As part of this new drive, the firm has split its innovation division from its R&D division, and is building partnerships with research groups and other ingredient manufacturers.
The ultimate goal, said Ulrick & Short director Adrian Short, is to bring new and “practical” ingredients to market in short time frames. “We’re not looking at re-inventing the wheel,” he told FoodNavigator.com. “It’s not about having crazy ideas, it’s about thinking quite practically how we can take our range forward to add benefits and value to it.”
Delving into the realm of functional ingredients is the first leg of the firm’s new innovation strategy.
The idea, explained Short, is to team up with other suppliers that have experience in developing functional ingredients in order to create a new range of combination products. These would deliver health benefits together with the clean label or emulsifying benefits traditionally associated with Ulrick & Short’s products, he said.
The ultimate benefit to customers of using such a combination product rather than two separate ingredients is twofold, claims Short. Firstly, the ingredients would be “easier to dose”, and secondly they would potentially be cheaper for customers. “There might be a premium initially, but I think the delivery of added benefits in ingredients will become the norm, and this approach will be more economic in use for our customers,” he said.
The first ingredient being examined as part of this new focus is a clean label stabilizer combined with plant-based omega-3. This is the fruit of around 12 months of “behind the scenes” work with an industry partner in the omega-3 sector.
The ingredient, derived from flax, has already been well researched, said Short. “It might not be stable but we’re looking at protecting it with one of our clean label stabilizers that would allow it to go through heat processing. So the omega-3 benefits would be delivered along with the emulsifying effects of our stabilizer.”
Short said it will also be working with food research teams at Sheffield and Leeds universities for additional research to ensure health benefits are still delivered in the new combination products.
“The research phase depends on the product, but we’re expecting a turnaround time of 12-18 months, which is a very short time to get a new product to market,” he said.
Other combination products on the cards include clean label preservatives and antioxidants, made using different fractions of liquorice extract.
“Some of these things already exist, but often have their limitations. What we’re doing is putting them together with other ingredients to allow customers to add health benefits while also removing E-numbers, additives, allergens or reducing saturated fats,” said Short.
The firm plans to target three main sectors with its new ingredients – dairy, breakfast cereals and snack bars.
Although the partnerships the firm is seeking are global, it will initially be focusing on selling the new products in the markets where its sales network is already established – the UK, Ireland, Germany, the Benelux and Spain, with Scandinavia being a potential new area of focus.