With end consumers demanding the development of more balanced and healthy food products it can be a challenge for food manufacturers to balance reformulation using ingredients that consumers are not familiar but which offer a full nutritional profile that can address public health demands with the clean label and natural trend.
Rudy Wouters, Vice President of the Beneo Technology Center, told FoodNavigator that the ingredient supplier is focussed on innovating with a wide range of ingredients derived from chicory root, sugar beet, rice and wheat that are highly recognisable to consumers.
“All Beneo ingredients are derived from nature,” he said. “However, an increasing number of consumers now expect their products to be clean label as well as natural.”
The pandemic has further put a spotlight onto transparent and cleaner labels. According to Beneo, three out of five consumers worldwide now prefer clean label products, because they regard them as healthier.
Beneo’s consumer clean label research has shown that consumers are more likely to purchase products containing ingredients that they feel positive about. For example, when the characteristics of key starch and flour ingredients (rice, corn, potato, tapioca and wheat) were compared, rice came out on top for consumers as ‘a cupboard ingredient’ (67%), ‘healthy’ (58%) and ‘easy to digest’ (51%).
Clean label ingredient finds new applications
Rice is widely considered a recognizable product. According to research from HFI’s global trend study, 61% of consumers view rice starch as a natural product. The ingredient therefore appeals to product developers looking to develop cleaner labels
Last year Beneo announced it was investing €50m to increase its rice starch production capacity at its Wijgmaal facility by 50%.
Significantly, demand growth is coming from both 'natural and organic growth' as well as from 'new projects and applications', Wouters revealed.
“This demand for easily recognisable ‘cupboard ingredients’, is making our rice starches and flours even more popular with producers,” continued Wouters. “With rice being such an accepted and recognisable kitchen cupboard ingredient, Beneo has already worked with manufacturers on a wide range of recipe concepts. Recently we invested in our plant for rice ingredients in Wijgmaal in Belgium, because we truly believe in clean label. For Beneo it is no longer a trend it is mainstream.”
Traditionally, rice starch was associated with baby foods and infant cereals, thanks to its ease of digestion and gluten-free properties. However, Beneo is seeing more and more use of it by producers as a way of fine-tuning the texture of baked goods and in confectionery as well as dairy, non-dairy and cereal applications.
Technical trials by the Beneo Technology Center have shown that clean label rice starch can also play a role in a variety of applications, including baked goods and products that need to undergo severe processing conditions, such as sauces and dressings.
An alternative to titanium dioxide?
Rice starch is capable of filling the micropores on the surface of coatings for a ‘smoothing effect‘ that delivers a stable result where edges do not crack or splinter. It allows for the 'preservation of a brilliant white colour' for 'months', Beneo suggested.
This could prove particularly appealing to confectioners in Europe because it could serve as an alternative to titanium dioxide, which is used as a colourant to enhance and brighten the colour of white foods and to fill microscopic irregularities in coatings.
Since the beginning of last year, the use of titanium dioxide in food has been banned in France. There are expectations that other EU markets may follow suit.
Chicory root fibres tap into immunity concerns
Current trends also allow manufacturers increased innovation opportunities with chicory root fibres. According to Beneo, consumers are increasingly aware of the link between health, disease prevention, well-being and the foods they choose, with 83% of consumers globally attempting to eat and drink more healthily as a result of COVID-19.
Topics such as immunity, digestive health, weight management and blood sugar management are now front of mind among shoppers. “With 70% of the immune system situated in our intestine, immunity and digestive health are closely linked. Reformulating with prebiotics such as Beneo’s chicory root fibres - that have proven effectiveness in supporting a healthy microbiome - is one way to strengthen our inner defence system,” said Wouters.
“Inulin and oligofructose are soluble fibres that can also be used to reduce sugar or fat levels in a variety of food products thanks to their texturizing properties and balanced flavour.”
Enhancing the technical properties of food
Sugar beet is another example of a food ingredient from natural sources delivering nutrition and enhancing the technical properties of food.
“Sugar reduction is still one of the key ways consumers manage their weight,” explained Wouters. “Beneo invented isomalt as a sugar replacer more than 30 years ago. Since then, isomalt has grown to become the number one sugar replacer in hard candies worldwide and a preferred solution for sugar-free chewing gum (coating and centres). Isomalt is the only sugar replacer made from pure beet sugar and has a natural taste and sweetness. It replaces sucrose on a 1:1 ratio, with a relative sweetness of about 50% and importantly, carries flavour well and has no undesired aftertastes.”
Capitalising on the plant-based trend
Another key trend identified by Beneo that has been accelerated by COVID-19 is the demand for plant-based food and drink products. It claims that half of consumers globally are very or extremely interested in plant-based food or beverages.
“It is not about everyone being vegan, it is about everyone wanting more plants,” Wouters elaborated.
Beneo has consequently introduced a plant-based textured wheat protein ingredient called BeneoPro W-Tex, which can be used in a wide range of applications and is especially ideal for use in meat analogue products. “In a recent taste trial we carried out with 88 consumers for our BeneoPro W-Tex plant-based burger recipe, more than 90% said that they were impressed with the burgers’ very neutral taste and no off-flavour was perceived,” said Wouters. “In addition, 87% found the burgers containing textured wheat protein close in consistency to beef burgers.”