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QSR Feature
Breakfast Breads

To raise awareness of and help consumers find whole grains on restaurant menus and at other food outlets, the Whole Grains Council introduced the “Whole Grain Menu Symbol” in January 2008. Just like the Whole Grain Stamp found on food products in grocery stores, the Menu Symbol makes it easier for consumers to find foods containing at least half a serving of whole grains. Restaurants, cafeterias, and other food establishments can put the symbol next to any dish that meets the requirements, including whole grain breads and flatbreads.

The Fruit Mix

For those looking to go against the grain, there’s another category of breakfast breads on the rise: fruit breads. Traditionally, these are breads that add fruit to a normal bread recipe and, typically, some spices or nuts. These are the breads Tom Gumpel, head baker for Panera Bread, thinks of when he hears the term breakfast breads.

Panera Bread, which has 1,252 bakery-cafés in 40 states across the country and in Canada, prides itself on preparing fresh-baked bread every day. “In my mind the category specifically refers to bread that is used to replace a meal. It is the toast we eat over the sink in the morning before heading to work,” Gumpel says. “It is the bread that fills a lot of people’s breakfast needs.”

One of the classic, and most popular, fruit breads sold at Panera Bread is its cinnamon-raisin loaf. The loaf has been on the menu for years, Gumpel says, but recently underwent a makeover. “It needed a little TLC, so we decided to upgrade the quality based on customer feedback,” he says. “Cinnamon bread is a pastry in a sense—it’s the right balance of sugar and cinnamon that excites people.” Gumpel’s team figured out a way to create pellets of whole grain that are fully flavored with cinnamon, “so that every bite has that lustful flavor.”

Since the change in formulation, Gumpel says sales have doubled. Based on consumer reaction, Panera plans to expand into more fruit breads, taking that same philosophy of great flavor and portions that will sustain consumers, he says. “Fruits, nuts, and spices are a core mixture that has the potential for all kinds of combinations. It’s a huge opportunity,” he says, adding that Panera introduced a number of additional fruit breads in April 2009.

Great Harvest Bread Co. also has tapped into the trend with a range of fruit breads on its menu. Among the offerings: Apple Cherry Pecan; Apple Cinnamon Walnut; Apple Crunch; Apricot Almond; Cherry Apple Berry; Cherry Walnut; Cinnamon Raisin Walnut; Cranberry Orange; Golden Wheat Apple; Merry Berry; Pumpkin Nut and Spice, and Red, White, and Blueberry.

The fruit angle is extremely important, says Jeffrey Hertzberg, M.D., M.S., co-author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Thomas Dunne Books). “The USDA is now saying that we need nine—that’s right nine—servings of fruit and vegetables per day. That’s not an easy number to reach,” Hertzberg says. “Americans are starting to recognize that we should be eating more fruit than we’re currently getting.” Fruit breads provide a way to get these important ingredients into our diets, says Hertzberg, who has a second book, Healthy Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, due out in December 2010 that showcases breads made from healthier ingredients like whole grain, fruits, and vegetables.

Hertzberg expects to see more of the so-called super foods in baked goods. For example, fruit offerings like pomegranate and açai juices are high in antioxidants. Pepperidge Farm has already jumped on the trend with its new line of Fruit & Grain breads and bagels. The company offers three varieties: Cranberry Orange; Blueberry Açai; and Apple Pomegranate, with an emphasis on flavorful fruits combined with healthful ingredients such as flaxseed, whole grains, and calcium. One slice of Fruit & Grain bread contains half a serving of whole grains; one Fruit & Grain bagel contains one serving of whole grains.

For those who are watching their waistlines, each slice of bread has 100 calories or less and each bagel has 170 calories or less—less than most pre-packaged bagels. In addition, each slice of bread and each bagel in the Fruit & Grain line contains at least 3 grams of fiber.

Fiber-rich diets have been associated with various health benefits, including digestive health, decreased risk of heart disease and maintenance of normal blood sugar levels. Pepperidge Farm Fruit & Grain breads are also a good source of calcium. Additionally, the bagels are made with natural flax seed, which contains alpha-linolenic acid (ala), an essential omega-3 fatty acid involved with nerve development and growth.

Fresh-Baked Flavor

Whatever route food suppliers decide to take in creating a great breakfast bread, whether it be sliced breads, bagels, rolls, or buns, there’s one essential no consumer can do without: freshness. Recreating that fresh-baked from-scratch flavor, however, can create some challenges for quick-service restaurants, experts say.

Hertzberg suggests restaurants use stored, yeasted sweet dough as the basis for breakfast breads and then add the appropriate ingredients as needed, freezing the dough in large quantities to be used as needed. “Breads can also be made as quick breads, that is, those leavened with baking powder and baking soda rather than yeast,” he says. “All the newfound interest in very fast bread methods makes it easier to give a fresh-baked result. Waste is minimized because demand can be met more flexibly than mixing a huge batch of, say, cinnamon rolls which might not sell. This way, customers get a perfectly fresh-baked result.”

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