Building in Portability

December 3, 2007

12 Min Read
Building in Portability

Its no coincidence that drinkable yogurts are one of the fastest-growing beverage categories in the marketplace today. Their popularity correlates to the products portabilityfor grab-and-go consumers, a bottle sure beats the traditional cup and spoon.

We live in an era of meal-replacement bars and beverages, and other portable foods that facilitate multitasking. Portable foods are all about form. Convenience is key, as is portion control. Food science and ingredient formulation play a minor role. When it comes to portability, this is definitely a time when engineering rules, as portability is all about the ability to eat while doing something else.

At the IFT 2007 Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago, Joe Pawlak, vice president, Technomic, Inc., Chicago, explained that the ability to multitask while eating is a type of convenience-driven mega trend in foodservice. Fast-food operators, in particular, must work to increase the portability and functionality of their offerings. He gave the example of Taco Bells Crunchwrap Supreme, which is relatively mess-free and thus complements desktop and dashboard dining.

Recently, Hardees debuted the Country Breakfast Burrito. This is no ordinary breakfast burrito, says Brad Haley, executive vice president of marketing, Hardees, St. Louis. Its an entire country breakfast in the palm of your hand. It represents the first time that hungry breakfast customers can get eggs, bacon, ham, hash browns and sausage gravy in a portable form that can easily be eaten on the go. The burrito features two egg omelets filled with crumbled bacon and sausage, diced ham, shredded Cheddar cheese, hash-brown rounds and a ladle of sausage gravy, all wrapped in a warm flour tortilla.

We had to dial in the right portion, so you would get gravy in every bite, but wouldnt get gravy on your lap, says Bruce Frazer, senior vice president of product marketing and R&D, Hardees. Our research on the product said we nailed it. It helped that our gravy is nice and thick, so it doesnt run all over the place.

The only tough part of making this portable was finding the right carrier to keep it all together, Frazer continues. We needed one that would not get in the way of that great country breakfast taste. We were surprised to find out how well a flour tortilla accomplished that. Thats how we ended up with a product that sounds like a cross between down-home cookin and Mexican food.

Global transportation

The tortilla comes from south-of-the-border and has been fundamental in the portable foods scene. In fact, sometimes, the best places to get ideas come from beyond our borders. A visit to ANUGA 2007 in Cologne, Germany, this past Oct. provided some noteworthy portable food examples.

Germanys Tillmans Fleisch und Convenience GmbH rolls out Tillmans Toastyprecooked ham enveloped in an extra-crisp, crumb coatingthe first-ever meat snack that can be toasted. This innovative form of a sandwich goes from the freezer to the toaster to the hand without any mess.

From the Netherlands comes Active Power Runner meat snack energy bar. We realized that not all energy bar consumers want all those carbohydrates, says Anja Kleine- Wilde, manager of communications, Vion Food Group, Son en Breugel, the Netherlands. As a meat processing company, we identified an opportunity to put meat into a new formmaking it portable for sports enthusiasts. The bar comes in either regular or chile flavor. It is low in fat and fortified with magnesium and L-carnitine for an extra boost of energy. It also contains probiotics for digestive health.

Mekkafood, Nettetal-Kaldenkirchen, Germany, debuted Soufflés-Oriental, a portable meal of creamy, spiced soft cheese flavored with olives and spices and wrapped in a crispy pastry.

A scoop of pizza

One good example of portability is a melding of two American favorites: the ice cream cone and a slice of pizza. The ConeInn Company, Barcelona, Spain, developed ConeInn Pizza, a pizza crust in the form of a cone, filled with sauce, cheese and other optional traditional pizza toppings. The pizza cone goes directly from the freezer to the microwave, where its heated standing up in a cardboard holder, and is ready in two minutes. The cone doesnt leak and the fillings dont ooze, provided you eat around the cone much like you would ice cream.

A similar product marketed by Konopizza, Padova, Italy, is available via a franchised foodservice chain. Pizza ingredients were the original filling, but the chain now also offers cones filled with creams, custards and fruits.

