Friday, May 19, 2017

Texture: The Often Ignored, Yet Critical Component of Dairy Foods Product Development

Most consumers don’t think about a food’s texture or mouthfeel unless it is inferior. They have expectations, and when a product does not deliver, the consumer often no longer is a customer.

Most innovators, in particular entrepreneurs with a dream product in mind, tend to focus on flavor and nutrition. Texture and mouthfeel are secondary, and in some instances, not addressed until too late. Then the whole innovation process needs to start over.

In live (active cultures and enzymes), fresh dairy foods, texture changes over shelf life. Ingredients may interact and cause everything from clumping to syneresis.

Here are four tips to incorporate into innovation efforts for cultured dairy products, namely yogurt, and dairy desserts.

1. Texture must be addressed early on in the innovation stage.
Research shows texture is equally important as flavor in product innovation and must be a consideration in the early stages of product development—and all the way through the end of shelf life. Specialized formulations, along with processing and distribution, may all take a toll on product texture. You must monitor texture changes every time you make an ingredient change. Even a simple 10% reduction in added sugars can make an impact.

Sensory scientists must be involved from the very beginning of product innovation. Sensory science provides an understanding of ingredient behavior and interactions. It helps eliminate unnecessary trials and focus on viable ingredient solutions.

2. Identify target texture attributes and develop a process to consistently deliver them.
Yogurt is one of the most segmented categories in the food industry, according to research conducted by sensory scientists at Ingredion Inc. A key way manufacturers differentiate their yogurt products is through texture. Consistency is paramount.
Did you know there are more than 25 different sensory terms identified as descriptors for the texture of yogurt? Preferences vary by target consumer, product type and usage occasion.

3. Use effective language to communicate the texture of the product.
Research shows that yogurt texture is a leading influencer of product liking scores. Marketers must identify the target consumer early on in the innovation stage, formulate to deliver the texture the target consumer prefers and use effective language to communicate the expected texture of the finished product. Thick should not be lumpy, but it is not necessarily creamy either. A light or 100-calorie portion is not thick, but it also is not runny.

4. Differentiate between sweetness and “added sugars” in order to better manage texture and mouthfeel.

International Food Information Council Foundation’s 12th Annual Food and Health Survey shows that more consumers link sugars to weight gain. In fact, according to this report issued early in the week, one-third of Americans, which is up from 25% in 2016, say sugars are most likely to cause weight gain. This needs to be top-of-mind for dairy foods innovators.

The addition of “added sugars” to the Nutrition Facts label has many yogurt manufacturers exploring ingredient technologies to keep this number as low as possible. The challenge is when sugars are reduced, the entire matrix gets disrupted. This is true for most food systems, including yogurt, flavored milk and ice cream.

Formulators must remember that sugar is a solid. Removing any solids from yogurt impacts texture. With reduced sugar, yogurt is less firm when stirred. It is also less cohesive and has less body in the mouth. Because of reduced solids, the yogurt also disappears faster in the mouth. With yogurts intended to be mini meals, it is essential to build back a full-bodied texture, which consumers typically perceive as more satiating and satisfying.

“There is sweetness; then there is sugar,” says Ivan Gonzales, marketing director-dairy, at Ingredion. “Our research shows that today’s health- and nutrition-conscious consumers are searching for the sweetness—and texture--experiences they love in yogurt, but with less sugar and fewer calories.”

There are ingredient systems that provide sweetness with sugar-like taste profiles and the mouthfeel of sugar, but with fewer calories and simple labels. This ranges from specialty polyols and dextrose to high-potency sweeteners, including highly purified stevia extract, as well prebiotic oligosaccharides, alternative sweeteners and more.
Texture will be addressed in a number of educational sessions at this year’s IFT, which is in less than seven weeks in Las Vegas.

On Monday, June 26, plan to attend session #23 “Understanding Food Texture” from 3:30 to 5:30pm.

One of the speakers, LuAnn Williams, direct of innovation at Innova Market Research, explains, “Consumer expectations around the eating quality of food have required textural adaptation of traditional formulas to deliver equivalent satisfaction with sugar- and fat-reduced products. Balancing the contradictory wants and needs of consumers has been a struggle for the food industry. The requirements have both sensory and mechanical textural implications and present a major communications challenge.”

On Wednesday, June 28, from 10:30am to noon, scientists will address the role of sweeteners, texturizers and emulsifiers on the mouthfeel of beverages and foods during session #87, “The Critical Role of Beverage Mouthfeel: Unique Insights for a Product Developer.”

The speakers will address how texture and mouthfeel are key drivers of consumer acceptance and therefore of vital importance for food and beverage manufacturers. This is a must-attend session for players entering the booming yogurt beverage category. You will learn how the physical properties of foods and beverages, e.g., temperature, pH, carbonation, viscosity, etc., impact texture and mouthfeel, as well as the impact of chemical stimuli, including tastes and odors.

The countdown to Vegas begins. See you soon!

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