The UK retailer rolled out its fortified packaged bakery range earlier this month, with two slices of bread providing a minimum of 15% of the vitamin D daily requirement. Vitamin D is predominantly associated with better bone health, but can also contribute to cardiovascular health and increased immunity.
The retailer is using yeast that has been exposed to sunlight, increasing the natural levels of vitamin D in the ingredient and therefore the finished product once baked.
Jennifer Arthur, director of nutrition and innovation at Leatherhead Food Research, welcomed the move.
“There is a big need - the majority of the population has a low vitamin D status. In the UK, the main source of vitamin D for people is exposure to sunlight, which as you can imagine only really happens between April and September," she told BakeryandSnacks.com.
She said some dietary sources of vitamin D did exist, like oily fish, eggs and margarine which was mandatory fortified in the UK, but the most significant source for many was sunlight.
“From a public health perspective, there is definitely a problem in the area of low vitamin D status within the UK population; therefore this is a welcome addition.”
Bread is an everyday food
Asked if bakery was the right carrier for vitamin D, Arthur said it made sense because it was an “everyday food”.
“…If you want to increase people’s consumption of vitamins, it’s got to be an everyday product and something they don’t need to eat too much of. If you were expected to eat eight slices, that’s not feasible but two slices of bread is something people would either eat for breakfast or lunch – two slices of toast or a sandwich,” she said.
However, she said choosing to fortify the entire range could spark debate.
“However I think it’s a positive thing that it’s across all of their range because everyone in the population has low vitamin D status.”
M&S conducted consumer research ahead of the move which suggested 78% would be positive to vitamin D enrichment. Findings also showed more than 90% of M&S customers bought bread weekly.
Claire Hughes, head of nutrition and science at M&S, said: “…We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to increase their intake. By adding it to something as simple as bread, it means customers don’t have to change their usual diet to get additional top up of this vital vitamin.”
Retail competitors and branded players to follow?
Arthur said M&S’s move would likely be followed by other retailers and branded bread makers.
“Nutrition and health is being pushed up the agenda; not only up the government agenda but also the food industry agenda, and it’s being driven by the consumer. The consumer wants higher quality products that are going to optimize their health,” she said.
In particular, vitamin D awareness was growing, she said.
“Vitamin D has been growing in understanding and education over the last few years because of the number of children putting on sun block or cream, therefore not getting the sunlight they need.
“I think it’s an emerging vitamin. People are beginning to realize it has wider health benefits. Vitamin C, protein and fiber have kind of been on the radar and vitamin D has been bubbling away within the scientific community but it’s now beginning to resonate with consumers,” she said.