Supermarket Perimeter - July 2020 - 9

Quarantining brought out the home baker in many a
consumer, and a lot of them fell in love with sourdough
BY ANDY NELSON AND JEFF GELSKI

I

nterest in sourdough has been on the rise
for years.
The coronavirus pushed it into overdrive, with
people stuck at home turning to home baking in record
numbers.
People turned to sourdough not only out of curiosity,
but because, in many parts of the world, yeast was hard
to find. The wife of Karl De Smedt, communication and
training manager for Belgium-based Puratos, whose US
headquarters are in Pennsauken, N.J. came home with
tales of their local supermarket in Belgium only allowing
one package of yeast per customer.
When people start going back to work in larger
numbers, they won't have all that extra time to learn
how to bake sourdoughs, but De Smedt believes that
the interest kindled during quarantine will carry over
to demand for sourdough in the bakeries and grocery
stores people shop in.
The number of web searches for sourdough starter
is up "1,000% or something" since the onset of the
pandemic, said Melina Kelson, chief fermentation officer
for Skokie, Ill.-based Bootleg Batard and a board member
of the Bread Bakers Guild of America.
COVID has just accelerated what had already been
going on for some time, Kelson said: a sourdough
renaissance.
"A lot of my customers are asking for sourdough
starter," she said. "Then they come back with lots and
lots of questions."
Answering those questions, and providing education
about sourdough in general, is crucial to overcoming
misconceptions about the bread, Kelson said.
"People don't understand the process. They feel like
it should be cheap because flour isn't very costly. They
don't understand the skill, time and equipment that goes
into artisan sourdough loaves."
Even when they become educated about sourdough,
however, people still love the mystery that surrounds it,
Kelson said. And the health benefits don't hurt, either.
"Sourdough unlocks micronutrients that make it way
more digestible," she said.

yeast breads well. But sourdough can change from one
day to the next."
The makers of wines, cheeses and beers are masters.
The same is true, De Smedt said, of sourdough bakers.
The difference? A master winemaker only has to do his
or her job once a year. A master sourdough baker, by
contrast, works at their craft day in and day out.
Kelson agreed that mass-producing sourdough faces
many challenges. Take space, for example.
"If you're retarding doughs, you need to have room
to have all the breads in the retarder room," she said. "It
takes real estate - and electricity. That's a challenge."
Obviously, not every bakery or grocery instore bakery
can afford to have a team of master sourdough bakers
on staff. But companies like Puratos help train bakers in
the art, and volumes will increase at all levels, including
grocery instore, De Smedt said.
For many, that investment will be worth the
effort, given the increased exposure and demand for
sourdough during quarantine, Kelson said.
"There is so much diversity of flavor, depending on
how you're managing it. With different flours, hydration,
there's incredible versatility. It makes it really easy to
create a signature item."

Learning about the process
of making sourdough
is one key to greater
consumer acceptance.

Scaling challenges - and opportunities
The challenge to scaling sourdough lies in the variety's
complexity.
"For all its simplicity, sourdough is a most complicated
thing," De Smedt said. "It's a living thing. Bakers can make
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Supermarket Perimeter - July 2020

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