On a recent visit to Cargill’s premises in Mechelen in Belgium, and Sas van Ghent in The Netherlands, FoodNavigator learned about how the company keeps an ear to the ground, so it can be well-placed to meet customer needs and ensure raw material supply.
Marie-Jo Leroy, functional systems EMEA product manager, explained how functional systems - combinations of at least two ingredients that will deliver performance distinct from that achievable from their use separately – can be used to create the same technical effects as common food components, but may work out as significantly more cost-effective. They may also bring other benefits that are interesting to the customer, such as allowing for less saturated fat in a product, or making it allergen-free.
Her team works closely with customers to develop solutions to meet specific requirements, but responding to requests is only part of the story.
One of the main drivers of innovation is analysis of market trends, and prediction of what the trends will be in the future.
One example of how this longer-term view has delivered results is in an alginate-based functional system developed by the firm to reduce reliance on pork fat in products like sausages, burgers and fine pastes.
The solution was developed two to three years ago, as the Cargill team observed that the price of pork fluctuates wildly in some markets, thus making it hard for manufacturers to plan on the cost of using pork fat.
Able to be used as a whole- or a part-replacer for the pork fat, depending on the required emulsifying effect, the system has gained in popularity in the last couple of years.
The Adrogel-functional systems range is also useful for making healthier products, with less calories and saturated fat, and for Halal products.
Other areas in which the team has sought out solutions to reduce reliance milk powder and caseinates, and offer a most cost-effective solution in the face of high dairy prices.
Leroy admitted that the trend predictors do not always get it right; sometimes shifts in the market can occur that make the functional system less interesting.
For instance, use of lactose was decreasing because of high costs, so Cargill developed different types of functional systems based on ingredients that could be used instead. However, when the price of lactose fell, in some cases the solution was no longer so cost-effective.
That does not mean that the solution is dumped, however.
“We always have the solution in our pocket – the customer can come back to it,” said Leroy. “We see it as an investment.”
She pointed out that the lactose-free solution can still have ongoing use in the market despite the cost shift, in products designed for the lactose intolerant.
Chris Hollebek, starch product manager, said it is also important for the company to make predictions about the quality of the raw material it is likely to receive.
The wheat received at the starch plant in Sas van Ghent, for instance, can be greatly impacted by the harvest conditions in the growing regions.
So that the firm can be prepared and ensure that the raw materials it receives are suitable for the use it will put them to, it has a team of risk assessors who keep a close watch on weather conditions around the world.
This article is the result of FoodNavigator's funded visit to Cargill Texturizing Solutions headquarters in Mechelen (B) and the Cargill starch plant in Sas Van Ghent (NL). Editorial independence is guaranteed by FoodNavigator.com.