I am so excited about the upcoming Expo West Trade show in Anaheim, California– I can’t wait to walk the miles of aisles all teeming with entrepreneurs who are eager and hopeful about bringing their ideas to market. I love hearing their stories, their successes and their regrets about the path they took to get to where they are- and hearing about their challenges ahead! As a food scientist my job is to help entrepreneurs navigate the confusing food industry waters and figure out the right path and the right order of steps within that path! The more stories of confusion I hear, the more chapters I can add to my E-book The Food Business Tool-Kit for entrepreneurs-How To Research, Develop and Produce A New Food Product to alleviate that confusion!
I want to share a common practice that many entrepreneurs partake in that not only is a waste of time and money but can lead to incorrect assumptions about the food product you want to bring to market. This practice involves trying to develop a product on your own at home without any professional supervision. I am not talking about super early stage creations-sure you can make a few fun batches that represent your “concept” and show it to your family and friends—get some feedback. But it needs to stop there! I have had many entrepreneurs tell me about the months they have spent trying to get their product “just right” and they are ready to go to a manufacturer and make a go for it. When I look at their formula I sadly shake my head and tell them they have a long way to go to make it “commercial ready”. Here are some of the common mistakes that entrepreneurs make when developing products from their home (without professional food science supervision!)
Not Using Industrial Ingredients- Unless you are working with extremely commodity ingredients (sugar, vegetable oil, salt and perhaps water) anything you get from the supermarket is not going to be the same ingredient used at the manufacturing plant. Even something simple like the organic gluten free flour from whole foods- will perform differently in production. When you start using more complicated ingredients like pureed fruit, spices and protein powders – The supermarket brands are not the same, not even close! Spices in the supermarket are not nearly as fresh as what the manufacturer made, fruit purees are often concentrated to various brix levels for consistency and and most protein powders on the market are blended with flavorings and other sweeteners. The solution here is to work with industrial ingredients only. You will have to track down the ingredient suppliers that sell to manufacturers, request samples and work with those ingredients.
Not Using a Proper Scale: I have some sad news… the $25 dollar scale you bought online is not accurate. It usually measures to the nearest gram and in production, those half grams and partial grams are important. Spices and other lightweight items that you weighed out with your inexpensive scale are going to be inaccurate. You may think you weighted out 1 gram of oregano, but it could just as easily have been 1.5, but you will never know because your scale only went out to the 1-gram accuracy. My advice is to spend $300-$500 on a good scale that goes out to the 100th decimal point. So your 1.53 gram of spice weighs out to exactly that.
Relying On Nutritional Information Provided On The Supermarket Label Ingredient: I already mentioned you should not be using supermarket ingredients but for those who are or did, they also tend to rely on that nutritional information on the label. That nutritional label has already been extrapolated down and rounded to match up with the serving size on the package. The FDA regulations have lots of rounding rules that can result in a teaspoon of spice having no calories when actually Oregano has 38 calories per 100 grams and its 9% protein, 69% carbohydrates and 42% fiber. But if you look at a label on a spice jar in the store- it will probably say zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero fiber. Yes, that may be the case for the tiny 3 gram serving that is recommended.
Not Knowing The Process: You can’t really develop a product if you don’t know how it will be ultimately processed. Unless you have millions of dollars and plan to build your own manufacturing plant and bring in special equipment from Italy- chances are the unique process you created by boiling, dehydrating, freezing, crumbling and adding back into your cake is just not going to fly at the manufacturing plant. Food manufacturers are not going to adapt their process to fit your idea unless you plan to pay for those adaptations. Your process needs to reflect the manufacturers process, not the other way around. I recommend that you find your manufacturer first- understand how they make the product and try to simulate your process to match theirs. This can be done by online research, checking out co-packer websites or simply networking and finding a local food scientist or food science university and asking the professors there for some assistance. Don’t assume that your method can be done in mass production (it probably can’t!)
Spending months perfecting your formula in your own kitchen is not an efficient use of time or funding. After a few initial basic prototypes that you show your family and friends, your next steps should be to either contact a food science consultant or find a manufacturer who can guide you through their processing steps so you understand how to create the product in a commercially viable way. If you hand over your homemade recipe with your own fruit concentrates and vanilla flavored protein powder from whole foods your co packer will probably tell you to recreate the formula so it can be made commercially. What does that mean though? It means follow the points I mention in this article.
