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In battle of the breads, wheat is becoming America's favorite

Publix recently released a new line of deli meals for kids, with five sandwich options including chicken tenders on a honey wheat roll and peanut butter and apple in a multigrain wrap.

Not among the options? White bread.

"If someone asks to substitute white, we're not going to do it," said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten.

Devoid of all the fiber, flax and omega-3s that have become so popular in recent years, the all-American white bread is taking quite a beating. According to a Nielsen study, wheat bread sales surpassed white bread sales for the first time last year.

White bread is still selling in higher volume than wheat, meaning more loaves of white are being consumed. But the trend toward the more expensive wheat loaves was apparent in the $2.6 billion people spent on them last year. White bread sales declined to $2.5 billion.

The reasons seem obvious to anyone who peruses the bread aisle at the grocery store. While so many variations of wheat bread tout the health benefits of those visible little brown grains, plain white bread sits in its cartoonish, colorful bags, touting nothing.

Sara Lee brand bread sales are down 10 percent over the last 52 weeks, according to the Chicago Tribune, prompting the Illinois-based company to launch a series of wheat breads, including one that looks and tastes like white bread but is made from whole grains. These sneaky new white wheat varieties may contribute to the rise in wheat sales.

"I can't even remember the last time we had white bread in our house," said stay-at-home mom Cori Brown, pushing her 4-year-old daughter, Kaya, in a cart outside of a St. Petersburg Sweetbay. "It just doesn't look healthy. I like my bread to have some substance."

In the case of the Publix kids' meals, white bread would not fit in with the meals' nutritional standards. This is why Publix won't budge on its wheat-only policy. Patten also noted that about 60 percent of the bread sold at Publix is wheat.

Really, virtually all bread is wheat bread, but the difference is in how it is processed. White bread is made from the refined white flour that has no nutritional value. Whole wheat flour, which is used to make wheat bread, isn't necessarily healthier but tastes different. Bread labeled "whole wheat" often has more texture and fiber, but it's "whole grain" that guarantees the most health benefits.

"Not everyone is on a health kick, though, and white bread still plays a prominent role in barbecue joints and diners.

In the Tampa Bay area, Cuban bread is still a prized commodity.

And at South Tampa's Pane Rustica bakery and restaurant, owner Kevin Kruszewski said he needs to make only about 30 pounds of whole wheat bread a day, vs. about 400 pounds of white. White sourdough and French baguettes are extremely popular, but he realizes Pane Rustica customers are looking for something different than those buying bread at grocery stores.

"When people come in, they tend to forget what the doctor tells them," Kruszewski said. "They want an escape, loaded with all the aioli they can eat."

Lately, Kruszewski has been getting requests for wheat- or gluten-free bread, throwing an entirely new player into the white vs. wheat war.

He's not totally sold on the idea and typically sends customers to the health food store next door. But if they keep asking, he said, he may have to give wheat-free bread a try.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

In battle of the breads, wheat is becoming America's favorite 08/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 5:34pm]

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