The pizza cone is not a new idea. Theres an expired patent from 1983 (U.S. Patent 4463021) for a concept described as pizza cone with filling. Visually and structurally different than the concepts in the market today, this design included an inverted, edible cone-like structure inside of an edible, cylindrical structure. Internal ribs are formed on the inner surface of the cone to stabilize, grip and retain the filling. Also, the upper end of the cone has an extended lip to further retain the filling. A protective cup surrounds the lower portion of the cone, shielding the hand from heat, assisting with structural integrity and retaining any drips or leaks.

A new patent issued in Nov. 2006 (U.S.Patent 7131626) is for a mold for the making of a hand-holdable edible food product. This patent identifies the negative attributes of the 1983 cone, including the protective cup and the fact that the structure does not allow for enough filling to mimic the pizza slice experience.

Once the amount of filling added equals that normally included on a pizza slice, the combination of its weight and its moisture content weakens the structural integrity of the cone, causing it to leak and eventually fall apart as the consumer bites into it, states Lawrence Cole, the patent owner based in Monmouth Beach, NJ. Also, attempting to add heavier and more-liquid fillings, such as meatballs, chili and stews, for walk-around eating further worsens the structural integrity problems of the cone.

Recognizing that the shape and size of the cone is not really relevant, Coles invention proceeds with the understanding that certain consumers are slow eaters and some prefer heavier-weight fillings. But, in the end, what matters most is that the cone supports the fillings until the last bite is taken.

The mold forms a rather complex, multilayer cone that includes a cavity for the food filling. The food filling is supported between a first fold formed within the cavity by dough spiraled in a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction, and between a second fold formed within the cavity by spirals in the opposite direction. With the edible cone composed of pizza dough, for example, the first of these two folds is sealed by an egg wash, while the second fold is sealed by a hand-press positioning. The unfilled cone is baked at 425ºF for approximately eight minutes, with its closed lower end facing up. The folds maintain the stability and sturdiness of the cone shape in supporting the weight and moisture content of the filling as one eats through it to the bottom.

The concept of coating the inside of a cone is something frozen-novelty manufacturers have long done. The inside of a Drumstick, manufactured by Nestlé, headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland, is coated with chocolate, the high-fat ingredient creating a moisture barrier that prevents the sugar cone from going soggy by the melting ice cream during consumption.

For savory cones, hard fats as well as edible films based on whey proteins can coat the inside of cones to prevent moisture migration and product leakage. Extra protection can be gained with an exterior coating of the cone, too. Egg proteins in the form of an egg wash, as mentioned in the patent, can provide a barrier and, at the same time, encourage a desirable browning on the exterior of the dough or crust. This is one point where food technology takes center stage as temperature, mouthfeel and barrier properties are all critical factors.

Fun with fillings

When it comes to fillings for cones, wraps or even pastry puffs, one of the best ways to help hold all the ingredients together is melting cheese. Cheese keeps mess to a minimum, and provides flavor and eye appeal.

Natural cheeses, such as Monterey Jack and Swiss or American-style Cheddars, melt well, says Barbara Gannon, vice president, corporate and marketing communications, Sargento Foods, Inc., Plymouth, WI. They soften and provide a pleasant mouthfeel. The age of the cheese can have some impact on oiling off, as older cheeses have undesirable oiling off. Younger cheeses, especially in the Cheddar category, are preferred in warm applications. Sargento Custom Melts are another great option, since flavor, cut and melt are controlled.

Traditional mozzarella is not always the best choice for portable food fillings. Consumers like mozzarella that stretches, but when it comes to portability, a shorter stretch may make sense, Gannon adds, thus, In terms of the form of the cheese in portable warm foods such as a pizza cone, shreds would be preferable. By using shreds, you can more easily distribute the cheese in the filling and get good melt. The size and shape of the finished food has a large impact on the ability to optimally heat the item. As for the cheese, you would want a shape and heating mechanism that warms and melts the cheese without abusing it, as high temperatures may lead to excessive oiling off and can cause natural cheese to break, which results in a grainy texture and loss of moisture.