Rachel Zemser is a food scientist who helps entrepreneurs bring their food products to market. Her website is www.alacarteconnections.com
I spent three days wandering around the winter fancy food show in San Francisco this week! Saw lots of the same old same old (popcorn, chocolate, olive oil, cheese, Italian imports) but like every show, there are always a few unique items and up and coming trends that we hope will make it and hit mainstream!
Tonics are beverages or syrups that are based on traditional or ancient methods for natural self healing. Some interesting products at the show included Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks like Sonoma Syrup, Tuber Tonics and African Bronz Honey Tonic.
Why buy something ready to eat when you can sort of put it together yourself. Lots of DIY (do it yourself) kits at the show for both adults and kids! My favorite was HummisStir– a package containing three shelf stable sterilized packs of chic peas, tahini and dry seasoning- that you blend together with a cute wooden spoon. The hummus wasn’t bad– although it needed some fresh lemon juice in there. Home Cranked Ice Cream Mix eliminates one having to combine their own sugar, cream and milk–the base is right in the box so you can be like professional and dump the mixture into your ice cream machine– press go- and impress everyone with your secret non-blending skills! In the health and wellness DIY space, there are now companies that will sell you their special Kefir starter cultures to make your own Kefir at home! You can also go to Berkeley and just ask around town and someone will probably “gift” you some of theirs but its nice to know there is a reliable clean workable version on the market. And of course Bagels–the company Everything Bagel and Cream Cheese DIY instructs you on how to make both the bagel and the cream cheese.
An Apple Every Day
Apples are showing up more than ever in products from syrups to freeze dried snacks to BBQ sauce. Some examples I saw at Fancy Food show included Gia Russa Buttered Apple Barbecue Sauce and Apple Butter Syrup from Blackberry Patch. Stonewall kitchen was also demo’ing their Apple Cider Syrup.
Better For You Snacks-Naturally
Lots of snacks out there made from ingredients that are “healthy” for you. The definition of healthy of course varies, but according to those who are selling it– includes Chickpeas (Chick Bean Crisps), ProTato Crisps, which combines potato with rice protein to make a protein rich crunchy snack. Ticky Rice Chips which they make by steaming thai sticky rice, soaking it in watermelon (??!!) and then crisping it up so it tastes like the brown bottom of the pan rice that is scraped up. They have 30% less fat than regular potato chips. Also saw Chia Cassava Chips. These products combine both our desire to crunch and snack, but provide us with fiber and protein from the ingredients used.
Decadence Never Dies
The Fancy Food Show would not be what it is without the usual slew of olive oil, chocolate, cheese and other rich not necessarily good for you but tastes great selection! Chocolate products will always be there for us- and this year was no exception. Some unique items included Torn Ranch Chocolate Covered Banana Chips– that are truly “taste inspired”. The chocolate pate from Guthries— AKA “Sin In A Tin”.
The Products We Still Need To Get Used To
Crickets are hot now but we still need to get used to eating bugs as a protein source. Don Bugito has been around for a few years now– helping to increase awareness about bugs– as a protein source.
The Weirdest Product I saw at the 2017 Fancy Food Show
The strangest thing I saw was a beverage called Eggurt– made from fermented egg white. I don’t quite understand the history of this idea (it is not something that is done in other countries, nor is it something that existed in the past) but it tasted good– like a yogurt drink. I did find the masters thesis of a food scientist who developed a very similar beverage in 1978, I wonder if there is a connection!
Energy Bars, Health Bars, Nutrition Bars, Gym Bars—- Mommy Bars, Kid Bars and More! The bar industry is exploding and it seems like anyone who is on the go, wants a bar that fits their specific nutritional needs- and anyone with specific nutritional needs has a bar that they have created and want to bring to market.
Carbs Were Still Ok: Years ago there used to be granola bars—lots of oats, sugar, grains and fruit. They tasted pretty good and it was essentially granola cereal all baked together with sugar. A bar that emerged from the granola era—An era where we used to eat carbohydrates without guilt. Fat was the enemy and granola bars were fat free! Nature Valley comes to mind.
Protein: Then the athletics came in- and they wanted a bar that would fit their workout needs. Thus was born the high protein “Power Bars” with lots of whey protein in there. But we were still anti fat and ok with sugar so the power bars were high in sugar. These no-bake bars were held together by their sugar-glue and were very hard and chewy. Lots of soy and whey pushed into a very small concentrated place. These bars didn’t need to be baked, with all that sugar the low water activity held them all together.
