Hayhoe Mills, based in the province of Ontario, launched its Avignon low net carb wheat flour in November 2003 and it has already proved hugely successful with bakers and bread makers seeking to benefit from the growing fad for low-carb products.
But the company did not set out to create a new low-carb ingredient, merely to find a more cost-effective way of dealing with the by-products of the 'normal' wheat flour production process, as company president Mark Hayhoe told BakeryandSnacks.com.
"Wheat bran, the part of the grain which is discarded in the normal flour milling process, is usually sold as animal feed, but with 30 per cent of our production disappearing into this low-margin hole, we began to look for other means of generating value from bran."
He continued: "White wheat flour has a high carbohydrate content, but wheat bran is mainly fibre and as such is low in carbohydrates. This is also why it is widely used in breakfast cereals. So it seemed logical to see if we could make a flour out the bran, especially with such huge demand at the moment for low-carb products."
But this is not quite as easy as it seems, as bran is difficult to break down and turn into flour. Nonetheless, the company has created a process enabling it to make flour from the bran. "We are looking into the possibility of patenting this procedure, but it is always hard to get protection for processes - especially as we created it using off-the-shelf equipment, just used in a slightly different way," explained Hayhoe.
But he appears relatively unconcerned by the possibility of other companies jumping on the bandwagon, preferring instead to highlight the effect that the Avignon brand flour has already had on his company.
"Flour doesn't tend to travel too far, as it is a low value product, so our market reach is pretty small - Ontario and Quebec in Canada, plus parts of New York State as well. But even within this relatively restricted catchment, we have already seen a major effect from Avignon."
He continued: "We normally supply our flour wholesale to food manufacturers and bakeries, and several of our customers are keen to work closely with us to develop new low-carb bread products using Avignon. We have had a lot of TV coverage as well, from all over North America, and this has prompted us to launch our first ever retail brand - a 500g pack format for home baking enthusiasts."
Such has been the instant success of Avignon that the company is already looking at other branding opportunities for the product, or extending the name to other products as well.
"We have effectively created a new ingredient, albeit unintentionally," said Hayhoe. "Quite apart from the low net carb value, wheat bran flour is also much more absorbent than traditional flour, helping bread stay fresh for longer. It also makes beautifully moist cakes, and there are certainly new opportunities here for us."
The flour can also be blended with normal flour as well, and Hayhoe has devised a programme which quickly and accurately calculates what the net carb value of products made with the blended flour would be - offering a multitude of options to its customers, some of whom are already said to be considering shifting their bulk flour supplies to the small Canadian company.
"We don't have the budgets of Cargill, or RHM or Groupe Soufflet, but what we do have is drive and imagination, and a desire to stay ahead of the competition," Hayhoe said. "We are one of 25 grain millers in Canada, accounting for just 2 per cent of capacity, but size need not be a barrier to innovation - we are already the first certified organic flour supplier here, and there are opportunities for Avignon in the organic sector as well."
Others join the Atkins bandwagon
The Atkins fad may prove to be as short lived as its detractors hope, but as long as consumers in North America, and now increasingly in Europe as well, continue to be attracted by the diet, companies will seek to take advantage.
This week, for example, also saw the launch of a new ingredients business by Keto, which clamis to be the world's leading producer of low-carb food products. Keto, which manufactures and markets more than 140 low-carbohydrate food products under its eponymous brand, will now start shipping bulk low-carb pizza dough mix, at 4 grams of net carbohydrates per serving, low-carb Keto fry and bake crumbs, also at 4 grams of net carbs per serving, and mashed Ketato mixes, a low-carb version of mashed potatoes.
Keto chairman and CEO Arne Bey said that the decision to begin ingredient production was motivated by "the increasing number of calls we are receiving from major food brands and food service providers who want to purchase Keto Food ingredients in bulk".