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.