Sugar Alcohol: It then became unpopular to consume carbohydrates and the bar landscape changed. Companies like Quest emerged and replaced the sugar syrups with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols used to be something that was consumed in small quantities by diabetics- so they could enjoy a small piece of chocolate but now sugar alcohols were being consumed in larger amounts and used to replace most or all of the sugar syrups found in bars.
Soluble Fibers: Sugar alcohols started getting a bad rep because of the gastro-distress they caused. Bar companies turned to soluble fibers like chicory root, inulin, 0ligiosaccharides, prebiotic fiber, soluble corn fiber. There were lots of names and varieties but ultimately it translated to carbs that are not digested.
Fat is Ok: Guess what, we get to eat fats again- and not just olive oil but the stuff that used to be bad for us like saturated fats from coconut oil and palm oil. Remember when the CSPI said coconut oil and saturated fats were bad—well, now we are told its good! The bar market continued to emerge with bars very high in fat like coconut oil, palm oil and MCT (medium chain triglycerides). This was all propelled forward by Dave Asprey and his Bullet Proof Coffee. Now we see bars emerging that are just dripping with oil and fat. This is ok—this is acceptable because there are no carbs, there are healthy fats and all the protein comes from nuts. Of course a bit of sugar is needed to keep it from getting moldy so the soluble fibers and sugar alcohols are used for water activity control.
Soluble Fiber Rules Change: In 2016 the FDA put out their updates including noting that not all soluble fibers would count as dietary fiber on the label. Fibers that count include natural fibers from fruits and vegetables but processed inulin fiber may not count. The FDA says, and I quote:
“The F.D.A. plans to publish a separate notice that will seek comment on the available scientific data on non-digestible carbohydrates. Publicly available clinical trial data will be identified and summarized for non-digestible carbohydrates, including inulin, bamboo fiber, soy fiber, pea fiber, wheat fiber, cotton seed fiber, sugar cane fiber, sugar beet fiber and oat fiber”
Glycemic Index: But what about glycemic index?! That’s the new buzz word in the health bar space. Glycemic index and blood sugar are important and the emerging thought now is, its ok if the carbs are actually GASP* digested- but wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t’ affect our blood sugar levels! The bars are now high in fat (from nuts and coconut- it’s so great not to have to worry about saturated fat anymore!)
Sugar Is Back– FODMAP friendly bars: We have come full circle with a new bar trend- the latest bar trend uses actual glucose syrup (and in the spirit of keeping it real—let’s all agree that corn syrup, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup and glucose syrup are all the same thing-just because its not high fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean its healthier) The goal of these bars is to get the FODMAPs, an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, AKA poorly absorbed carbohydrates- that cause severe abdominal pain, bloating, gas and constipation. I shake my head and wonder—how is this different from the very same high protein low fiber, high sugar Powerbars we used to eat so long ago. Its not– its the same concept, with a brand new marketing twist! Powerbar should have marketed their 90’s bar to the FODMAP sensitive people!
Allulose Bars: A new emerging trend on the horizon. Allulose is a natural rare sugar that is created in bulk by enzymatically extracting it from Non-GMO corn. Allulose is not a sugar alcohol and it is not a soluble fiber. It is actually a sugar, you just pee it out. It tastes great, it lowers water activity, it doesn’t cause FODMAP issues. Could allulose be the answer to our prayers? It probably will once consumers can be educated to understand that the sugar from allulose listed on a label doesn’t count – not much anyway. It’s about 0.29 calories per gram. The FDA has some recommended levels on it that may or may not be followed- we don’t really know yet because no one has actually put out any products with allulose—YET! That will change in 2017!
It started with Core Foods (they were doing it back in 2009!) and now we have Perfect Bar– both bars don’t rely on high sugar (or sugar alcohols or soluble fibers) to lower water activity to inhibit mold—because they have the cold refrigerated air to keep the bacteria at bay. What a novel, new and exciting idea—refrigeration! Fresh Food! This emerging bar category is one to keep an eye on! A move away from bars that need some form of sugar (digestible or not) to keep it safe won’t be necessary if we keep it cold. A short shelf life will be involved though!
