Flavor Trumps All
Nutrition Trends, Food Policy Shape Ingredient Decisions
May 2012/Prepared Foods -- Current food culture may be polarized, but flavor is always king. Taste is a top priority above price, healthfulness, convenience and sustainability, according to a 2011 food and health survey. Since 2009, “sour” as a flavor profile has been gaining attention, and the flavors of two superfood ingredients—cayenne and tart cherry—have been packing a multi-layered punch.
In 2010, it was roasted ginger and rhubarb that provided exciting layers of spicy and sour, with warming notes and a powerful tang. Then, 2011 saw the dynamic pair of pickling spice and rice vinegar, with bright layers of tang and spice. In 2012, grapefruit and red pepper (a new take on lemon pepper) and sweet soy with tamarind and black pepper (sweet-and-sour with a spicy heat) hit the flavor forecast trends.
These and other trends were the topic of the Prepared Foods’ R&D Seminar titled, “Ingredient Selection: How Nutrition Trends and Food Policy Shape Ingredient Decisions,” co-presented by Wendy Bazilian, Dr.P.H., R.D., and Jeff Manning, chief marketing officer (CMO) of the Cherry Marketing Institute.
Also driving new products and menus are American regional flavors. The Food Marketing Institute’s 2010 “U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends” disclosed that 71% of consumers buy local (if they are aware of it) in their supermarket, and 63% of casual-dining establishments offer locally sourced produce.
Health is still gaining in importance, but flavor remains a top priority. Health is seen as a reward, where many Americans view good health as a status symbol. Consumers think of food as a means of health and part of their personal identity, and nearly two thirds (66%) believe the food they eat makes a statement about their personal values. Health is also seen as an individually accountable factor, with 65% of Americans focused on prevention. Today’s nutrition continuum extends from, on the one hand, less processed/fewer ingredient foods, to more functional foods, fortified with “added value” ingredients.
“Less processed” includes fresh, natural, no preservatives, few-and-familiar ingredients, plus a “made like I’d make it” aspect—foods that are inherently healthy and naturally functional.
“Functional” includes foods that are engineered and fortified, or value added, with meaningful benefits—i.e., ailment-specific attributes or health-engineered. Those foods and ingredients that are inherently healthy are considered a sweet spot for ingredients that do both—as the preference is for naturally nutrient-rich foods that also provide benefits—like tart cherries.
“‘Functionally natural’ is the new ideal,” explains Bazilian. Nutritional attributes that are now in demand include those for digestive health; intrinsic health benefits that are also convenient; joint health; improving energy; inclusion of fruits and superfruits; antioxidants; foods that assist with weight management; healthy snacking; and those that support healthy bones and movement.
Antioxidant-rich foods show no sign of slowing down; food and beverages carrying an antioxidant claim topped $1.9 billion in 2009, up 29% from the previous year. Flavanoids, the parent category of anthocyanins found in tart cherries, and polyphenols—both found in chocolate and red wine—were among the first phytochemicals to reach mainstream status. When Welch’s Grape Juice began touting its naturally high polyphenol content in 2009, it enjoyed the highest sales in its 120-year history. With superfruits in demand, plus dietary mandates, the rest of the food industry is getting on board.
In February and March 2010, Manning conducted 17, 40-minute telephone interviews with high level R&D managers who make ingredient decisions. He learned that 14 of the 17 had used tart cherries in either dried, frozen or juice/concentrate form. He also noted that ingredient decisions are made early in the product development process, based on benefits and flavor profiles.
Most fruit decisions are driven by the product concept and the underlying consumer need. Top-of-mind factors influencing fruit-ingredient decisions are: consumer appeal (including flavor, taste), quality, availability and cost. Tart cherries are perceived as an emerging ingredient that currently is underutilized and underleveraged, yet with unique and distinctive flavor. Recently, Nestle released Cherries Raisinets, showing a strong confirmation of the utility and appeal of tart cherries as an ingredient.
