According to consumer researchers Symphony IRI Group, nearly nine out of 10 Americans snack daily. Since 2010, the number of daily snacks consumed has risen from just less than two to almost three. Today’s snacks must play a variety of roles and fill multiple needs.
The toaster pastry that gets scarfed on the way to the car in the morning subs for breakfast, while the 10:30AM bag of popcorn tides one over until lunch. A packet of granola washed down with a high-protein dairy beverage recharges the body after the post-work treadmill session, and one might even indulge in a chocolate candy bar on the commute back home for dinner.
Meanwhile, nutritional guidelines are constantly evolving, as doctors and dietitians discover new information and research to help individuals attain optimal health. Fad nutritionists, too, weigh in and—like it or not— have a lot of influence on what Americans demand.
These drivers play a strong part in the enormous growth in the snack category. Channels within the healthful snack category run the gamut from high protein, low carbs, high fiber, vitamin/mineral enhanced, or laced with such singular ingredients as carnitine, whey protein, botanical extracts or superfruits. They can be gluten-free, allergen-free and low-glycemic index or adhere to the “trend of the day,” such as paleo, vegan or raw. And, to fill emerging niches, a snack launch might easily incorporate a multiple of these qualifications.
The snack food world has accommodated all the latest consumer needs with a range of exciting flavors, as well. Certain flavor profiles that seem to hit every classification identify today’s snacks as compliant with a given trend. For example, developers have focused on employing healthful ingredients as a flavor profile, such as matcha, coconut, dark chocolate, wasabi, cherries and pomegranates. All these ingredients are known for their health benefits and can easily be incorporated as both flavorants and functionals in either sweet or savory (or combined) snacks.
Eliminating gluten from products other than protein-heavy snacks also means eliminating high-glycemic processed carbohydrates, such as crackers, bread and cookies. The last few years have witnessed a considerable resurgence in the popularity of high-protein and low-carbohydrate diets. Once associated with such trends as Atkins and South Beach diets, their most recent iterations are tagged paleo or “caveman” diets.
The specific foods and eating rules for paleo diets vary, but the overall goal is the same: a focus on animal proteins, healthy fats (such as olive and avocado oil), vegetables and carbohydrates (like sweet potatoes and squash). Sugar is shunned in these diets, whether added or naturally occurring. But grazing seems to go hand-in-hand with many paleo prescriptions, and that means snacks figure largely.
The protein craze has been a real boon for the jerky category. Jerky, once thought of as a somewhat less than classy—and far from healthy—snack is now prized for its high-protein, minimally processed attributes. Beef also has given up some space to other meats, as turkey, salmon and game have joined in to fill spaces in the natural and artisanal markets.
Jerky and meat sticks also fit perfectly within both paleo and gluten-free diet trends. The increase in popularity of these items also is because they generally fit well in many low-carb plans. For formulators, the crafting of meat-based treats has distinct advantages. The ingredients are kept to a minimum—
typically the cured meat and spice—and the process is simple: dehydration.
Healthy and Exotic
Consumers are hit by trends faster than they can say “quinoa-crusted kale chips.” Creating a new snack for such consumers involves heeding trends and trendy ingredients—without merely jumping on the latest bandwagon. This can be done by focusing on the functional aspects of a trendy ingredient.
For example, coconut products have certainly been huge in the past few years. Although the trend started with coconut beverage products, it soon expanded to coconut as a key ingredient in a number of foods. With snacks, coconut really took off when trans fats became something to be avoided at all costs, and tropical oils—especially coconut oils—started to take their place. Simultaneously, science demonstrated that saturated plant fats are not necessarily unhealthy, as previously believed, and in some studies even show specific health benefits.
Coconut fats, particularly virgin coconut fats that are minimally processed, not only are able to take advantage of the new health halo, they have the added advantage of imparting desirable flavor. Such minimally processed coconut fats also are now popular in the paleo channels for this combination of health benefits plus flavor.
Coconut and coconut-derived oils and other ingredients also are being used in new snack formulations—from fringe items, like coconut-oil-roasted seaweed snacks, to the simpler, such as popcorn popped in coconut oil.
Coconut chips, too, have seen a big jump with several brands, both sweet and savory, on the market. Bare Foods Co.’s Bare coconut snacks are just one example, offering sweet, toasted coconut chips; sweet and spicy chips made with hot pepper seasoning; and the now-ubiquitous sea-salt-and-caramel flavor.