The energy bar world has evolved and changed over the past 10 years and we are now at a point where the trend is basically to eat and excrete. The less food from that bar that you eat and the more you push out of your body—the more popular the bar becomes. Bar entrepreneurs consider anything that is a fiber or sugar alcohol as not counting towards the net carbs- or they think it’s not going to be digested. (this is not totally true as parts of some fibers are digested –as the FDA is beginning to regulate-but no one really talks about that!)
2017 and Beyond
What kind of bar will be next—I have an idea! How about a RETORT bar— yes, this would be a bar that would be pushed into flexible pouch packaging, heated to 250’F to ensure no botulism and to make the product completely sterile. Water activity won’t be a concern, it won’t need refrigeration and pH won’t matter. It will be like the cans of tuna fish that are now in a pouch- on the shelf. Shelf stable retorted energy bars- you heard it from me first!
“It’s his evident cult of personality that’s most chilling. Tetrick used anti-Big Food, pro-animal rights rhetoric to whip his employees and brand ambassadors into a fervor, and the technique was so successful his shady schemes often went unquestioned.” The New Food Economy 9.23.2016
There has been lots of talk about Hampton Creek, buyback programs and other shenanigans! But as a food scientist I have a few obvious thoughts to point out:
Why was everyone so impressed with the following:
• Vegan spread made from oil and modified food starch and flavorings
• Cookies made from sugar, flour and oil
• Salad dressing made from oil, vinegar, xanthan gum and other commonly used hydrocolloids
These are all common stock food items that have been made by food scientists and mommy bloggers alike across the universe. There is nothing unique, special or new-scientific about these products. The famous pea protein that Josh and his team said was such a game changer- has nothing to do with their functionality- it all comes from the sugar, processed white flour, xanthan gum and modified food starch—ingredients that are seen as “unclean” in this day and age.
Investors: Stop being fooled by start-up entrepreneurs who don’t know a thing about food science or how to develop food products. Just because a 30 something year old hoodie wearing kid tells you that he is going to save all the chickens, doesn’t mean that they know how to actually do it!
Do your homework- crosscheck with real food scientists and stop believing the hype!
Rachel Zemser, Food Scientist (BS, MS, CCS, CFS)
Another IFT has come and gone – as I get older my show navigation skills have improved! I noticed this year that all the long timer booths (like David Michael, Kerry and Tate & Lyle) were located in the same spots on the McCormick floor as last year. I also am really good at finding the best freebie giveaways like the illuminated egg from Okaloosa, the beautiful green t-shirt from the honey board and flashing bracelets from Qualisoy. I should also mention that Qualisoy had a talented artist mold a head out of shortening. Not everyone may have caught this because it was way in the 4000’s aisle!
The real ongoing theme of IFT this year however was every food scientist’s favorite (and least favorite) topic—Clean Label! As a consultant who develops food products for both entrepreneurs and large companies I get frustrated when I am forbidden from using top notch functional ingredients because my client does not understand what it means, and replace it with something that kinda works, but maybe not as well- but comes with a word that is known to mere mortals (aka non-food scientists). Luckily I have ingredient trade shows like IFT and Supply Side West that give me the opportunity to explore and interact with the latest and greatest clean label functional ingredients that I can then introduce to my mortal clients who understand what the word means, and in turn put it on the “ok to use” list.
Ingredient trade shows like IFT and Supply Side link me up with the best clean label alternatives out there! For example—every time I make a dry powder mix (protein shakes, fruit powder sport drinks, pancake mix, cake mix) I need anti caking agents. The most popular anti caking agent is Silicone Dioxide. The scientists of the world know that Silicone comes from quartz and oxygen comes from – the earth. It’s as natural as can be, but to the uninformed mortals they are just eating “chemicals”. Well in come Ribose, a leading organic natural clean label rice based alternative. Their Nu-Flow anti caking agent can be used to replace SiO2 or the even dirtier “Tri-calcium Phosphate” (oh no, not CALCIUM!) with simple “rice concentrate”! Boom! Done! Everyone is happy! I feel safe in knowing my dry blend won’t clump and my clients can breath a sign of relief that no nasty chemicals that will offend their clients will be on their ingredient statement. It’s a win win situation.
