by Les Saidel - December, 2014


A question most commonly asked of us is - "If you are a healthy bakery, how can you use white wheat flour?" or "How can you use white sugar?" or "How can you use margarine?" "Don't you know these things are bad for you?"

It is a question of philosophy and strategy.

It is a fact that a major sector (85% or more) of the population are not really interested in healthy food. A minute percentage of this sector doesn't eat healthy foods on principle. The vast majority of this sector however is simply not knowledgeable enough to be able to understand the harm they are doing to themselves by eating unhealthy food. They are content to buy the supermarket variety of breads, cookies etc. without paying too much attention to what is in them.

Then there is the second, minority sector (approximately 15% of the population) who is extremely wary and cautious about what they eat. This 15% will not compromise on health, even if it costs more.

When we began our bakery we asked ourselves this question "Who do we want to target, the 85% or the 15%?"

It is a simple matter to target the 15% sector, to severely limit the ingredients we use to only the super-healthy ingredients, such as organic whole spelt flour, olive oil, honey, etc. and only make products with them. This will definitely satisfy the 15%, even if it costs top dollar.

It is also a simple matter to target the 85% sector. Simply make everything from the cheapest ingredients, white wheat flour, sugar, margarine, preservatives, chemicals, etc.

What is extremely difficult however is trying to target the entire 100%, to attract both customers from the 85% AND from the 15%.

I have been studying physiology and dietetics informally for almost 38 years. I do not have formal degrees in either, (perhaps one day when I have the time and the money I will formalize it) but I have accumulated a vast amount of knowledge over the years, specifically relating to grains and bread.

One of my first mentors was Adelle Davis, clinical dietician and author of "Let's eat right to keep fit." Mrs. Davis has been the subject of substantial controversy regarding many of her scientific theories and methodologies, but one thing she preached is unequivocal and undisputed by even her staunchest critics. She said - If you want to inculcate nutrition in your family and in your home, first learn how to become a good cook. Nobody is going to eat unpalatable slop, no matter HOW HEALTHY it is!

I am a great disciple of that modus operandi. If you want to promote health, first learn how to make the most delicious food around. This will attract people and get them hooked. Once you have them, you can teach them. If you never have them, there is no-one to teach.

Make no mistake, it is a gradual process of teaching. Confronting someone in the 85% sector with statements like "White sugar is poison", "Margarine will give you a heart attack", "White flour will make you obese", is off-putting. It scares people away. These statements are mostly true, but the way they are presented is fanatic! You don't see people writhing in the streets from sugar poisoning and you don't see people having cardiac arrest after eating a croissant in a cafe. The above are chronic poisons that will affect you adversely over time, not immediately. To explain this, you need the person to be receptive, to be open to listening. You don't achieve that with fanaticism, with an all or nothing philosophy.

Trying to shift someone in the 85% sector overnight from totally unhealthy to totally healthy is unlikely to succeed. Like coffee, chocolate, low-salt diets and MANY other similar areas, it is an acquired taste that develops gradually and incrementally. You can't give an 8 year old kid raised on white bread a 100% whole spelt bread as a replacement overnight. The shock is too great, the texture and the color are not familiar.

People in the 85% sector are put off by frightening slogans like those above. They are put off by charlatans peddling seaweed juice as a healthy drink. They are put off by real healthy foods because the leap is just too great in one step and the difference to what they know and are familiar with is just too vast.

Our philosophy and strategy is to target not only the 85% or only the 15%, but to target the entire 100%. We decided that we were going to make the complete range of baked products and that we were going to make them tastier and more delicious than any one else.

So, yes, we do use margarine in our basic sweet challah, we also use regular white sugar and (heaven forbid) we also use 90% regular white flour! This is the only way we can compete in price and quality with similar products in the market for that particular item. If we were to use only the healthiest ingredients possible in our sweet challah, it would hike the cost of the challah up to twice or three times of comparable products from other companies. Any customer from the 85% wouldn't even look at it, because it would be too EXPENSIVE! This person does not yet understand the added value of a healthier product or OUR healthier product. When they see "whole wheat" bread in the shop that costs much less than ours, they don't understand that the supermarket variety contains no wheat germ. This needs to be explained.

