Sustainability should guide innovation, says Symrise VP

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Raw materials Sustainability

It is no longer enough for ingredients firms to look at their water and carbon footprint, says Symrise’s innovation chief, but sustainability should be a primary consideration for new product development.

Dr Claus Oliver Schmidt, senior VP of global innovation for flavour and nutrition, addressed attendees at Food & Drink – The Innovation Summit​ in Prague this morning and outlined some new, sustainability-driven developments his company is rolling out.

He told ahead of the lecture that sustainability has become an increasingly important topic over the last two years, and a much broader slice of the population see it as important.

“People are not just expecting packaged foods to be produced in a sustainable way, but they are considering ingredients,”​ he said.

“Everyone can learn how to improve, but it is not just about water and carbon footprint. We say we can go one step further, in innovation and new product development, and combine that with sustainability.”

And he expects that this approach will be picked up by more and more companies in the industry.

“Sustainability is a mega trend that everyone will follow”.

A technological approach

One way in which Symrise has sought to improve is in the actual production of its flavour ingredients. It is certainly an advantage to use raw materials from renewable sources, but it is also increasingly using biocatalysts for extraction.

This means that there are no heavy metal residues, and the process is carried out at near-ambient temperatures, which helps curb energy use.

For example, vanillin is produced from an aqueous solution of rice and enzymes. As the rice ferments it produces serulic acid, from which the vanillin is then extracted using distillation.

Local supply and kitting out the growers

Dr Schmidt explained that, where possible, Symrise uses raw materials grown close to its production plants so as to minimise transportation costs. For instance, it uses vegetables from its home country of Germany, where it has six locations in all.

In the case of vanilla, which comes from Madagascar, the processing of the beans is carried out there, in the vicinity of the cooperatives.

Likewise it has a citrus facility in Brazil, very close to the citrus belt. And while one may argue that there is still a need to transport the material elsewhere, the company has developed a way to transport it in a solid, very highly concentrated form.

The system is called Symtrap, and it involves installing absorption columns on the farmers’ sites so that they can do the first stage of processing themselves – that is, taking out the water and thereby improving the flavour yield.

The result, Dr Schmidt said, is “only a couple of kilograms from a tonne of water”​.

While Symrise has started using this system, implementation is still growing. He expects it to become standard in another year.

Backwards integration

Symrise has the certification in place to produce organic compounds for the juice industry at its facilities – and Dr Schmidt said that the EU organic system also covers raw materials that have to be sourced from other countries.

However it ensures that the same supplier is used in Germany as in, say, Brazil. This means that the company can be sure they are operating to the same set of standards.

The main part of Symrise’s ingredients are natural, but it does also have some ‘nature identical’ products in its portfolio.

Dr Schmidt stressed that these also adhere to the main principals of energy and water efficiency.

In full year 2007 Symrise reported sales of €603.2m for its flavour and nutrition division, and €1274.5m for the company as a whole. Overall EBITDA was €272.1m.

In 2007, Symrise was the subject of an investigation into its innovative strengths by consultancy firm McKinsey. “The result: we received an A– in innovation,”​ the company said in its annual report. “McKinsey’s executive consultants confirmed we are well on our way to becoming real innovation leaders in the industry.”

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