Phosphates are very common in the cured meat in industry, used to retain moisture, maintain flavor. They increase the water holding capacity of meat by forcing proteins apart, allowing water to move in between the protein molecules. Most people don’t really know what this word means or how it functions—they don’t want to see it on the label. Luckily I found Prosur’s “PRS PHR”, an innovative clean label solution made out of yeast extracts (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, Pichia Jadinii) and citrus extracts. They have a synergistic effect on the solubilisation capacity of actomyosine, which boosts the water retention of meat in a more natural way. In layman’s terms—this works like a phosphate and translates to an ingredient statement that says: Yeast Extract, Citrus Extract. Yeast and citrus are clean, phosphates to the consumer are not.
TIC Gums is a true leader when it comes to clean label ingredients. Why? First of all, gums were never really un clean to begin with and many have been used for hundreds of years and everyone knows that if our grandmother used it then it must be clean since most people don’t have food science grandmothers. TIC has a great “clean label hydrocolloid” chart that they passed out, reminding food scientists like me that High Methoxyl Pectin can simply be called “Pectin” and Locust Bean Gum can be called “Carob Gum” and the hippies in the 60’s ate Carob instead of chocolate so it must be clean. High Acyl Gellen Gum can be called just “Gellen” gum. Some gums are organic, which translates scary sounding “inulin” to “organic agave or chicory”. Lots of confusion out there in gum world-TIC is there to help us legally relay the truth to the consumer. Unfortunately for ingredients like sodium alginate (AKA Seaweed!) there is no clean label- it is up to the manufacturer to educate their consumer that it is seaweed, organic compliant, non-GMO compliant and on the published whole foods compliance list.
All these companies and more will be exhibiting their functional and clean label alternative solutions to the food scientists that will be attending Supply Side West. I started checking out Supply side several years ago and wasn’t quite sure if it was just herbs, supplements or an up and coming IFT type show. Every year more and more ingredient companies are exhibiting at Supply Side and the show is almost beginning to outgrow the smaller expo exhibit hall in Vegas at Mandalay Bay. In the past I didn’t go to Supply Side very often as I felt it was very supplement and vitamin oriented, but now it’s one of my regular trade shows that I attend. I love that it is in Vegas too—lots of affordable hotels, great restaurants and nighttime entertainment.
This year at IFT there was an eye opening consumer panel called “A Clean Label Revolution”. Random consumers not from the food industry were actually on the stage and sharing their thoughts and feelings about ingredient statements and what they would and would not use. The message was clear—if consumers don’t know what it means or if there is unexplained fear monger attention surrounding it (like carrageenan or GMO’s) then they don’t want to buy it!
Clean label is no longer just a thing for the Whole Foods and artisan crowd- it’s becoming an everyone thing and the food industry needs to start doing a better job of educating the masses on what sodium chloride is and the differences between high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, or come up with some brand new functional alternatives that have names our grandmother could have lived with. This is what happens when the food industry pretends like our food was made by Friendly Green Giants and Keebler Elves for the last 100 years- and consumers find out that it was actually made in stainless steel tanks in a factory by scientists and engineers. Yes, consumers now know the truth, that food is made in a scientific and methodical way in clean sanitary plants by people that wear hairnets and practice GMP’s. Time to educate, inform and fix it so we can continue to take advantage of past and future food science contributions to the functional ingredient world.
Oh, unrelated to the clean label trend –a few other cool things I saw at IFT this year was a new competitor to Genesis, a less expensive spreadsheet software program for nutritional analysis called Formulator. An edible vitamin cup from DSM and Loliware. Edible food wrap film from Monosol – a transparent, odorless and tasteless film that is biodegradable, dissolves in water reduces environmental waste. There was freeze dried high antioxidant purple corn from Suntava which was used to make energy bars that I ate for breakfast during the show. In the equipment world it’s all about recording results with the blue tooth pH meter from Hanna instruments. This is on my food science consultant wish list along with a not yet on the market but they showed it at Expo anyway—a unit that measures salt, acid, pH and brix all on the same unit from Atago. Can’t wait for this to come out, a must have for any laboratory!
Years ago the only companies that made food products were large corporations that had teams of industry professionals in marketing, food science, microbiology, food safety and packaging. They made sure that the products they created tasted great, looked beautiful and most importantly were “safe” for consumption and made under strict USDA and/or FDA guidelines.
In recent times, many of the new food products emerging on the market are not made by big food companies, but by people that are from non-food science backgrounds like finance, fitness or medicine. They are created by people who have stories to tell about how the concept that they created in their personal home kitchen saved the lives of their kids who had, before that, been forced to eat products that contained GASP* sugar that came from beets and not from cane—oh the horrors of it all! Or they are created by the fitness professional who learned that his chocolate cake made from chicken protein isolate is the answer to losing fat and gaining muscle (hey that’s a pretty good idea right there!)
