Sugar reduction in baking

Upskilling the baking industry to help meet the sugar reduction targets

By Katie-Joy Woods - 19 September 2017

By 2025, it is predicted that the UK food and drink industry will need 130,000 new skilled workers to meet demand and replace retiring workers. The baking sector is a vitally important part of the food manufacturing industry and in the UK is a £3 billion industry and employs over 20,000 people. With potentially so many vacancies, it’s essential that bakery industry takes action to tackle the issue of skills and training.

Most bakers begin their careers as apprentices or trainees with many bakery jobs requiring no specific formal qualifications. This applies particularly to junior positions in the plant or in-store bakeries where on-the-job training is provided. Learning at work is freely available and requires little upfront investment in time or money and provides an opportunity for trainees to get to grips with the commonly used bakery equipment and machinery. However, it can lead to trainees picking up bad habits or learning to cut corners when shadowing colleagues. This may affect product quality or shelf life and create a vicious circle in which new bakers going up through the ranks learn incorrect techniques, adopt bad practices and never really truly understand how the finished baked item should look, taste or feel. It’s therefore very important that on-the-job training is supplemented by more formal, structured training.

Reducing sugar in bakery products

The trends in the baking industry are ever changing and developing. Current key challenges include sugar reduction and developing clean label products. In August 2016, government set out its approach to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity in ‘Childhood obesity: a plan for action’. A key commitment in the plan was to launch a broad, structured sugar reduction programme to remove sugar from everyday products. Industry has been challenged to reduce overall sugar across a range of products that contribute most to children’s sugar intakes by at least 20% by 2020. Public Health England has set the sugar reduction guidelines per 100g of product for certain food categories, including biscuits, cakes and morning goods. The targets can be met through reducing sugar levels in products, reducing portion size, or shifting purchasing towards lower sugar alternatives.

Replacing sugar in bakery products is challenging because it has at least seven functions in cakes from batter viscosity control through to mould-free shelf life as well as being a major bulking agent. If you reduce the sugar level of a product, you will need to introduce one or more additional ingredients to replace the lost functionality. This is investigated in our Cake Science and Technology course, which looks at the technology of sugar replacers and includes practical session to test bake products using these alternatives. We hold group discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of replacer products and recipe reformulation to meet the PHE targets.


Identifying and rectifying faults is a key to creating an efficient and effective production line. Understanding quality standards will help you to identify fault, but you can only understand the cause of the fault and know how to fix it if you have knowledge of the relevant science and technology. Common faults that we explore in our Cake Science and Technology course include issues with the raw ingredients and processing methods. If for example, a high ratio cake is made using untreated flour, the structure will not be sustained and the product will collapse during baking.

The skills required by a good baker are often underestimated. While technology and machinery have replaced much of the manual nature of the work, it is still important that bakers understand the basic building blocks required to make baked goods. This requires knowledge of bakery ingredients – their functionality and how they interact with each other to impact on the finished product’s quality.

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