“Consumers are increasingly aware of cherries’ antioxidant profile,” summarizes Manning, “but tart cherries still need full acceptance as a mainstream ingredient.”
“Ingredient Selection: How Nutrition Trends and Food Policy Shape Ingredient Decisions,” Wendy Bazilian, Dr.P.H., R.D., and Jeff Manning, CMO of the Cherry Marketing Institute, 517-699-4264, www.choosecherries.com
—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor
New Item Process—Functions and Dependencies
An applications lab presented at the Prepared Foods’ 2011 R&D Seminars by Jeannie Swedberg, director of business development for Tree Top Inc., describes the phases the company goes through in realizing a product from concept to production, while preserving flavors and organoleptic parameters.
Walking through the new item development process in her seminar, “New Item Process—Functions and Dependencies,” Swedberg described the phases the processing team typically goes through and the key players involved.
In Phase One, the marketing team focuses on market trends via consumer insights and sets up a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). At Phase Two, the R&D team is developing analytic parameters, formulae, process parameters—and it even determines prospective shelflife. The team also works on everything from physical specifications to pallet patterns, as the quality assurance (QA) group feeds in with case coding, item classification and country-of-origin considerations, and the operations team establishes and coordinates a production plan.
Phase Three finds QA focusing on determining nutrition labeling needs, and the resource master requirements are determined by the financial side. At this phase, the purchasing team will focus on packaging resource issues. Phase Four has marketing fielding the pricing request, while customer service sees to freight considerations. By this phase, plant ops has a production model in the works. In Phase Five, customer service has moved on to establishing pricing, while the finance team is tasked with creating a financial model.
As an example, a “Formulation Experiment” was showcased with the “Project Scope Definition and Concept Sheet” for developing a snack bar with the following features:
• All-natural ingredients
• Good source of fiber
• Fewer than 100 calories per 23g bar
• Heart-health formula
• Contains 30% fruit
• Naturally sweetened with fruit juice
• Other… (price-point defined)
From here, Swedberg discussed the considerations and qualifications for making “all natural” claims. While it is true there is no official U.S. government definition for the term “natural” pertaining to the food industry, the FDA does refer to natural ingredients as “ingredients extracted directly from plants or animal products as opposed to being produced synthetically.” The Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients defines a natural product as a “product that is derived from plant, animal or microbial sources, primarily through physical processing, sometimes facilitated by simple chemical reactions, such as acidification, basification, ion exchange, hydrolysis and salt formation, as well is microbial fermentation.” The overall goal, Swedberg noted, is “clean, short labels with ‘Mom can understand’ ingredients.”
Further discussion included explanations of the Sodium Labeling Guide and FDA fiber claims.
In a snack mix using fruit, one also must consider the water activity of ingredients. Matching water-activity values can help limit moisture migration within a food product made with different ingredients. For example, if fruit of a higher water activity is packaged with Chex mix of a lower water activity, the water from the fruit will migrate to the Chex mix over time, resulting in hard fruit and soggy mix.
Swedberg discussed the necessary calculations for formulating for a fruit-content claim when using various forms of dried fruit products (i.e., apple) under several categories of water content for the final ingredient form. (See chart “Formulating a Fruit Claim.”)
When using fruit juice as a natural sweetener, it was noted that certain differences apply. Fructose, approximately 20% sweeter than sucrose, is abundant in fruits, as are other sugars. For example, a single-strength apple juice contains approximately 5.9% fructose, 2.7% sucrose and 2.0% other sugars. Many consumers consider fruit juice a natural alternative to processed sugar, and some manufacturers use juice concentrates as sweeteners to make a claim on the front panel.
In a recap of the steps for consideration in formulation, Swedberg noted to: 1) define scope and objectives; 2) find starting formula vendor website; 3) source ingredients; 4) use vendors as project support; and 5) develop first-round product pilots. pf