Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dairy Foods Vision: Clean Evolves to Premium and Health-Promoting in 2018 and Beyond

Thank you to my friends at William Reed for inviting me to your conference extraordinaire this week. Food Vision USA, in its third installment, was held in Chicago and featured an impressive line-up of speakers. Clean label, sustainability and transparency were recurring themes throughout the three-day conference.

I participated in a roundtable working lunch hosted by Shelley Balanko, senior vice president, The Hartman Group, where we discussed the similarities and differences between value and quality and how this influences consumers’ shopping habits.

Today’s consumers expect more than just great-tasting foods and beverages, according to Balanko. They want to know what’s in their food and drink, how it was made, who made it and why. They seek the answers to these questions not to satisfy a craving for data in this information-age, but to determine food and beverage quality. Clean, natural and less processed foods are deemed high quality in a culture that is increasingly focused on health and wellness.

Here’s what I want to emphasize to dairy processors. Balanko said that “premium” is a rapidly growing segment within the food and beverage marketplace. It is driven by consumer demand for better health and more compelling food and beverage experiences.

I’ll take this a step further and say, in dairy, premium is the new clean. This is not to say clean label should be ignored. In fact, just the contrary, it’s expected and should be the norm. But dairy can only go so clean before becoming, well, unaffordable, poor quality and simply, bad.

An incredible piece was issued by Iowa State University a few weeks ago. It’s something I’ve communicated for some time and now I feel validated. Read this and you will understand why focusing on the quality and function of ingredients is so important moving forward in the world of dairy.

“Consumers may not recognize costs, consequences of demand for ‘clean’ food,” posted Oct 31, 2017.

Eating “clean” is all about avoiding foods with additives, preservatives or other chemicals on the label. Considering the numerous studies linking certain foods with health ailments, clean eating makes sense, right?

While it may seem well intentioned, Ruth MacDonald and Ruth Litchfield, professors of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, warn of the consequences in terms of food waste, safety and cost. Clean food advocates suggest avoiding foods with ingredients you cannot pronounce.

MacDonald says several food manufacturers, restaurants and grocery stores have responded by removing additives to fit the definition of clean. 

The ISU professors say just because an ingredient or additive has an unfamiliar name does not automatically make it bad for you.

[I would like to add that “dihydrogen monoxide” sounds horrible. Right? That’s water!]

The decision to remove additives appears to be driven more by market demand than consideration of the benefits these additives provide and the potential food safety risk, they said. Removing nitrates from deli meats and hot dogs is just one example.

MacDonald, who has spent more than 25 years investigating links between diet and cancer, says nitrates play a necessary role in preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a deadly bacterium that causes food poisoning. Therefore, completely removing nitrates would be problematic. MacDonald says food labels boasting “no nitrates” are typically referring to the synthetic version. If the package says “naturally cured” or “uncured” it likely includes celery juice--a natural source of nitrates--as an ingredient. The nitrates in celery juice are not chemically different from synthetic forms, she said. 

Consumer concern over nitrates is not without merit. Studies using animal models have found high doses of nitrates may increase the risk for colon cancer. Before rushing to eliminate nitrates from your diet, MacDonald says it is important to understand what that risk means:

Nitrates are a naturally occurring chemical found in many fruits and vegetables and do have some health benefits.

The research is based on animal tests, and evidence for similar effects in humans has not been found.

Human diets are complex and many factors influence the potential effects of nitrates on the colon.

“People have a hard time understanding the risk-benefit ratio when it comes to foods. They see a chemical, such as nitrates, listed on the label and assume it is bad or the food contains a high amount,” MacDonald said. “The food safety risk without these preservatives is so much greater.”

The chemical function of nitrates is the same regardless of the source, MacDonald added, so replacing synthetic nitrates with natural sources does not make food safer. In fact, research has shown that the amount of nitrates in celery juice is not always consistent. MacDonald says with synthetic nitrates, food manufacturers can add the precise amount to protect against food poisoning.

The same is true for products with “no high fructose corn syrup” on the label. Litchfield and MacDonald say that does not mean it is sugar free. Similar to nitrates, manufacturers replace the corn syrup with other sweeteners such as tapioca syrup, a common substitute in ketchup. MacDonald says the syrups are made using a similar conversion process, but consumers may notice a difference in price. That’s because tapioca syrup comes from cassava, which must be imported and may cost more.

“There is no evidence that high fructose corn syrup is bad for you or less natural or safe,” MacDonald said. “The food industry is developing all these alternative sweeteners--beet syrup, fruit sugars and agave syrup--but they are all sugar. The names just sound better on the label.”

[I just wrote a very comprehensive article on clean-label dairy foods--the whole farm-to-fridge story--for Food Business News. It can be accessed HERE. In addition, just this week I wrote an online Q&A on formulating next-generation clean-label dairy foods. It can be accessed HERE.]