To make that person amenable and receptive to explanation, you first have to have them and gain their trust. You do that by giving the most delicious bread available at a similar price to what they are already paying and with a texture and quality that is not radically different to what they know and recognize.

Is our sweet challah the best tasting sweet white challah on the market? Most definitely! The price and the "compromise" on the ingredients allow us to attract customers from the 85% to simply try our sweet challah in the first place. When they do and they fall in love with it (it's hard not to), we have them. We then slowly try to introduce them to healthier products, like our whole wheat honey challah. They try that and flip, and then gradually, over time, following a process of teaching and educating, we eventually get most of them to the real healthy stuff. It just cannot be done in one step, it is a process.

The same follows for our apple pies, quiches, babkas, cookies etc. These are hooks to snag the 85% and afterwards teach them about health. We are not only bakers, we are educators. In fact more of our time is spent teaching and educating than baking. Without these "hooks" we don't stand a chance.

Are our sweet challahs, babkas, cookies etc. as unhealthy as the supermarket variety? Certainly not. Even with these "compromise" products we add 10% whole grain flour (so that it won't be noticeable), for extra fiber. We also use a special industry baking margarine (that is not available in the stores) containing 0% cholesterol and less than 1% trans fats. Is margarine healthy? Not really, but ours is the healthiest of the lot and it allows us to achieve comparable texture and quality to the supermarket stuff. You just cannot duplicate the quality of these items (pies, cookies, babkas etc.) without a solid fat, and since we are pareve, butter is a no-no.

What about the 15%? We have a whole range of REALLY HEALTHY stuff that is top of the top and doesn't get any healthier. In fact of our 50 or more products, only 17 contain sugar and margarine. The rest of the 33 don't! Where is the focus of our bakery? On the healthy stuff, for sure!

The 15% sector will find that our really healthy products are uncompromising and unparalleled in the Israeli market.

We concentrate the healthy stuff on daily food. The less healthy stuff is food that is consumed occasionally, like cookies, pies, babkas etc. Even if you make these out of the super-healthiest ingredients, they SHOULDN'T BE eaten daily anyway. They are good for a treat now and then, nothing more. So our "treat" items are not the top of the top healthy. But they are still streets healthier than the supermarket variety.

Are we afraid of revealing our "secret strategy" to everyone, even to the 85% sector? Not at all. We openly confess that we want to try get people to eat more healthy food and it begins with the staple, bread!

We do not try hide anything. Every one of our products is described in detail, with the full ingredients list, even going down to the exact ratio of flours used (thereby revealing some of our proprietary formula to our competitors), but no matter, it is more important that we have full transparency and honesty. That is what builds trust. On our inventory list, you may click on any item on the list to receive a full profile and full info about any item.

Our customers value that we are honest. They value our integrity in a market full of charlatans. They flip over our home-made quality that is unsurpassed in the Israeli market.

Can we succeed in "converting" the entire 85% sector. Probably not. However we are achieving resounding success in improving the health of this sector by a smaller fraction, like 5-10%, rather than concentrating only on a marginal portion of the population and increasing their health by 70%. We will always go for increasing the health of the majority by 5% rather than only the minority by a greater factor.

We are also making waves with our products and our workshops and gathering more and more people into the fold and educating and enlightening more and more people to make better choices regarding their food.

We are doing it quietly, with little fanfare. We are treading lightly and carrying a big stick and we have already helped multitudes of people and we aim to help multitudes more.

We are on a mission and it has only just begun.

Les Saidel

 

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Saidel Artisan Baking Institute, 22 Hadas Str., Karnei Shomron, 44855, Israel Tel/Fax 09-7941222
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