Chip Off the New Block
Coconut chips aren’t alone in shaking up the chip category. Crispy, fried chips from root vegetables, especially the colorful ones (such as beets, carrots and sweet potatoes), proved popular enough to make a dent in the classic potato chip market. This opened a door for such snacks as cassava and plantain chips, types that have been popular in Central and South America, and the Caribbean. These made their way to the broader US market only lately, after incubating for years in smaller ethnic shops in immigrant neighborhoods.
Interesting and unique takes on chips, such as pasta chips and seaweed chips (a combination of seaweed chips wrapped in rice crackers) surprise the consumer with an unusual combination of flavors and textures. Perhaps one of the biggest trends in non-potato chips, however, is making thin, light chips from lentils, garbanzos and other legumes. In a merging of chips and popcorn, there have been a number of chip-like snacks made from air-popped, formed popcorn, as well as other puffed and extruded grains.
Other vegetable chips of the extruded variety have been extremely popular recently, with spinach-flavored potato puffs or grain puffs on shelves in any number of shapes and combos. Those using spinach powder are among the most popular, but the use of carrot powder and tomato or beet to create colorful trios of chips in one bag became nearly universal in a few short years. And, of course, kale chips exploded on the scene, along with kale everything else.
This veggie chip revolution spread to tortilla chips, as well. After a decade of variations on black bean and blue corn, followed by the inclusion of seeds (first flax, then more recently, quinoa), tortilla chip makers put a toe in the water with chips made with avocado—then recently dove in with vegetables.
Last spring, chip maker RW Garcia Co. Inc. introduced new variety into its MixtBag line, Veggie MixtBag. The stone-ground, yellow corn tortilla-based snack features chips flavored with all-natural, pure vegetable powders in carrot flavor, plus paired combinations of spinach and garlic; tomato and sesame; and red beet and onion.
England has a long tradition of flavored potato chips (called crisps) that include such combinations as steak and onion, prawn (shrimp) cocktail, roast chicken and pickled onion. Meanwhile, US potato chip makers are busy creating versions here that appeal to a melting-pot community. Salt and lime, sriracha, and a number of Latin- and Mediterranean-influenced spice-and herb-flavored potato chips have burst on the scene and are making plain potato chips all but a thing of the past.
The chipmasters at Natural Nectar Foods Inc.’s Oolala! chips have taken this concept to a new level, creating three varieties of olive-oil fried potato chips flavored with porcini mushrooms, with true saffron and black truffles. All ingredients are natural, and use real truffle and saffron (among the most expensive food ingredients). Retail costs are still comparable to other gourmet chips, with the simplicity of making the classic potato chip product a key production issue.
Speaking of chips, combining the thin snap of a chip with the huge trend of dark chocolate saw a number of products bridging confections and snacks. Everything from chocolate-covered pretzel flats and potato chips to potato chip-shaped chocolate thins have crowded the category. Bringing it all nicely together is Ripple Brand Collective LLC’s barkTHINS line of thin squares of Fair Trade, non-GMO, dark chocolate studded with inclusions, such as nuts, seeds, coconut chips, pretzels or fruit bits.
Another of the more creative ideas comes from the master chip chefs at Simply 7 Inc. For one of its first lines of chips—made from baked extrusions of quinoa, lentil or chick peas—the company incorporated pomegranate powder into their snacks. Changing the line-up, current offerings include chips flavored with everything from dark chocolate to creamy dill and tomato basil to a bruschetta variety. As always, companies must be careful about how they highlight the exotic and functional ingredients, so as not to mislead consumers in any way that will violate FDA labeling regulations.
Something New Popping
Potato chips aren’t the only snacks that have enjoyed a culinary makeover. Popcorn once came in buttered, not buttered and cheese flavors, while sweet popcorns were given caramel coatings or similar. That was OK for this classic American snack for decades. Paving the way for different kinds of variety in popcorn, food scientists focus more on the qualities of the kernels themselves than what’s done to the product after popping.
“Popcorn is an easy snack to make and season, if done correctly,” says Deepak Kanda, founder, president and chief popper at Punjabi Popcorn LLC. “There are key aspects a popcorn maker needs to know about the ingredients and techniques in order to make a great-tasting batch of gourmet popcorn that performs well across the recommended shelflife.”