Here’s the deal with clean label, in general.

Litchfield expects food waste in the U.S.--already about 20 pounds per person each month--will only get worse with the removal of additives and preservatives. Ingredients such as sodium benzoate, calcium propionate and potassium sorbate control the growth of microorganisms in foods without changing the character or taste of the food, she said. Without these and many other additives, foods will spoil faster, increasing food safety risk and the likelihood of more food ending up in the trash.

“Many food additives make the food structure more stable, such as keeping marshmallows soft and crackers crispy. Additives reduce off-flavors, prevent separation of liquids or oils or give foods a pleasant feel in our mouths. Taking these types of ingredients out of foods will probably increase the amount of food we throw away,” Litchfield said.

Americans expect their food supply to be safe, plentiful, convenient and low cost, which explains why grocery stores now offer more than 40,000 different food items. The convenience and choice many consumers value would not be possible without advances in food technology, the professors said--all things for consumers to consider when they ask for “clean” food.

Thank you Ruth MacDonald and Ruth Litchfield!

OK, folks. Not so fast. Like I mentioned, clean label should not be ignored by dairy foods processors. It’s expected. This is food from Mother Nature. Keep it that way. But, depending on the product, its intended distribution and its “affordable” price point, a few “less desirable” ingredients may be necessary. This is where we focus on premium and value-added nutrition. That brings me to dairy foods’ potential roll in health, wellbeing and weight management.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2017 Annual Food and Health Survey shows that one in three shoppers are interested in the benefit of weight loss or weight management in foods. This is particularly true of younger shoppers, those between the ages of 18 and 49 years.

Dairy foods can play in this space, cleanly!

An improved understanding of appetite regulation mechanisms is enabling formulators to develop foods that help consumers feel full and satisfied. This in turn helps them eat less and ultimately lose weight, followed by maintaining weight. Fat, fiber and protein contribute to a feeling of fullness, with each of these macronutrients possessing unique benefits. For example, emerging research shows that prebiotic fibers may positively affect gut microbiota influencing the host—the consumer--to eat less while also increasing metabolism.

The BENEO-Institute, an initiative of BENEO, hosted an expert exchange during the recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Chicago. Dr. Raylene Reimer, associate professor in the faculties of kinesiology and medicine at the University of Calgary, explained how prebiotic fibers from chicory root benefit the gut microbiota and how this relates to successful weight management. She presented emerging science regarding the gut-brain axis, effects on body composition, satiety, energy intake in adults, children, and during pregnancy, and much more.

Rapidly growing science is showing that the role of gut microbiota in weight management is leading to an increased interest in the quality of carbohydrates and dietary fibers, which play an important role when it comes to influencing the gut microbiota. The good news is that these fibers can also assist with clean-label formulating of functional dairy foods.

Prebiotic chicory root fibers effectively support digestive health in children and adults. Chicory root fibers, inulin and oligofructose are the best-studied prebiotic fibers. They support regularity and wellbeing, which meet consumers’ needs and make them an important focus for product development efforts. The physiological mechanisms underlying digestive support by chicory root fibers are related to their prebiotic effect. They selectively stimulate the growth of good bacteria promoting saccharolytic fermentation, in particular, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

Dr. Reimer has conducted numerous randomized controlled trials with prebiotics that have helped take evidence-based findings into clinical and consumer application. In addition, Dr. Reimer was one of 12 experts worldwide to recently draft and publish the updated definition and consensus statement on prebiotics.

So, what’s the latest on that updated definition and the ingredients that fit the bill?
My colleague at Food Business News, Jeff Gelski, wrote an excellent review of the status of the fiber definition. You can read it HERE.

To summarize his reporting, FDA received 12 petitions on nine different potential fibers for inclusion in the definition. This list includes inulin, soy fiber, polydextrose and resistant starch.

“The petitions were all nicely put together in providing all the evidence that they could find for a specific end point (in regard to a beneficial physiological effect),” said Paula Trumbo, who works within FDA’s Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

She said FDA will not amend its fiber definition, but it will amend the list of isolated and non-digestible carbohydrates that meet the definition. This situation should create new opportunities for businesses to manufacture products that address the specific physiological benefits of fiber.
This is great news for dairy foods, which can use fiber food ingredients to add value in terms of reducing added sugars, replacing fat, increasing fiber content, assisting with weight loss and weight management, and cleaning up labels.

Adding fiber to dairy foods is a win-win for processors and consumers.

The Daily Dose of Dairy blog will not publish on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. For those who partake in turkey, stuffing, cranberries and green bean casserole, Happy Thanksgiving! To you and to readers outside the U.S., thank you for being the best you can possibly be to promote the beauty of all foods dairy!

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