 billion in 2016-17, with annual growth for the past five years at just 2.8 per cent. The report estimates annual growth for the next five years will be just 1.8 per cent.

“Profitability in the market is currently low, competition is high, and major players are having to adapt to lower prices,” said Sam Johnson, a senior industry analyst with IBISWorld. A lower wheat price would be welcome, as the domestic price of wheat is a key external driver in determining profitability.

IBISWorld’s report Bread Production in Australia aptly pointed out that “Higher flour prices therefore do not always result in higher revenue”. Although flour costs have dropped since their peak of 2014, they remain a risk for bread manufacturers in an increasingly competitive market.

Johnson’s advice to bread manufacturers looking to the future is to continue along the path of functional foods and premiumisation, rather than trying to compete with in-house supermarket brands on price.

“Companies need to be looking at incorporating newer, healthier ingredients, or even just promoting natural ingredients that are already in their bread,” said Johnson. “Customers need to perceive that the products are healthy.”

Sam Johnson, a senior industry analyst with IBISWorld.
Sam Johnson, a senior industry analyst with IBISWorld.