While Kanda’s first rule—start with high-quality kernels—might seem obvious, it’s one that still needs to be stressed, because so many popcorn snack makers drop the ball with this right out of the gate.
“The biggest contributing factor to a good-quality kernel is the moisture content,” Kanda explains. “The kernels should be right at 13.5% moisture content. However, if the formulation is for air popping vs. popping in hot oil, then it should be at about 14%.”
That small partial percentage point really can make a difference, according to Kanda. “The reasons for these specific percentages is because a variation in the percentage will lead to lower yield, as well as a less-than-pleasant end-product,” he says. “Being off even a little can lead to a product that is too chewy, or it will be too brittle and will crush in the seasoning process. And neither will hold up well through shipping and handling, leading to shorter shelflife.”
Kanda next recommends that, after the popcorn is sampled for the moisture content, the correct amount of oil for an oil-popped product also is critical. This is because, again, any variation will affect not only the individual kernels but the batch as a whole.
“The science of a kernel becoming a popped corn kernel is fairly simple,” says Kanda. “The kernel is heated up to a point where the moisture—that magic 13.5 or 14%—becomes steam at 212?F. But it then must reach 347?F before bursting inside with 135lb per square inch of pressure. Then, rapidly cooling the inflated soft starches creates the traditional, puffy kernel of popcorn.”
Kanda further notes that the volume of a single kernel should puff to a size that is 40-50 times that of the original kernel. “Once you have all of these factors in synch for the basic popcorn—the dry kernels are of the right quality; the moisture content is on target; and the volume is within spec—you can then focus on creating the spices to coat the popcorn.”
Punjabi uses dry spice blends. This is because the coating procedure will coat the kernel but not saturate it with flavor, he acknowledges. “Our goal is to maintain the natural flavor of the snack, but with our added spice.”
Final kernel shape, too, is important in creating a flavored popcorn. “You have to choose which type of kernel to coat. Butterfly or mushroom kernels are the general choices,” Kanda states. “A butterfly kernel splits in half, into a butterfly shape, and is good for holding more seasoning, especially a dry blend. A mushroom kernel has a large round head, mimicking a mushroom. This shape is good for coating in caramel or in an oil- or water-based moist slurry, typical for carrying cheese and similar flavor types.”
At Punjabi, Kanda prepares whole spice blends per proprietary recipes and according to precise measurements before roasting and grinding into the seasoning. “Roasting spices releases essential oils that hold concentrated aromas and flavors,” he explains, “giving all the senses engaged with the final product a true experience of enjoyment.”
Once the roasting has been completed, the spices are ground into a powder. “Here, the key is that it is neither too fine nor too coarse of a grind,” Kanda says. “If the seasoning is too fine, you lose the natural flavor of the snack and just taste seasoning. It not only dissipates the flavor-containing volatile oils too quickly, it also just gets everywhere and overpowers the popcorn. Yet [with] too coarse of a seasoning, you have to mitigate a real loss on unused spice, because it will not stick to the kernel. And what seasoning does stick during processing will come loose shortly after packaging and shipping, ending up at the bottom of the container.”
With an oil-popped product, and one in which the popcorn is seasoned inside a seasoning drum, Kanda cautions to check that the popcorn is not leaving excessive oily residue or uncoated kernels. Another quality-check is to ensure that the completed popcorn product has a post-popped moisture content of about 2.8% for oil-popped, and 4.1% for air-popped.
“Once the desired texture, mouthfeel, chew and look have been achieved, bag it and move on to the next flavor,” he announces.
Popcorn was always mainstream in its traditional form. Aside from crafting various envelope-stretching flavors to rival the same trend in chips (best exemplified by Pop! Gourmet LLC’s line of Blue Cheese, White Truffle, Ginger Garlic, Sea Salt Caramel, Sriracha, etc., popcorns), puffy popcorn now has competition in the form of “half-popped” kernels. That is, the corn that did not fully pop is now a snack in itself. The pioneer example, Halfpops by Halfpops LLC, uses a combination of kernel selection and manipulation of heat to air-pop the corn partially, yet uniformly.
Billed as having “less fluff and more flavor,” the half-popped kernels provide a nutty crunch with more of a toasty favor. Its compact, spherical shape allows for a lot of surface area to hold the Butter and Sea Salt, Aged White Cheddar, Chipotle Barbecue and Caramel & Sea Salt flavorings added after popping.
