Functional ingredients need special treatment, warns formulation expert

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Functional ingredients need special treatment says formulation expert

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Functional foods may offer consumers additional health benefits but unless they fulfil their primary duty – and taste like a normal food – they will not be successful in the market, says one formulation expert.

Everybody knows that when it comes to consumer preferences, taste is king – but what about appearance, texture, smell, and viscosity? All of the components of a product must be accounted for in the formulation or reformulation of foods with a functional ingredient, warns Dr Lindsey Bagley of partner at Eureka, and fellow at the Institute of Food Science Technology (IFST).

Bagley told NutraIngredients that formulating with functional ingredients can be a challenge – and that the solution has to come from a holistic approach.

Holistic approach

“You can’t take one aspect of a product in isolation,”​ she said. “Every aspect of a product matters, from the way you approach, to the look, the way it smells, the feel, the taste.

She explains that in order to nutritionally modify a product, you have to look at the product as a whole rather than looking at the one component that you are taking out or putting in.

“If you are taking anything out or putting anything in, this obviously changes the fundamental composition of the product – so we need to understand how that affects the matrix, and how the new combination of ingredients will react with each other,” said the formulation expert.

“There is a wide range of ingredients now-a-days. So much choice is not always something that makes it easier,”​ she explains; noting that with such a big choice comes the responsibility for greater understanding ‘in order to make the right choice.’

Alien ingredients

Bagley warns that functional ingredients are, and should be treated as, abnormal ingredients for any food formulation.

“If you have flavoured milk, then you don’t need an ingredient in there that reduces your blood pressure, but you might want to make that drink as a consumer proposition.”

“Anything that you add to it for these functional benefits is alien to the base formulation,”​ she explains. “As far as the formulation is concerned, and as far as handling and ingredient interactions are concerned, then they are alien to the main composition of the product.”

But such ingredients do have a distinct impact on the formulation, she says. “So then you have to adapt the formulation so that the product still looks and tastes like flavoured milk, for example.

“Because the consumer will reject it if the product does anything other than taste and drink like a flavoured milk.”

The right fit...

Bagley says that manufacturers need to spend time assessing the viability of using functional ingredients in each food product.

“Its obvious that the ingredient has to be able to physically fit into the product,”​ she notes, but adds that any NPD team also needs to whether certain ingredients and their respective claims suit a particular food type.

“Does the consumers’ perception of the ingredient or the benefit that the ingredient will give them match with the product that is acting as the vehicle?”

“That is key to being able to deliver – making sure that the product is in harmony with the health benefit for the consumer,” ​she opined.

The real trick, Bagley says, is to not ‘force fit’: “Don’t think that because you make a certain range of foods, and want to deliver a certain health benefit, that it will work. It doesn’t work that way.

“You need to think about what functional ingredients the products that you already produce lend themselves to,”​ explains the formulation expert, who added that there are ‘probably’ opportunities for every product to carry certain types of functional ingredients.

Mixed messages

Bagley points out that some products and their functional benefits seem to provide a mixed message and cause customer confusion: “Should you put cholesterol reducing stanol ester into butter – which is generally high in cholesterol?

Although consumers might see that as a sign that they can eat butter, or eat more butter – is that actually a good thing to be encouraging them to do? Not necessarily.”

The dilemma comes because the consumers might actually want these products, she warns. “But when you think about it, they could be doing them more bad than good ... And we shouldn’t encourage that,”

“Just because it’s technically possible, it doesn’t make it ethically correct.”

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