Organic Baking: Coming Of Age

One of the Asia-Pacific region’s fastest-growing industries, organic food, is soaring to new heights… and it’s promising to give bakers a piece of the $6 billion pie.

Australia’s appetite for organics is at an all-time high. Now, more so than ever before, consumers are confident organic farming principles can turn around environmental degradation, address climate change and treat animals ethically. What’s more, the idea food made with organic ingredients tastes better, is more nutritious and is safer to eat, has become widely accepted.

In fact, there is enough research on industry and consumer behaviours in the Australian organic marketplace to suggest the trend has mainstreamed. The Australian Organic Market Report – commissioned by Organics Australia and based on research by the Mobium Group, Swinburne University of Technology and the Australian Bureau of Statistics – shows a 15 per cent yearly growth in certified products, with private label brands, processed foods and greater affordability forecast to drive the trajectory onwards and upwards.

Against a dismal backdrop of slumping conventional food categories, the Australian organic industry – worth more than $1.72 billion dollars – is particularly impressive.

Fresh fruit and vegetables is the most purchased organic category, with just more than half of Australian households purchasing fresh organic produce last year. Baked goods weren’t far behind, with 37 per cent of households opting for bread, pies, croissants and biscuits with the organic seal of approval.

To get technical, the organic packaged bakery food market grew by 38 per cent between 2008-2013, raking in $110.4 million in sales – more so than most other processed food group including baby food, confectionery, ice-cream, oils and ready meals.

To put this into perspective, these figures mean more than half of all primary food shoppers in Australia claim to have bought at least one certified organic product in the past 12 months. One purchase a year may not seem significant, but these figures do demonstrate organic products are gaining greater penetration beyond the group of consumers who have traditionally purchased them. In a nutshell, organics is no longer in the domain of “greenies” and the health conscious.

Organic grain farmer-turned-chair of the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), Greg Paynter, said issues regarding food and chemicals will always circulate public discussion, giving certified baked products a competitive edge.

“Bread is the staff of life and people want bread that isn’t potentially contaminated with chemical residue. Fertiliser programs, excessively high cadmium levels, the treatment of grain while in storage, all of these non-organic processes and effects concern a lot of consumers,” he said.

It’s not all about safety. Greg says organic farming methods lead to bread that smells, tastes and feels better.

“When farmed organically, through the use of compost and minerals to balance the soil, the genetic expression of the grain’s characteristics is better released. The grain has better mineral content as well, which improves enzymatic reactions in the bread-making process,” he says.

“A lot of the enzymes aren’t destroyed in the organic farming method, for example, an organic flour mill may use a stone mill rather than a steel mill, which has proven health benefits.”

Before every baker in Australia sets out to revolutionise their product offering, there are a few hurdles the agricultural industry must first overcome. The organic sector was negatively affected by the drought of the mid- to late-2000s and, while production conditions have improved, the market remains under-supplied.

While there is growth in the organic grain sector, there is not nearly enough to sustain demand. And, with the growing popularity of on-trend ‘alternative grains’ such as quinoa, chia, kamut, amaranth and spelt, the OFA is among several agricultural and food bodies urging farmers to make the transition to organics.

“The OFA is trying to put together a forum to assist new entrants to gain the confidence to make the step into organics, to increase supply to meet the demand,” Greg says.

“Supposedly, amaranth makes the best bread-making flour – but the industry is not going to be able to benefit from it if it’s not being produced in the right quantities.

“At the same time, the organic industry needs to address maintaining quality – maintaining the nutrient-dense material they are providing the millers and the bakers, because they’ve got specifications for protein and other flour characteristics needed to produce the goods consumers want and expect.

“We’re providing them with an artisan product, so consequently, we have to make sure organic grain producers have the capacity to deliver.”

On the Street

Bake Bar Organic Artisan Bakery
In March, Bake Bar Organic Artisan Bakery folded in to demand and opened its second Sydney premises. Located in the heart of the city’s inner west, the new store hosts the business’ boutique wholesale arm, as well as a consumer storefront.

With the original Randwick venue at full capacity, Bake Bar’s co-owner Amir Regev says the brand’s philosophy of using only fresh, organic and sustainable produce is proving hugely popular.

“Our customers often tell us how much they appreciate the love, care and passion the team puts into every element of the Bake Bar experience,” Amir says.

Lead by head baker and co-owner Gili Gold, the team is passionate about producing food that is as good as it looks – and customers are willing to cover the costs.

“We find people are, in general, quite health conscious and they want to be aware of the ingredients that go into the food they eat,” Gili says.

“There is an increased awareness in the community now of the cost involved with producing food with organic ingredients. But they realise there are great health benefits of choosing organic products and are therefore willing to pay a little more for that benefit.”

For Wholegrain Milling communications and marketing executive Tammey McAllen, the goods coming out of Bake Bar’s ovens are the result of a long line of professionals committed to the organics cause.

“Right at the beginning of the process, we’ve got farmers who really know what they are doing supplying grain to Wholegrain Milling, where we have very good millers working the stone mill and the roller mill, and then you have good bakers – nothing about organic food happens in isolation,” she says.

“At the end of the day, organic bread is popular not because it’s a trend, but because organic flour is great flour. Organic flour doesn’t actually require yeast, so when bakers are making their flour doughs, they only need the most basic raw ingredients – that’s artisan baking And, it’s much more easily digestible than commercial products, which have so many additives.

“As one of the only multi-certified organic mills in Australia, we work with the baking industry’s best businesses, including Sonoma, Bourke Street Bakery, Organic Republic, Dench Bakers and Bills Organic Bread. The popularity of these businesses really shows the power of the organic movement and what can be achieved with good, honest ingredients.”

Having formed a strong network with grain growers across the country and seeing the end result in all demographics, Tammey – like Gili – is confident consumers believe in paying for what they get.

“Consumers want to know what is going into their body, and they can’t get that from supermarket bread. One of the key criteria in organic production is traceability, so if you want to know what you’re consuming, you have to choose organic,” she says.

On the Packet

Australian Certified Organic
Indeed, the increasing awareness of natural and organic products brings with it a strong responsibility to ensure the labelling of our products truly reflects the contents. The inconsistent implementation of the minimum standards required to meet current legislation breeds scepticism of the industry within consumers’ minds.

Truth in labelling and packaging is a major issue for the industry and is an amplifying issue for consumers who are seeking clarity on product source and content.

Shoppers are buying more organic dairy products than previously, making it the fastest-growing organic category in 2014.

The Australian Certified Organic logo is the most recognised organic certification mark – a significant leap of 22.5 per cent in awareness from 2012. In fact, according to the research, one-third (32 per cent) of shoppers say they would only buy a product labelled as ‘organic’ if it is certified organic.

Baked goods share the processing category with a range of everyday products, such as noodles, dairy, chocolate, condiments and beverages. Processor certification means the entire process of making a product has to meet the Australian Certified Organic Standard, with Australian Organic’s Kathy Cogo saying strict yearly auditing is required.

“Some processors think that just using certified organic flour means their product is organic, however, this is not the case. All ingredients must be certified organic and the product must be manufactured according to the Standard,” she said.

Having worked closely with a number of Australian Certified Organic millers around the country, including Kialla Pure Foods, Wholegrain Milling, Four Leaf Milling and Country Heritage Feeds, Kathy said bakers can be confident their key ingredients haven’t been sprayed with synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

“It gives your business a marketing difference, and can increase consumer trust in your product. It proves a third party can verify what you’re producing has no artificial additives, is made from free-range, pasture-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free ingredients,” she said.

“The result is a truly ethical product that shows customers you care about what you supply them.”

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