by Anna Batsakes
With the U.S. powder beverage market passing $1 billion in sales, opportunities to introduce new and innovative products to consumers in a powder format seem endless. Powders offer a perfect delivery system for innovative nutraceuticals, combining hydration with function while extending ingredient stability, prolonging shelf life and expanding shelf presence. But, successful commercialization of nutritional powders transcends clinical efficacy. It’s about delivering an appealing, convenient and safe solution to consumers at the right price. A successful powder product reflects consumer need through precise nutritional composition, tailored sensory characteristics, and commercial and market viability. Efficacy in all these areas is required for delivery of a winning product.
The powder beverage market has grown beyond traditional sugar drinks, basic protein shakes and sports energy beverages. Functional beverage and food marketers see powders as a new opportunity to expand their delivery formats and offer convenience, better value and an environmentally friendly solution to ready-to-drink options. Supplement marketers offer increased value by adding flavor, function and hydration components, creating delicious powdered drinks for consumers to enjoy. But crossing over to powders has its unique design and development considerations. Expert powder manufacturers use a host of technologies to create products that meet functional and sensory expectations of clients and their consumers.
“A winning product needs to taste great, look great and sound great,” said Ephi Eyal, CEO and president of IFP Inc., a powder manufacturer in Faribault, MN. “A great-tasting product involves flavor masking, texture optimization, mouthfeel enhancement and tailored sweetener systems. Working with powder performance issues like solubility, ease of mixing, color and homogeneity ensures it looks great. Developing targeted content and structure-function claims, sufficient marketing differentiation and a suitable price point makes it sound great.”
But all too often, a great-performing, bench-top concept will fail at the plant-scale, processing or manufacturing level. Combining functional nutrients, stabilizers, flavors, colors and sweeteners into an optimal powder blend can be a challenge to efficacy, performance and cost. Finding an expert powder process manufacturer that can increase overall performance by adding crucial functional attributes such as uniformity and stability helps ensure a product’s success. Fluid bed batch processing includes technologies such as agglomeration, granulation, coating and micro-encapsulation. These processing technologies can address such processing and manufacturing challenges and ultimately contribute to the launch of a winning product.
Agglomeration is the particle engineering essence behind powder systems. It creates superior blend uniformity and optimizes dispersion and dissolution of a product when mixed with liquids. On a basic level, agglomeration creates ingredient particle clusters that disperse uniformly in liquid by controlling the rate various elements go into solution. “Variation in powder ingredient uniformity may cause clumping in products causing sensory and convenience issues for the consumer,” said Tom Tongue, product development director at IFP. “Simple blending of dry ingredients can’t match the rapid dispersion into solution achieved by the use of agglomeration techniques.”
In the dietary supplement world, where process validation is required, the rigorous mixing achieved through fluid bed batch processing helps ensure precise dosing and nutrient uniformity per batch. This uniformity helps attain on-the-mark nutritional label claims. With regulatory standards becoming more stringent, uniformity, in this sense, is crucial to development. Besides ensuring proper dosing levels, ingredient uniformity can also reduce formulation costs by lowering the ingredient overages often needed to meet strict validation requirements.
Delivering a nutritional beverage while maintaining taste, sensory appeal and stability poses a challenge in powdered products, as it does with any food system. These challenges become opportunities to enhance overall product performance and appeal when using fluid-bed batch technologies such as microencapsulation. “Many ingredients are very difficult to work with,” Tongue said. “Specific microencapsulation technologies coat particles to stabilize formulations, protect less stable ingredients and mask ingredients with less desirable flavors and odors. Some encapsulation technologies can also help maximize the shelf life of less stable ingredients.”
Using an array of capabilities to optimize ingredients in a powder formula is a key to success. Fluid bed batch agglomeration, granulation, coating and microencapsulation are technologies that can enhance the efficacy and sensory standards of a powder formulation by offering uniformity, dispersibility and stability. Choosing a manufacturer that adds expert product design using these technologies can help achieve the precise nutritional composition, tailored sensory characteristics, and commercial and economical viability required for product success.
Anna Batsakes lives in Minneapolis, and is the marketing director for Innovative Food Processors (IFP Inc.).