These saavy entrepreneurs with no experience in food science, food safety or microbiology often come to the conclusion that they can do it all on their own and they don’t need the expertise of those who have dedicated their lives to studying food safety and science. They furiously develop recipes in their home kitchen using non-scientific measurements like tablespoons and cups to measure out their recipe. They use ingredients that they picked up from whole foods like trail mix and flavored protein powders. They don’t take into account water activity, rancidity issues or potential staling. Packaging options are not even considered. Of course it’s not all their fault that they assume it’s easy to bring food products to market- after all, when was the last time you saw a documentary on food science or product commercialization? Probably never! The food industry is notoriously secretive on how it’s all done , they don’t want to scare the masses by elaborating on unpleasant sounding topics like preservatives, HACCP plans and third party microbiology testing. The only vaguely real life examples we see are cute short videos on the food network show “Unwrapped” which makes food manufacturing look like a Willie Wonka chocolate factory.
So back to our do it yourself entrepreneurs, who after they have concocted their amazing idea (in cups and tablespoons!) they call a co-packing facility and wonder why they don’t get a response or why co-packers are so impossible to get a hold of, or why no co-packers are jumping at the chance to test out their product and help them get it on the market. After all, this is the opportunity of all opportunities!
I have said this before—and written it many times but the madness continues. There is a reason why the co-packers won’t call you, the entrepreneur, back and that’s because they don’t want to deal with the entrepreneurs naïve understanding of the food industry. They don’t want to hold the entrepreneurs hand and explain the meaning of third party micro testing, and they don’t want to spend hours breaking down their costs, knowing they probably won’t be able to afford the minimums anyway. Co-packers get hundreds of calls a month and they can smell the novice from miles away.
So what is an entrepreneur to do in this day and age? My advice is to not try to do this alone! The second you have an idea on how to bring a product to market the first call should not be to your lawyer, web designer, or graphic design expert but to your food scientist! It doesn’t even have to be “your” food scientist, just go to the IFT.org website and find a local food scientist from their reach out program who can give you some advice, or attend a local IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) regional meeting and network with the experts. The IFT is an amazing information resource. They have free regional local ingredient trade shows, online links to information and more.
If you are an entrepreneur who wants to bring a new product to market, make sure you do your initial homework. Read up on food science and the food industry. Make sure you have funding and that you understand the safety and regulations surrounding the type of product you want to make. If you don’t understand then hire a guide or consultant that can help you get started. Sometimes there is a reason why your concept is not on the market, and it’s not because no one thought of it already! It may not be something that can be made safely, or it might be too expensive, or the ingredient you want to use (bee nectar from the rain forest) may not be readily available.
Everyone knows what a plumber does, what a lawyer does, what an architect does and we seek out those experts when their services are needed, because we know that we don’t have the time or knowledge to do it ourselves correctly. But yet, when it comes to developing food products- thanks to the secrecy of the food industry and the glossing over by fakeumentary TV, entrepreneurs are learning the hard way that it’s not so glossy after all.
As a food science consultant myself, I have heard all the horror stories and tales of food start up companies that didn’t research properly and spent thousands more than was necessary. Failed production runs, overpaying for lab tests and shelf life issues that could have easily been avoided had they just hired a technical expert to assist them. Simple tools that cost a few hundred dollars (like pH meters and refractometers) can help ensure consistency while you develop your idea, versus paying a lab to do it for you. Understanding how to use a simple spreadsheet to set up nutritional analysis (hey finance gurus turned food experts– this should be a walk in the park for you). Don’t rely on your co packer to assume that your first production run will be a success, and don’t blame them when your organic natural color solution turns black in month because you did not do your shelf life study (I wish I had a bitcoin for every shelf life study that was not done and subsequently lead to a failed launch- for the sake of expediting to market).
It makes me sad when I walk the floors of Expo West and Fancy Food Show and hear entrepreneurs tell me “if only I had found a food science from the get-go”. Well I am here to remind all those who are just starting out that they should do JUST THAT! Consider this the dime store advice that you will wish you took in 2 years from now.
I get calls from lots of start up companies asking me how they can keep their label “clean” and ensure that their product has no preservatives, is all natural and uses fresh local ingredients—oh and they also want it to be affordable and shelf stable too!
