La Brea Bakery takes a page out of the wine industry’s playbook with their new La Brea Bakery Reserve line of farm designated breads and asks the consumer to taste the terroir of Big Sky Country, Montana and their heirloom grains.
So can you taste the difference? Yes you can, but as vintners know, it’s not just about tasty high quality bread or wine, it’s also about the story and the experience.
Andrew Blok, the brand manager for the La Brea Bakery Reserve line, is not afraid to admit that he draws heavily on his wine industry background, which includes a degree in viticulture and oenology from UC Davis, years of experience working at North Coast wineries, and an MBA in wine business from Sonoma State University.
“I’m taking what I know. Wine has laid the foundation over the last thirty, forty years of educating consumers,” says Blok, “so I’m looking for that consumer, who’s interested in that little bit more thoughtful bottle of wine.”
The name, Reserve, and the package emulates how wine is presented to the consumer including place of grain origin, genus of wheat, and pairing suggestions. La Brea Bakery Reserve launched in select markets in May, and Blok expresses his excitement with the consumer response so far.
“People continue to say, ‘I’ve never thought about a loaf of bread that way,’ and we’re just really excited that you can take something as ancient and important as bread and create that light bulb moment for people.”
Blok explains how regular bread in a sense is like bulk wine; it goes through the commodity channels where flour is flour and a grape is a grape no matter where it’s grown, and how in bread flavor is usually thought of as the inclusion of an additional component like garlic, olive oil, rosemary, or perhaps rye, but not terroir or genus.
“While you can make a lot of great bread that way, and La Brea Bakery makes incredible breads across the country every single day,” says Blok, “this provided an opportunity to be a little more thoughtful and just understand that loaf of bread a little bit more.”
“Terroir is one of those funny things,” Blok continues. “There’s a lot of science involved, but there’s a little bit of magic too. When we went up to visit the farm in Montana, the farmer, Dean, was incredibly knowledgeable about his land and what he’s doing. High elevation farming and lower rainfall. It’s not deep clay soil, there’s a little bit more sand and gravel content in there, which helps to stress the wheats.
“But you wouldn’t even have to know any of that to just step out on the farm and know that there’s something special going on there. We call it a transformative experience.”
The parallels to the wine industry are clear. This is exactly the kind of experience that wineries are trying to share when they invite customers into the vineyards and winery, but perhaps it is helpful to remember that wine is not the only product that can do this.
“Following farm-to-table, we keep seeing across the industry, and I think this mimics wine; people want to know where their food comes from,” Blok asserts. “Is it sustainably grown, responsibly harvested, and of the highest quality?”
The wine industry has largely embraced the farm-to-table trend and incorporated it into the winery experience with food pairings and winemaker dinners, but another part of the heightened consumer engagement, the rise of craft beverages, has been seen as a threat to wine’s market share.
However, this overarching consumer trend to engage more with their foods is in part a testament to the wine industry’s success in shaping a consumer segment, and having more products be ambassadors of this approach could grow the segment for all authentic and thoughtful food and beverage producers.
“I think there could be opportunities for the wine industry to continuing to find new ways to educate people,” says Blok. “Something we’re doing from a retail perspective, is trying to be a little more thoughtful about how we approach the whole store. Instead of just saying, we’re in the bakery, it’s what we do, and it’s what we know.
“What we’ve been finding as we looked to educate beyond our department into cheese and wine and really create ambassadors across the store, you end up being more successful.
“Instead of just focusing in on the wine buyer, partner with the bakery manager, so he knows when he’s selling a French loaf that would go great with a California Chardonnay, or an Italian round, that’s a perfect Pinot Grigio pairing. I think there’s an opportunity to really look beyond your category and really create ambassadors throughout the store.”
Each of the three breads in the La Brea Bakery Reserve lines comes with a wine pairing suggestion, which borrows the familiar wine tasting trope in the consumer’s mind to help create the new way of thinking about bread, but also generously directs the consumer back to the wine aile to complete their experience.
Sauvignon Blanc with PAIN DE CAMPAGNE: This is a classic Pain de Campagne with a pure, distinct flavor. A thin crispy crust and a chewy crumb contain sweet, nutty notes followed by balanced sourness, making for a complex and exciting loaf.
Cotes du Rhone with STRUAN loaf: Complex and diverse grains provide incredible texture and flavors that are complemented perfectly with subtle acid from the pre-ferment and ancient grain notes. The loaf has incredible texture from the toasted sesame seed topping.
Champagne with FORTUNA loaf: This loaf has levels of texture from the diverse grain mix, including a crispy crust and a mixed crumb from the sprouted wheat berries. Sweet and sour pre-ferments balance each other perfectly, with a tangy note from the sprouted berry and subtle, natural sweetness from raisin juice.
By Kim Badenfort