Consumer trends create constant opportunities for food producers but also present production challenges. Here we explore three current global megatrends and explain what they mean for food manufacturers.
Food shoppers increasingly demand natural products with a simple list of recognisable ingredients. This means fewer, or no, artificial additives or synthetic chemicals – and hence a “clean label”.
In mayonnaise, the growth of clean label is encouraging manufacturers to develop new formulations that are high in wholesome, familiar ingredients and low in artificial flavours, preservatives and other additives.
“People are making healthier choices and looking for more natural products,” explains Pernilla Tofft, line solution manager at Tetra Pak. Consumers increasingly make conscious decisions about how their choices impact themselves and the planet. They consider what’s good for their body and what’s good for the environment. They are also more informed and aware because there’s so much information available out there.”
Mayonnaise is one product where clean label varieties are gaining ground. Here, the focus is on removing preservatives, stabilizers and E-numbers to create a cleaner, more natural, recipe.
In condiment sauces, including tomato ketchup, the challenge is more about removing sugar. “No added sugar is a claim that’s really booming in many products, including ketchup,” Tofft says.
A cleaner label that is free from, say, sugar or that is more natural because preservatives have been removed is a positive sales argument and makes your brand stand out on the shelf as a healthier choice.
For manufacturers, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. A cleaner label may require recipe changes and adjustments or upgrades of the production process that require investment.
According to Tofft, these expenditures can be more than offset by higher market share and revenue, and possibly a higher margin, when you make your product more unique and sought-after.
“Being unique and standing out from competition will enable you to recoup your investment,” she says. “A cleaner production process will also reduce potential product waste, which will increase your yield and improve your payback even more.”
An increasing focus on healthy eating is driving growing awareness of foods that can combine taste and convenience with nutritional benefit. With numbers of vegans and vegetarians booming – a quarter of 25- to 34-year-old Americans are now one or the other – more and more consumers are seeking out alternative plant-based sources of protein.
Hummus is increasingly popular as a tasty, healthy snack. The spread is a prime source of plant protein, dietary fibre and healthy minerals and vitamins – and has been linked by researchers to improved digestion and intestinal health, lower inflammation and better control of blood sugar levels.
Not surprisingly, hummus is leading the charge towards a broader variety of plant-based spreads. “Once you would only find traditional hummus on a supermarket shelf. Now there are varieties containing everything from chilli to chocolate,” says Helena Arph, technology specialist at Tetra Pak.
Indeed, the definition of hummus – traditionally made from chickpeas – is being broadened to include different bean bases, including white beans, black beans and edamame.
Meanwhile, the quest for clean label (see above) is pushing manufacturers to try to eliminate the artificial preservatives typically used in hummus produced for chilled storage.
That, Arph says, demands rigorous standards of food safety in the production process. “If you don’t use preservatives to hinder bacteria growth, you need to ensure a very low bacteria count from the beginning. That means adjusting your production setup accordingly.”
A rapid shift to on-the-go consumption is another trend that hummus producers are embracing. Some manufacturers are turning their attention to aseptic varieties with a long shelf life that do not demand refrigeration.
“Traditional hummus is chilled and packaged in a plastic cup. If you make it aseptic it’s a much more accessible consumer experience,” Arph says.
Modern consumers increasingly expect the food industry to minimize the resources used in food production and processing. For food manufacturers, this means focusing harder than ever on reducing their total cost of ownership by minimizing energy and water use – while keeping track of the influence of such choices on product quality.
“Consumers want the products they buy to be more sustainable,” says Tetra Pak’s Erik Börjesson, a specialist in spreadable cheese production. “In spreadable cheese, there’s a general desire among producers to do more with less.”
This means curbing food and ingredient wastage during production, and reducing carbon footprint through a more energy-efficient process.
A decade ago, producers were motivated to reduce their energy and resource use largely by cost considerations. Today, consumer demands for more sustainable production are just as much of a driving force.
In cream cheese production, the classic process – based on fresh ingredients – is still considered to result in the highest possible product quality in terms of taste and texture. However, ingredient suppliers are continuously working on providing the market with recipes resulting in similar products, but based on powdered ingredients.
Börjesson explains: “In classic cream cheese you process a lot of water that is later removed from the product in a concentration step. By instead using a recombined process, you can reach the desired concentration already in the mixing step and thereby get a less complex solution.
Using milk powder instead of fresh milk attracts producers as a sustainable solution on multiple fronts. It results in less product waste and also requires less cleaning during the production process. This reduces water and detergent use.
Börjesson notes that powder-based formulations also enable manufacturers to incorporate other ingredients – such as buttermilk left over from butter production – into their mix.
“It’s very appealing to be able to make a value-added product from leftovers. It ticks a lot of sustainability boxes in the producer’s eyes,” he says.
Using powder also opens the door for producers to make ambient spreads with a long shelf life. Alternatively, it enables them to modify their recipes to produce varieties that meet the vegetarian and vegan megatrend.
“For example, you can remove the milk fat and replace it with vegetable-based fat blend and make a vegetable-based product,” Börjesson says. “Alternatively, you can add in pea or soy protein to make it vegan.”
How can food producers go ‘clean label’? Read our producers’ guide to help you embrace the clean label trend.