Wonder Bread To Offer Whole Wheat
But will kids still be able to wad it up into sticky, glutinous balls and throw it across the cafeteria?
Wonder Bread, that icon of squishy, oh-so-American white bread, turns a nutritional corner Monday with the launch of two whole wheat versions intended to look, taste and feel just like the spongy original.
It's part of a plan to resuscitate Wonder Bread's baker, the bankrupt Interstate Bakeries Corp. — also the maker of Hostess Twinkies — which has struggled as consumers went from rejecting carbs outright to demanding they be whole grain.
The launch comes as concerns about skyrocketing obesity rates and the preponderance of highly processed foods in the American diet (such as white bread) have fueled campaigns by government and health officials to get consumers to eat more whole grains.
Stan Osman, vice president of marketing at the Kansas City, Mo.-based Interstate Bakeries, said his company aims to make it easier for people to do that by turning whole wheat into something more easily stomached by fans of white bread.
"These are soft breads. They don't have any grains or stuff in them that you can see," he said recently. "You couldn't find anything in them. They don't have any toppings on them. They're very much like what you would expect from Wonder Bread."
The change is made possible with white whole wheat flour, which has a milder taste, texture and color than traditional wheat, but a similar nutritional profile. The new breads contain 2 grams of fiber per slice; the original Wonder Bread has none.
The new breads include Wonder White Bread Fans, which is 100 percent whole grain, and Wonder Made With Whole Grain White, which is part whole grain, part white flour. The company also is introducing Wonder Kids, a highly fortified white bread.
Osman doesn't worry that consumers won't take whole grains seriously from a company defined by white bread, a term that has become a pejorative, and not just to those with carbohydrate phobias. "White bread America" isn't exactly a term of endearment.
"The nutrition facts speak for themselves and I have to believe that the taste of the products, using the products, if anybody has that hurdle, it will get them past that," Osman said. He declined to discuss sales expectations.
Others aren't so sure it's a good move.
"Healthy Wonder Bread? That's an oxymoron," said Darra Goldstein, editor-in-chief of Gastronomica, a journal of food and culture. She said it sounds more like a marketing ploy than a good bread.
"Whole grain is just such a buzz word that even a bread like Wonder Bread, the antithesis of everything that is natural" is going in that direction, she said. "They just want to make sure that people still continue to buy their bread."
And going good-for-you might be overreaching for this brand, said Laura Shapiro, a food historian. Wonder Bread is what it is, a white bread destined for peanut butter and jelly and never to be mistaken for health food.
"It kind of encapsulates every single movement in this country," she said. "The yen for health with the yen for junk. The desire to eat bread, with the desire not to eat bread. They're trying to get everything."
But American Dietetic Association spokesman David Grotto welcomes the new breads. After too many years of trying to get consumers to adapt their tastes to whole wheat, he says it's about time the product adapted to the consumer.
"For the general public this is a nice, kind of covert way of introducing whole grains and not beating them over the head," he said.
But will kids eat it? Deborah Venator, a Concord, N.H., mother of four volunteered her children to taste test the new whole grain breads up against the original. They normally eat another brand's half whole wheat, half white loaf.
The original was an instant hit — "It tastes kind of fluffy," declared 6-year-old Grace. But interest waned as the other two breads were introduced. "I don't want to eat the rest," she said after taking a bite of the half whole wheat version of Wonder.
And 4-year-old David? "I want more of the first bread."
But more important to some kids than eating the bread, can they still ball it up?
"I would stand in the door and not let this go out if we were going to take away that joy from people," Interstate Bakeries' Osman said. "I have been known to throw my own at somebody. Yes, they will still be able to do that. You can count on that."
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