The product Miss Popular, by Nourish Snacks LLC, takes half-popped popcorn a step further, blending together dark chocolate and half-popped kernels into a dense, indulgent snack. Other corn formats include quancha, an air-toasted Peruvian corn nut. Made from chulpe corn, an heirloom varietal that becomes light and crunchy (not popped) when toasted, it is a traditional rendering of the Corn Nuts sold by Kraft Foods Inc. for decades.
Popcorn and chips aren’t the only savory snacks with crunch. A few snack food creators have pushed the envelope of the bar category with savory bars. For example, Mediterra Nutrition Inc. added a savory cereal bar to its line-up of traditional bars in Mediterranean-inspired flavors, like apricot- and cherry-pistachio with sesame and honey. The two flavors in the new line include Black Olive and Walnuts, and Sundried Tomato and Basil.
Alongside these vegetarian versions of a non-sweet cereal bar is the new trend of meat bars. Merging the current craze for jerky and meat sticks with the popularity of more healthful snack bars, these new meat-containing products also include dried fruits in some of the formulations. In this manner, they draw closer to the true Amerindian pemmican bars used by the original inhabitants of this country and inspired the products.
Protein in Action
Developers striving to find formats that allow them to meet the current protein trend with minimal processing realized that meat bars are a pathway to bringing high-protein products to the consumer in the most basic form. For example, meat jerky bar makers OmniBar LLC and Epic Provisions LLC form dried meat into a familiar bar shape to make it more competitive with the energy bar market.
There are many ways to get protein into a product, but egg-based protein is still considered to be the most “complete” protein with all nine essential amino acids. Eggs are considered to be a “good” source of high-quality protein and also have B12, riboflavin and phosphorous. Moreover, consumers realize that eggs are a great, natural way to infuse protein into their diets.
Eggs can be incorporated either by using egg powders (egg white, egg yolk or whole egg) or using liquid eggs in products that are baked. Eggs must be kept dry or be subjected to a kill step, since they can potentially carry pathogens like salmonella.
Unique to this corner of snacks is IPS All Natural LLC’s “IPS Chips.” The line of crunchy chips includes three savory and one sweet crispy, puffed corn-and-egg-white snacks that provides 6g egg protein per serving.
Cheese, always a flavor favorite, is getting its due recognition as an excellent protein source. But as drying technology reaches new levels of expertise (thanks to envelope-pushing molecular gastronomists), cheese has become a popular crispy snack: NutraDried LLP’s Moon Cheese snacks are made from cheese. Real cheese is cut and rapid-dehydrated under low temperature.
As with the compressed, dried meat bars, they are creatively re-formatted versions of their former selves. Nothing says “natural” (without actually saying it on the package) more than naturally shaped products that look like they were simply sliced and dried before packaging. Savory, protein-rich, single-ingredient crunchy snacks can hit a number of trends in this manner.
One snack maker, Wild Garden Mediterranean Foods LLC, has done an excellent job of combining multiple snack trends into one neat, shelf-stable package—to go. The company’s Snack Pack to Go combines its all-natural, shelf-stable flavored hummus pouch-es with a choice of three different gluten-free crackers or chips, including puffed vegetable chips, puffed qui-noa chips or a multi-seed cracker. The kits tap the huge con-sumer interests of: hummus, protein, gluten-free, alternative chips/ crackers, portion-control and convenience.
Upping the protein ante, another hummus maker, Pure Mediterranean Foods Co., released its Hummus Plus line of snack kits. The five varieties contain bowls of flavored hummus plus flavored, cooked chicken breast strips.
Snack developers are pursuing these interesting combinations of protein and crunch with greater diversification to meet consumers’ desire for protein sources that are allergen-free and directly from eggs, or that are vegetarian-based. Hemp, pea and potato proteins are both vegan and allergen-free examples.
The big jump in popularity of nut snacks perfectly suits both the rise in demand for protein and the redemption of dietary fat via healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. High-fat nut and seed bars, without any fillers beyond that which is needed to stick the ingredients together, are another nutritious way to insert protein and healthy fats into the mix, with minimal carbohydrates. But nut allergies also draw attention. For this reason, seeds such as quinoa, chia, sesame and hemp are of intense interest to snack developers.