Everyone wants their product to hit all the current trend buttons (natural, clean label, locally sourced, GMO Free, Organic) – but sometimes you have to compromise in order to ensure that you are creating something that is both safe and affordable- and it also helps to understand that just because something sounds like it is not natural, doesn’t mean that it isn’t!
Lets start with mold inhibitors- anyone who wants their somewhat moist baked good to last on the shelf is going to have to keep the fuzzy stuff at bay –and there are a wide variety of natural and synthetic versions. Potassium sorbate for example is a great yeast and mold inhibitor that is inexpensive and works in a wide variety of pH’s and food bases- it’s not natural but it does the job! Sodium benzoate is also cheap, synthetic and keeps the bad bacteria at bay! There are more natural options that you can use- and they are called cultured dextrose- (sold locally by Mezonni Foods http://www.mezzonifoods.com/) – It’s a cleaner label bacteria inhibitor that is created via fermentation of milk and sugar with probiotic organisms and works in a wide variety of applications like salad dressings and cured meats, soups and dairy products. They cost more but allow you to maintain a “natural” statement on your label (assuming all other ingredients are natural as well). Of course you can always cook your product (IE canned foods and jarred shelf stable sauces often just rely on heat as a the preservation method-however any thermal process must be approved by your local health inspector and the FDA!) or you can add tons of salt or sugar- those too can inhibit bacteria by lowering the water activity of the product.
What about flavorings? No one in the specialty food industry wants to put artificial flavor in their products and that is understandable but keep in mind that natural flavors are more expensive and less concentrated than artificial so you need to use more of them to get a flavor impact. If you want to flavor up a lemon cake- you may only need 0.02% artificial flavor but would have to use 2 to 3% of a natural flavor to get the same effect—AND that natural flavor is going to cost you more money. So what can you do? You can use a flavor called WONF (with other natural flavors) which is a blend of similar flavors used to make up the flavor you like but at a slightly reduced cost- you can tell your flavor supplier that you want an “off the shelf” flavor that they may already sell to several companies (a stock flavor) that they probably produce in bulk at a cheaper price. Talk to your flavor supplier about options!
Even starches can fall in the natural or not natural category—If a starch is referred to as a “modified food starch” it is not a natural thickener—you need to ask your supplier to provide you with a natural “unmodified” food starch. There are also other ways to thicken a product like via dehydration or evaporation of water—using tomato paste (if your product is tomato based), or experimenting with gums and hydrocolloids. Most hydrocolloids are natural like xanthan, gum Arabic, and gum acacia. Gum supplier websites like TIC (www.ticgums.com) have a wealth of information about gums and to use them to improve everything from particulate suspension to moisture retention in your food products.
There are always natural alternatives in the world of ingredients and it’s just a matter of balancing out what you need with the right price point.
Lets face it, we all love sugar! Not only does it taste great, but it’s incredibly functional providing bulk and structure to baked goods, confections and a multitude of other food products. Sugar is amazing—except that we all need to limit our intake. Sugar leads to diabetes and obesity and cavities and lots of other health problems. Unfortunately this wonderful delicious functional ingredient can only be consumed in small amounts.
There are lots of sugar substitutes out there that can help the nutritional profile of your product but most have drawbacks. High intensity sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit may not have any calories, but they also don’t have any bulk or functional capabilities. Have you ever tried to make a cake out of stevia—not possible! There are also sugar alcohols out there like Sorbitol, Xylitol and Erythritol, which are commonly found in gum and sugar free candy. Consumers need to be careful when eating products that contain sugar alcohol. If you have ever eaten a whole chocolate bar made with sorbitol, you know why—it can cause grumbly stomachs and gas in sensitive consumers.
