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Matters of Food Philosophy: Insight from an Agropur Food Technologist

Vegan and Dairy Free

  • The increase in these categories’ popularity has resulted in a wide variety of ingredients to choose from. However ingenuity in both flavoring and functionality is required to successfully launch a new product in this segment.
  • One of the most important things when developing a vegan or dairy free product is understanding your ingredients. What are their strengths and weaknesses and how can you work with them instead of fighting them? For example, while it is true that vanilla and chocolate have been and probably will continue to be top selling flavors for the foreseeable future, you might be wise to consider flavor profiles that don’t fight against the nature of vegan and/or dairy free ingredients. If you set out to make a greens product taste like vanilla, your product development process will most likely be full of headaches, disappointing samples and frustrated flavorists. Instead examine the  strengths inherent in a greens ingredient and take advantage of them.  You could make a delicious, refreshing honey tea greens product as opposed to a so-so vanilla greens product and at the same time carve out a unique flavor space in the market.
  • Another important approach when it comes to flavor –  realism. From a flavor standpoint, it’s important to compare your product to the vegan market. Whether it’s correct or not, the gold standard for many product categories usually contain dairy; and it is the bar a majority of companies set during the development process. There are exceptions to the rules, but you can’t always expect a vegan product to be able to taste like its non-vegan counterpart. On the positive side, we have seen a shift towards acceptance on the retail side. The average consumer has accepted the flavor difference and decided they are willing to sacrifice some taste in certain product categories for the health, environmental, or even social benefits vegan or dairy free brings. By highlighting these attributes of your product, the consumer will experience a stronger connection and loyalty to certain brands.
  • A big component to a successful launch is always going to be marketing. How is your brand being identified with consumers and what is the message attached to it? This has more to do with the formulation than you may initially think. Keep in mind that adding a natural vegan fiber or protein sources can causing thickening in your beverages. Make sure to keep this in mind when forming your brand story. In this case, consumers might potentially accept a thicker product when it is advertised as a smoothie (which communicates an element of thickeness, as opposed to a post workout, where consumers are looking for a thirst quenching beverage to consume quickly.

Organic and Non GMO

  • The organic and non GMO segment has grown drastically over the past 5 years. Because of its popularity, the call for organic and non GMO raw materials has increased and organic farmers are still struggling to catch up.
  • Availability is a key issue for most companies trying to launch new products into this market segment. Certain ingredients are readily available while some can have lead times of a year or more; this is almost unheard of for any other type of raw material. High demand paired with the variability of Mother Nature (droughts, floods, shorter growing seasons, etc.) leaves a fair amount of risk when entering the fray. Relationship management with suppliers and manufactures in this market is key. Not only do you need to make sure the ingredients are up to the standard your company and certification bodies require but you also need a backup plan if crop becomes unavailable or is somehow unsuitable for production.
  • Price is also a large factor in organic and non GMO projects. If a company is used to purchasing conventional products there can be some sticker shock when switching. Playing in this market space will require an upfront risk and heavy investment. When comparing conventional to organic, a broad average is typically at least double the price. The upside is that retail products are able to demand a higher cost per unity and therefore create justification and profitability. Each company needs to decide if the investment of paying more for the raw materials will be beneficial; for some it is, and for some it isn’t.

Gluten Free

  • Gluten-free is gained momentum across all product categories— products are marketed towards  consumers who either suffer from celiac disease or are simply heath conscience.
  • The category your product falls into will dictate the difficulty of removing gluten.
    • Categories like supplements, RTDs and dairy-based products naturally have a lower amount of gluten in the key ingredients that make taste and functionality possible. For these products, going gluten free often simply means adding gluten testing and eliminating any cross contamination issues during raw material sourcing and manufacturing.
    • Other categories like bakery or snack foods are a little more difficult.  Gluten is a protein that accounts for a number of functional properties in a formula. If you are ever wondering how important gluten is, just try subbing gluten-free flour into your grandma’s homemade bread recipe or pizza crust. Many of these challenges can be overcome by adding the right combination of stabilizers (like guar, xanthan, or starches) or even dairy proteins if your product is not dairy-free.
  • The first decision to be made when making a product gluten free is whether you are going to make a gluten-free claim or have your product certified gluten-free. If a claim on your packaging is all you need, the FDA regulations only require that your final product test below 20ppm of gluten proteins? gliadin and glutenin. However, going through a certifying body like NSF Gluten Free will require your product to not only test below 15ppm gluten but have certain processes in place. This can require detailed information on manufacturing facilities and raw material testing proof.
  • When talking about such incremental amounts, sometimes it’s easier to understand when it’s put into perspective.  For instance, equate 100% of your formula to the size of a football field.  If you were to place 15 chocolate bars on that field, the amount of space those chocolate bars take up would be 15ppm. For the golfers, roughly one bogey in 234 rounds of golf would be 15ppm. That is the limit these proteins can be at in a gluten free product.

Kosher and Halal

  • Religious certifications have always been a staple in the food industry. While the target market of these is relatively small, almost 13% of new product launches last year were either Kosher or Halal. For those not familiar with these certifications, kosher means the product conforms to Jewish dietary requirements whereas Halal means the product conforms to Islamic dietary requirements.
  • Meeting these requirements is fairly simple, most raw material manufactures will certify their ingredients and all that’s left is for you to find the certified version for your product. The second step is making sure your manufacturing facility is also certified to run these products.
  • A common pitfall when formulating Kosher or Halal products is usually simple miscommunication. Many suppliers have both certified and not certified versions of a single ingredient. It is important to specify what you are looking for up front to ensure you are getting the correct version.

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