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Wonder Bread with wheat: It's still spongy

Wonder Bread, that icon of squishy, oh-so-American white bread, turns a nutritional corner today with the launch of two whole-wheat versions intended to look, taste, and feel just like the spongy original.

It's part of a plan to resuscitate Wonder Bread's baker, bankrupt Interstate Bakeries Corp. -- also the maker of Hostess Twinkies. It has struggled as consumers went from rejecting carbs outright to demanding they be whole grain.

Stan Osman, vice president of marketing at Kansas City, Mo.-based Interstate, said the company aims to make it easier for fans of white bread to turn to whole wheat.

''These are soft breads. They don't have any grains or stuff in them that you can see," he said recently. ''You couldn't find anything in them. They don't have any toppings on them. They're very much like what you would expect from Wonder Bread."

The change is made possible with white whole-wheat flour, which has a milder taste, texture, and color than traditional wheat, but a similar nutritional profile. The new breads contain 2 grams of fiber per slice; the original Wonder Bread has none.

The new breads include Wonder White Bread Fans, which is 100 percent whole grain, and Wonder Made With Whole Grain White, which is part whole grain, part white flour.

The company also is introducing Wonder Kids, a highly fortified white bread.

Osman doesn't worry that consumers won't take whole grains seriously from a company defined by white bread, a term that has become a pejorative, and not just to those with carbohydrate phobias.

''The nutrition facts speak for themselves," Osman said.

''Healthy Wonder Bread? That's an oxymoron," said Darra Goldstein, editor in chief of Gastronomica, a journal of food and culture. She said it sounds more like a marketing ploy than a good bread.

But the American Dietetic Association's spokesman, David Grotto, welcomes the new breads. After too many years of trying to get consumers to adapt their tastes to whole wheat, he said, it's about time the product adapted to the consumer.

''For the general public this is a nice, kind of covert way of introducing whole grains and not beating them over the head," he said.

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