Food & Beverage Perspectives
Clean-Label Development Feels Like a Big Math Equation

For Food Scientists: Clean-Label Development Feels Like a Big Math Equation

<p>Years ago, the SupplySide West show in Vegas was mostly a supplement trade expo with lots of vendors selling gelatin capsules, energy supplements and other non-food ingredients. This is no longer the case, and SupplySide West is now growing in size and exhibitor diversity, catering to both the food and supplement industry.</p>

Years ago, the SupplySide West show in Vegas was mostly a supplement trade expo with lots of vendors selling gelatin capsules, energy supplements and other non-food ingredients. This is no longer the case, and SupplySide West is now growing in size and exhibitor diversity, catering to both the food and supplement industry.

The show is still heavier in supplements than food ingredients (and these days is there really a difference?), but the ingredient suppliers that are prominent at the show include specialized categories like plant-based proteins, hydrocolloids, non-sugar sweeteners, coconut oils and fiber syrups. There is also a growing presence of the usual array ingredient companies like flavors, starches and freeze-dried fruit powders.

It’s just a matter of time before the show will become a regular event for food scientists looking for both ingredients and supplements to add to their food product concepts.

The education sessions also were ingredient and food development oriented, like the Clean-Label Summit that covered everything from the “spirit" of clean label to understanding how to formulate with it, to figuring out the supply chain, and the regulatory issues behind marketing.

But clean-label development is not so easy breezy—it’s challenging because clean ingredients don’t always function well (they may not thicken, or inhibit the bacteria) and their shelf life is not yet known especially for ingredients that are newer in the clean-label space.

Ultimately, for the food scientist, formulating clean label for the new wave of entrepreneurs that may or may not be taking over Big Food has turned into a numbers game, with sadly, flavor often falling into last place on priority.

The typical product developer formulator spreadsheet (at least mine) often include columns for ingredients, the macronutrient contribution of calories, fat, carbs (sugar and fiber contributing) and protein. The next column contains the ingredient price. I sit in front of my spreadsheet and push the numbers around—oh, my protein is too low; boost up the whey protein concentrate, but the concentrate has 4 percent sugar in it; let’s use isolate, but wait, the isolate is $4 a pound but it came from grass-fed cows (so OK, that’s worth the extra cost). My saturated fats are too high but that’s OK because it comes from coconut oil, and everyone knows coconut oil is good for you. If I could only boost the protein up with freeze-dried beef powder (it’s so clean, but then I need to have it made in a USDA facility).

Finally, when all the numbers are aligned perfectly and fit into the perfect portion size (not necessarily what the FDA considers to be a portion, but the consumers concept of portion) and the carbs all come from fiber and not from anything that can really be digested—when the fat is all coconut and palm, and the protein is from clean plant-based sources—only THEN do I actually make up a sample of this product.

But alas, it doesn’t taste very good. Sort of like grass that has been dried into a powder and held together with a fiber syrup with a mouth-coating oily texture from the sustainable palm oil that I used. It only lasts one week in the refrigerator, but it has no preservatives except for a mild heat treatment that didn’t really kill all the spoilage bacteria. Does this even matter? I am sure no one will want to eat it! But the crowds roar and cheer because I hit every marketing claim they wanted to make—and then some! It will be a hit—but with whom?

Luckily I have trade shows like SupplySide West to keep me informed of all the new, exciting and clean ingredients on the market. The clean-label movement has inspired ingredient companies to search the world for alternatives to the not so tasty clean options on the market now.

Turns out pea protein is not the only not so great tasting plant-based protein option. We now can explore watermelon seed protein powder from Tradin’ Organics and my all-time favorite ingredient Allulose, a new sugar replacer that has only 0.29 calories per gram. It’s not a sugar alcohol, and it’s not a soluble fiber—it’s just sugar that doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels or glycemic index. The company Axiom demonstrated its plant proteins from rice and sacha inchi.

What is next in the world of clean-label ingredients and development? Is it here to stay or will we shift back to highly functioning processed engineered foods like Soylent and Beyond Meat?

 

Rachel Zemser, CFS, CCS, is a certified food scientist and independent consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. A corporate food scientist turned consultant, she helps entrepreneurs understand the ins and outs of the food industry and provides the technical assistance they need in bringing their product to market. A trade show junkie, she attends as many ingredient shows as possible to ensure she is always up to speed on innovative flavor trends and ingredients. She can be reached at rachel@alacarteconnections.com.

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