Cheese also assists with moisture control in premade sandwiches like one would find at a gas station or truck stop. In general, cheese would not make bread soggy, but would have the opposite effect of protecting the bread from higher-moisture ingredients such as meats, vegetables and condiments, especially in sliced form, says Gannon. Because the water activity of the various components of sandwiches is so different, the moisture in an airtight package will migrate across the components. When the water activities within the sandwich vary significantly, the shelf life is short. The sandwich can become soggy within 24 hours. The key is managing the moisture in the sandwich through use of ingredients with similar water activities or bread stabilizers and dough conditioners. Sandwich components can be packed separatelyportion-control packages with an over-wrap for easy assembly and to avoid this potential problem. Using drier cheese spreads instead of moist dressings or sauces can help retain optimal-texture sandwiches over a longer shelf life.

When it comes to condiments, Americas favorite isnt the most flexible or convenientit works with few items other than chips, says Julie Snarski, manager, culinary and foodservice development, David Michael & Co., Philadelphia. She is referring to salsa, which she has managed to make into a gel-like, sliceable form.

Salsa slices, similar to individually wrapped cheese slices, easily add flavor and texture to wraps and sandwiches without dripping, Snarski says. They work in both cold and warm products, as they do not melt when heated.

On the sweeter side

Back to conesice-cream cones, that is. The Drumstick, along with many other frozen noveltiesfrom stick items to sandwiches to push tubeswere truly the first portable sweet treats. These hand-held frozen wonders are a mainstay at outdoor events and entertainment venues. But those melting drips are one drawback to ideal portability.

Enter Popsicle Slow Melt Pops in cherry, lemonade and strawberry-kiwi flavors. Unilever Ice Cream, Green Bay, WI, added gelatin to these new ice pops to retard melting, and ice-structuring protein (ISP) to retain the texture. It has been reported that, without the ISP, the pops would have the consistency of a pudding pop, because of the gelatin.

Sometimes referred to as antifreeze protein (AFP), ISP is becoming an additive of interest in the ice cream industry. The focus is on an ISP preparation obtained from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which has been encoded to carry the gene from ISP-derived ocean pout (Macrozoarces americanus).

The ocean pout is a bottom-dwelling fish that occupies a wide range of temperatures, including subzero environments. To survive this cold, it produces antifreeze proteins, which concentrate in its plasma. AFPs are also produced as a specialized adaptation by other fish, tortoises, insects, plants and bacteria. Basically, AFPs lower the freezing point of a solution relative to the melting point. They are also capable of preventing the recrystallization of ice, which is a thermodynamically favored process in ice that encourages the growth of large ice crystals at the expense of smaller ice crystals. This is why the ice cream industry is interested in ISPs, aka AFPs.

Back in Oct. 2002, Unilever notified FDA that ISP preparation is GRAS through scientific procedures for use as a texturizer in frozen-novelty desserts at a level of 0.01% in the finished product. Unilever explains at least 12 different types of ISPs have been found in the serum of ocean pout and they can be separated by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). One of these HPLC-purified ISPs has application in frozen novelties to assist with ice-structure development. Unilever notes that it would not be practical to obtain sufficient quantities directly from ocean pout; therefore, the company developed a bioengineered, genetically stable strain. The multi-patented ISP preparation is produced using standard industrial-scale biotechnology processes and standard food ingredients. The protein is secreted from the yeast cells into the growth medium. The yeast cells are then separated from the medium by filtration, and the ISP is concentrated and purified by ultra-filtration.

Since this GRAS notification, the company has been using ISP in some of its lower-fat ice-cream products.

A number of biotechnology companies have developed their own unique process of producing ISP. For example, Ice BioTech, Inc., Flamborough, Ontario, extracts ISP directly from the grass of winter wheat, where it has been generated by this plants exposure to subfreezing temperatures. This technology is derived directly from nature and therefore may qualify as a natural ingredient. Another company, A/F Protein Inc., Waltham, MA, uses a recombinant- DNA approach using DNA from arctic fish. This company, too, describes its ISP as natural.

Americans desire for food thats fun on the run shows no signs of abating. New forms and technologies will continue to emerge to make these hand-held items neat to eat.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., a network of professionals in business-to-business technical and trade communications, has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in Food Science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected]

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