Hemp is high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids in bioavailable amounts, unusual for a plant protein. Hemp is becoming more widely accepted, as the public becomes educated on it being a close cousin of the marijuana plant but containing no psychoactive components, specifically tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Fiber can be delivered in snack foods by using garbanzo, lentil and black bean powders/flours to create lentil and hummus “chips.” Or the whole bean itself also can be toasted into a snack, such as Simply Beans LLC’s Fabz, which are roasted fava beans that have been lightly seasoned, or Seapoint Farms LLC’s dry-roasted flavored edamame snacks.
High-protein bars and baked goods, too, have taken off. Because of this trend, protein has popularized ingredients that have been around for a while—but now are prized for their functional capabilities and nutritional profiles.
Product developers substituting protein for carbohydrates in such bars, baked goods and other products are faced with the challenge that, by removing carbohydrates like flour or sugar, they also are removing structure and bulk. Products high in protein can be chewy, stretchy and resilient. While perfect for a meat stick, those organoleptic qualities are far from welcome in, say, a protein-packed cereal bar missing that much-needed bulking agent from carbs.
Crystalline sugar alcohols, such as erythritol, sorbitol and xylitol, are commonly used to bring back the carb functionality—without the calories and sugar. Sugar alcohols are not broken down in the body, have fewer calories and do not raise blood sugar levels as much as sugar. (See “Sweetener Solutions,” PF May 2015.) Sugar alcohols have been most closely associated with products developed for people with diabetes or other blood sugar-management issues. In the past decade, they have become an increasingly important component of low-carb/high-protein products.
Dietary fiber powders also are used to bulk up products without contributing to the calorie count. Chicory root fiber, sugar cane fiber and corn fiber all are used to not only increase the amount of fiber per serving but to give the final product a desirable substance and structure. (Note: When it comes to labeling, the FDA does not approve of misleading labels that imply sugar alcohols and fiber don’t count at all toward total calories or carbohydrate quantity.)
Once carbohydrates are reduced and the sugar removed, developers can still use high-intensity sweeteners, such as monk fruit or stevia, to help with loss of sweetness. A number of suppliers have been crafting and customizing blends of sweeteners to suit just such purposes. One of the newest is a balance of erythritol combined with both stevia and monkfruit.
Further textural support comes from hydrocolloids, such as xanthan gum, guar gum and carrageenan. These can be used as replacers for some carbohydrates to help improve mouthfeel and flavor. Product developers can work with suppliers to hit the perfect balance in a high-protein snack that will meet flavor and other organoleptic goals to ensure consumer acceptance.
Popped, extruded, baked or highly salted; all of these processes have one important factor in common—they all are designed to extend shelflife and inhibit spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. The very process that makes these products crispy and crunchy actually plays the double role of creating optimal texture while preventing bacteria outgrowth.
When snacks are baked, they go through a kill step to eliminate pathogenic and spoilage bacteria present in the incoming ingredients. The bacteria can be further inhibited after baking by keeping the water activity (aW) low. The aW measures the amount of water available in a system for bacteria to grow.
Companies such as MJC Confections Inc.’s Snacks101 line accomplished this, in part, by creating the first baked popcorn on the market. The popcorn is baked in coconut oil, cutting calories and drawing out moisture. The primary goal is to keep the popcorn flavorful and crispy. But the process also reduces aW.
For dry meat products, such as meat sticks, meat bars and jerky, aW must be below 0.95 by USDA regulation to prevent Clostridium botulism. This is the bare-minimum requirement for safety, but aW-controlled products must be kept even lower—below 0.65—to prevent most spoilage organisms from taking hold.
Control of aW is a crucial QA measurement and must be monitored during production, and a shelflife study that includes a variety of typical storage temperatures should be conducted. Every product will have its unique aW minimum that can only be established through a shelflife study and by understanding how the product will be handled during shipment, distribution and on the shelf.
Control of aW is important, but it not the only quality- and safety-control point to be monitored in production. Incoming raw ingredients, like vegetables and cocoa powder, can potentially be contaminated. If a product is to remain raw (that is, no kill-step performed), relying only on low-heat dehydration methods, the manufacturer needs to ensure that incoming raw materials are pathogen-free and have low bacteria counts from the outset and throughout production.
Examples include raw energy bars, dehydrated kale chips, and products with nuts or dusted with raw cocoa powder. Snacks that add seasoning blends after the kill step need to be sure their spices are clean and possibly irradiated or treated to ensure that no mold will start growing in the package.
