Functional bread gains footing in France

Related tags Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty Nutrition France

French baker Paul has launched bread containing omega-3 fatty acids
as functional products gather pace in France's boulangeries,
despite some industry and public scepticism after years of poor
product development, reports Chris Mercer.

Paul said it has used flax oil, famous for its high omega-3 content, to make its new 'Lin-dispensable' bread, in order to break in to a growing healthy lifestyle trend among French consumers.

The firm said Lin-dispensable, a pun on the word and the fact that it also contains linseeds, was ideal for a range of meal occasions, including sandwiches, toasting or as an accompaniment to a main course.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been subjected to numerous medical and clinical trials suggesting they carry a range of health benefits for consumers, including reduced risk of heart disease and heart attacks, as well as benefit for the brain, particularly in children.

Lin-dispensable sits at the top of Paul's price range, costing €2 for 400g compared to €1.50 for a normal 'Paul' loaf, and its launch is the second example in as many months of France's bakery industry acknowledging an emerging demand for premium, functional products.

The first was the launch of the Optimatin baguette by rival bakery chain Florentín. Optimatin, developed by food scientist Claude Godard, claims to contain a mixture of nutrients and added fibre that prevent the urge to snack by making the consumer feel full for longer.

The development of Optimatin was partially backed by the French government, keen to act against the country's rising obesity rate. The baguette is shaped to be cut into six parts - three for breakfast, two for lunch and one with dinner - to encourage people to eat in moderation throughout the day.

Optimatin was recently launched across 2,000 boulangeries in France and costs around €1.20; €0.50 more than a standard baguette.

Some bakers, however, believe that is 50 cents too much and accused Optimatin of being a rather expensive gimmick.

"I'm not sure how good it will be. The problem with most bread is that it might be good for you in some ways, like having lots of fibre in, but it might also contain loads of salt and sugar as well,"​ said one baker who gets supplied by Florentín and wished to remain anonymous.

Optimatin is actually fairly low in sugar, only containing around 1.6g of sugar per 100g. It also contains 14.5g of protein and 5.4g of dietary fibre per 100g, yet saturated fat content is 6g - more than a quarter of the recommended daily allowance in the UK.

The baker also said he thought Optimatin might struggle to break into the mainstream, and likened it to organic baguettes that are still on the fringes of consumer buying habits.

Functional bread products have had a rough time generally over the last few years, accounting for just six per cent of sales in the functional bakery and snack sector in 2003, according to market research group Euromonitor​.

Progress in France has also been significantly slower than in the UK or Germany. British functional bread sales reached €9.5m ($12.1m) in 2003, with Germany way out on €26m, compared to France's €237,000. France saw little increase last year.

Only five per cent of French consumers said nutrition and health were the most important factors in food purchasing, compared to 26 per cent who cited changes in product flavours, according to Irish bakery foodservice firm IAWS, citing a recent survey published by Irish food agency Bord Bia.

But there remains significant potential for functional bread on the French market in view of the country's burgeoning functional biscuit and cake segments, estimated to have notched up combined sales of around €71 million in 2003.

Omega-3s could now be the catalyst for growth. The European market for omega-3 PUFAs is worth more than €161 million, constituting 28 per cent of the global market volume, according to Frost & Sullivan​.

More functional food development may also emerge from current reforms to the EU's health claims legislation.

Member states are working on lists of general health claims to be submitted to the European Food Safety Authority, and the UK's voluntary claims body has already approved a claim from omega-3 producers.

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