Leatherhead Food International has published a report which claims that nearly all food and drink products launched in the UK between January 2003 and the end of June 2004 fit across three themes: convenience and snacking, health and well-being and pleasure and indulgence.
Of the 4,323 products launched, 97 per cent could be grouped under one of these headings with some stretching across two or even all three.
Pleasure and indulgence topped the report's list, covering 2,945 products. Convenience and snack lines came second, covering 2,536 products, while 1,154 products have been classed as health and well-being.
Market analyst for Leatherhead, Stephanie Malikian, said that the UK baking industry's challenge was now to produce "guilt-free, indulgent products".
She said that good examples of these not-so-naughty-but-still-nice treats were the launch of gluten-free cakes for those with special dietary requirements and low-fat cakes for the health-conscious by Cumbrian cake specialists Bells of Lazenby.
In the bread sector, UK company Allied Bakeries relaunched its Burgen bread brand in January this year, including two new products - Burgen Hi-Bran and Burgen Cholessterol - which contain special proteins to reduce cholesterol and extra fibre to aid digestion.
Two slices of Burgen Hi-bran contains 7g of dietary fibre, just over a third of the recommended daily fibre intake. Burgen Cholessterol contains an Abacor soya protein which, if consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat, can help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Four slices provide around a quarter of the recommended daily amount.
Director of commercial development at Allied Bakeries, Dawn McGiveron, said: "In the highly competitive bread market it is important that products have clear benefits and a strong identity that in turn creates loyalty and attracts new customers.
"Burgen has all of these along with strong marketing support to ensure that it is set to be a true sales winner,"she said.
Another prospective sales winner is the increasing use of flavouring combinations in both cakes and breads, according to Stephanie Malikian of Leatherhead.
Bells of Lazenby's gluten-free cakes include an apricot and cinnamon range as well as chocolate and almond, whereas its low-fat cakes come in a number of mixed flavours including lemon and sultana.
"In the future it is less likely that consumers will be able to buy, for example, a plain chocolate muffin. A combination of flavour makes the product more attractive and gives it extra value," said Malikian.
The trend for combining flavours has also spread into bread. Allied Bakeries brand Allinson is another product featured in the Leatherhead innnovation report which highlighted the launch of cheese and pickle and rosemary and seasalt versions of the premium bread range.
Only 112 of the food and drink products launched in the last 18 months could not be sorted into at least one of the Leatherhead report's three themes of pleasure, health, and convenience.
"As we move further into the 21st century, there is unlikely to be any change in this situation," says the report summary.
The Food and Drink Innovation in the UK report is available from Leatherhead's publications department on 00 44 (0) 1372 822241 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The price is £695 (€1,025) for non-members and £625 (€921) for members.