Any bit of moisture that gets into the dry seasoning blend portion of a product can result in outgrowth of the existing dormant bacteria population. Start with a low load and ideally maintain it throughout.
There still are few refrigerated snacks on the market. Refrigerated products are more expensive to manufacture, ship and sell (in the refrigerated section of the supermarket). But refrigerated snacks certainly have an advantage of freshness in flavor, because they don’t need to rely on water activity, heat, sugar and salt for preservation—cold air does the job.
However, refrigerated foods do have a shorter shelflife. The currently popular raw food snacks are a case in point. In addition to fresh trail mix and other fruit and nut/grain snacks, not-for-profit Core Foods Corp. (a certified B Corporation) sells its veggie roll and wrap snacks in the refrigerated section of specialty and select supermarkets. The company openly declares, “Real food goes bad,” and they expect their product to eventually mold. The only way to extend shelflife is to decrease the temperature of the refrigerator.
Microbiological spoilage is not the only factor that can affect product quality. There are other ways quality can be compromised over time. Fried snacks, like chips or with those with oil-based seasonings, can go rancid as the oil breaks down. While not necessarily a food-safety danger, rancid oils impart decidedly off flavors and textures.
Rancidity can be slowed down by using antioxidants from natural (and even functionally healthful) sources, such as vitamin E, rosemary extracts or fruit-derived acids, which prevent oxidation and slow down flavor deterioration. Products also need to be protected from air and light that can discolor products and can cause them to stale or turn rancid. This is usually a function of packaging, but developers also get involved by creating product forms that can minimize contacts with air, light and moisture.
The snacking industry provides expanding avenues that meet consumers’ cravings and nutritional preferences—many in grab-n-go, shelf-stable formats. Technology allows manufacturers to easily incorporate healthy ingredients and flavors, while maintaining safety and hitting the right trends.
Tiny but Very Mighty
One of the biggest trends of the past decade has been not one of techniques or preparation but of social responsibility. Often, however, there’s a degree of separation between the product and its cause. In the case of Tiny But Mighty Foods LLC’s popcorn, Gene and Lynn Mealhow discovered that their product—a small-kernel, heirloom popcorn variety—can be a boon to some persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD can be associated with more sensitive digestion. Interestingly, the Tiny But Mighty corn’s kernel has an unusually thin hull that flakes away during cooking and the resulting product and is easier to digest than traditional popcorn.
Tiny But Mighty Popcorn is now an Autism Hope Alliance (AHA) “Network Affiliate” (www.autismhopealliance.org) and has been “Autism Approved” by the AHA, the first non-profit foundation for Autism to emerge from the natural foods industry. It promotes education, financial support and volunteerism for persons and families associated with ASD. The Autism Approved program is a partnership program that allows the AHA to raise funds, as well as “bring awareness, create standards and ensure companies do their due diligence by being socially responsible” to the community. Partners or affiliates donate to the community and, if food, beverage or supplement manufacturers, their products must be gluten-, casein- and dairy-free.
In the Raw
The raw food movement is still going strong, and raw products can be seen in both the dehydrated chip and energy bar category. The idea that raw, unprocessed ingredients retain more functional components, nutrients and vitamins is the driving force behind the creation of these products. They’re marketed as nutrient-rich and minimally processed with more health benefits than their baked and cooked competitors. Low-temperature dehydration—typically at about 115°F—is a key processing method for these items. But raw food product developers also must be extremely careful to ensure their products are made from clean, low-microbial load ingredients.
Wonderfully Raw Inc. developed a full line of such raw food snacks. Its Cocoroons brand of raw macaroons are made with raw coconut, almond flour and unrefined maple syrup, while its Brussel Bytes and Snip Chips vegetable chips are made from kale and Brussels sprouts and blended with raw nuts, seeds and coconut.
All raw materials can carry both spoilage and even some pathogens. If there is no kill step, microorganisms will flourish if any moisture gets into the product. If the bacteria hits a high level, spoilage can take place, or there could be safety and health risks. For this reason, it also is vital to carefully monitor water- activity levels and make sure solids and conditions are designed and executed in such manners as to inhibit bacteria growth.
If the pH can be dropped below 4.0, that can create another hurdle for bacteria to overcome and, thus, will provide more protection to the product. Currently, the safety risks of raw products are holding developers back from bringing many of them to market. However, technology such as HPP and other methods of food safety assurance are expected to allow more manufacturers to pursue this popular trend.