There are two new exciting sweet ingredients on the market that can help you, the formulator, control sugar in your products but still provide the bulk you need to create those products! You may have seen the word Chicory Root Fiber, Inulin or the scarier sounding “Oligiosaccharide” on labels of food products that have a nice dose of fiber. All of these ingredients are in the same family of “prebiotics”. Prebiotics are a category of functional fiber ingredients that stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial “good” bacteria in the colon. Most prebiotics come in both syrup and powder form and have less than 3% glucose. The powder form is typically around 95% fiber and the syrup, which is a blend of the powder and water- is around 70%. They both have a light sweet taste (about 50-60% of sucrose). Prebiotics essentially can be used to replace all or part of the sugar in your formula with fiber. Your carbohydrate content can stay the same, but your grams of sugar are now grams of fiber and your product will have a lower glycemic index. You can call it “dietary fiber” on your label and educate your consumer on the benefits of prebiotics in their food. The company Vita Fiber (bioneutra.ca) sells prebiotic fiber in retail sized containers or in 25 KG containers. It can be used in candy, granola, beverages, trail mix and anything that could have or would have contained sugar. Manufacturers take note- like with all fiber products, some consumers may be sensitive to large quantities consumed in one sitting. Make sure your portion sizes have no more than 5 or 6 grams of “dietary fiber” per serving.
The second ingredient worth exploring is a bit more complex and difficult to procure and it has some development restrictions. Allulose is a brand new sugar replacement on the market that virtually no one is using… yet! Allulose is a very low calorie (0.39 calories per gram) sugar that tastes exactly like sugar, because it is! It official sugar name is D-Psicose, and it is one of the many different sugars that exists in nature in very small quantities. It was first identified in wheat and has since been found in corn, figs and raisins. It is a monosaccharide (simple sugar) that is recognized as a carbohydrate and absorbed by the body but is not metabolized, so it is essentially calorie free and has no impact on blood glucose levels. Allulose is not yet available in supermarkets but manufacturers can order it directly and use it in moderate amounts in their food product creations. Allulose has received Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status from the FDA. There are two companies that sell allulose- Tate &Lyle and a non-GMO version from The Anderson Global Group.
Prebiotic fibers and D-Psicose are both great ways to reduce sugar, increase fiber and help consumers manage their glucose response. Unlike high intensity sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia, which must be used in combination with maltodextrins, these two ingredients already have bulking capacity and can provide the function you need without the calories or sugar.
Last month was the yearly Rethink Food Conference held in November at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in St. Helena, CA. The conference addressed what, how and why we cook and eat the way we do—and what we will be doing (or need to be doing) in the future to improve our lives, our land and the animals that we eat.
Seminars and breakout sessions were a bit all over the place, making it difficult for a food scientist like me to pull it all together. Some topics like “Foods of Tomorrow” had presenters discussing sea vegetables, crickets and fermented foods which I could relate to as future protein sources, future under consumed ingredients that we can start eating—but other seminars like The Flavor Learning Curve, while interesting, didn’t seem to really fit the program and maybe belongs in one of the CIA’s other more creative culinary science conferences.
The speakers came from all areas of the food industry and included Kirsten Tobey, the founder of Revolution Foods, Sara Burnett, director of Wellness and food policy at Panera bread as well as local bay area chefs including Stuart Brioza (State Bird Provisions) and Courtney Burns (Bar Tartine). The wide array of professional food industry backgrounds all came together as each speaker shared their views on why we mistrust technology, robots cooking our food, and how food companies need to be more “transparent” in order to regain consumer trust. Preservation methods of the past are now being revisited in bay area restaurants as a way to be more sustainable (and healthy).
Some seminars were logical and I could see the connection between what was being said and what can and will be done- like the introduction of crickets as a protein source is a reality that we are already experiencing with companies like EXO selling their cricket bars—but other topics were still “far out there” like “Visions of the Future” that discussed how technology will shape how we interact with our foods.
The attendees were just as diverse as the speakers. Key players from McDonalds were there- as well as Google team members, chefs, and Ideo (one of the major sponsors), Coca Cola, and Chipotle Grill. Yes– the big chain companies are interested in making a difference!
An interactive group ideation session that was organized by IDEO allowed us to get into groups and brainstorm questions together while writing them on sticky notes—and using those ideas to come up with hypothetical finished technology concepts. A machine that analyzes what you eat and tells you its time to stop, or more biodegradable and edible packaging—(edible spoons made out of Sorghum). The video with all the team ideas can be watched online on the conference live stream: http://livestream.com/CIAlive/reThinkFood2015
This conference hit a lot of different angles and gave me (the food scientist) much to think about. Trying to understand the role of the food scientist in this changing landscape is challenging. The food scientist is usually just an executor of whatever the marketing and CEO dictates—as well as being a pillar for quality and safety- we rarely get a say in the bigger picture decisions and are mostly part of the execution. This conference served as an introduction to bigger topics that will affect how developers create and bring new food products to market.