This past year processors have shown us that milk can be formulated with ingredients on target with today’s trends.

The food ingredients business tends to be driven by two forces typically in opposition: manufacturing economics and consumers’ needs and wants. For example, high-fructose corn syrup makes school chocolate milk affordable to more districts, but parents don’t want to see it on the ingredient statement. Formulators are continuously asked by management to cut costs, but at the same time, develop foods that consumers will purchase.

Food-plus products

The term active health is often used to describe foods that have been enhanced with beneficial ingredients, so-called “food-plus” products. Innovations introduced both domestically and abroad confirm that dairy foods are the ideal delivery vehicle for the nutrients today’s consumers crave. Such so-called functional ingredients are readily added to milk and other dairy bases including cheese, ice cream and yogurt, positively contributing to the health and wellness of consumers. Compared to other food and beverage matrices, dairy foods remain a choice delivery vehicle for many functional ingredients because dairy’s shorter, and often times refrigerated or frozen shelf life, translates to functional ingredients that remain efficacious until the product expires.

The ingredients driving the food-plus sector within the dairy segment include antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, superfruits and whey proteins.

According to Chicago-based Mintel, the antioxidant-enhanced food and beverage category is booming. Mintel’s Global New Products Database reports that in 2009, 2,075 antioxidant-labeled food and beverages were introduced, which is a significant jump compared to the 459 products launched in 2005. Clearly, formulators are responding to the growing body of research associating antioxidant consumption with disease prevention.

Not only are foods that have always contained antioxidants, such as vitamins, polyphenols, etc., now being flagged for their antioxidant content, other foods, such as dairy, are being enhanced with these ingredients. Such ingredients may be added directly (e.g., vitamin E fortified) or indirectly (e.g., made with antioxidant-rich blueberries).

Indeed, formulating with superfruits such as blueberries is catching on in dairy, in particular in the cultured and frozen categories. Superfruits are best described as an elite group of nutrient-rich fruits possessing beneficial health properties. The list of superfruits is constantly growing, ranging from the obvious (apple) and the increasingly more familiar (pomegranate) to the exotic (maqui berry) and the emerging (prickly pear).

Though not necessarily “super,” premium vegetable pieces and purées are also showing up more often in dairy dips and cheeses. Dehydrated ingredients are often considered inferior, as their texture and color does not compare to fresh particulates.

In addition to providing antioxidants, many fruits and vegetables also contribute fiber to a product formulation. Fiber is a well-recognized food component and during the past decade, fiber has become an identifiable food ingredient that consumers understand.

Thanks to scientific advancements, all types of fiber - soluble, insoluble, prebiotic, etc., - are now available to dairy foods formulators. However, the only similarity that all fiber ingredients have is that they are not digested by the body. Functional benefits differ from fiber to fiber; thus, formulators must work closely with suppliers to identify what benefits they want to tout on product applications. If it’s only fiber content, a less expensive, commodity fiber might be the best choice. If heart health is the goal, only FDA-specified fiber ingredients (and established amounts) can make such a claim. For the most part, dairy foods formulators are taking the fiber content route, as fiber is an ingredient consumers need to increase in their diet.

Other nutrients that almost all Americans do not consume enough of through the diet are the omega-3 fatty acids. Specifically, docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are both recognized for their role in brain and heart health. During the past decade, ingredient suppliers have improved their process for manufacturing purified DHA and EPA, and these ingredients are making their way into an increasing number of dairy foods, with milk and yogurt the most common delivery vehicles.

Whey proteins, too, are making their way into more milk and cultured dairy foods, with many products being promoted as “high in protein.” Unlike many other protein ingredients in the marketplace, whey proteins are easily absorbed and used by the body.

Further, what resonated with consumers after the low-carb craze was that protein provides satiety, and as a result, many are seeking out protein-enriched products. In addition, research shows that in combination with strength-training exercises, whey proteins can help boost the rate at which the body makes lean muscle.

In recent years, suppliers have been able to improve their dairy protein purification technologies and today offer a series of proteins and hydrolysates that allow formulators to incorporate milk-derived proteins into all types of sports, diet, infant and clinical nutrition products. Such ingredients enable a higher level of fluidity in high-protein beverages resulting in a drink with a lighter texture and pleasant mouthfeel, as compared to when other protein sources are used.

One of the latest trends is to combine dairy with chocolate milk and market the beverage as a sports recovery drink. The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, is entering this category with new Powerade Protein Milk. Flagged as containing 51% milk, with packaging and promotional materials including the Real Seal, the drink starts with a base of low-fat milk and is enhanced with whey protein isolate and milk protein isolate. It is designed to support rapid muscle recovery and is positioned against established brands such as Muscle Milk. In addition to chocolate, Powerade Protein Milk will come in strawberry and vanilla flavors.

Food-minus products

When formulating food-minus products, such as reduced-fat ice cream and no-sugar-added yogurt, formulators can use a plethora of ingredients to replace the mouthfeel, richness, sweetness, etc., of the ingredients being removed. Another trend in food-minus is the elimination of artificial ingredients.

From colors to sweeteners, FDA disqualifies numerous ingredients from ever being perceived as natural by labeling them as artificial or synthetic in the Code of Federal Regulations. And only one ingredient definition allows for use of the descriptor natural, and that is the category of flavors.

There’s a fine line between when a flavor is classified as being natural to being deemed artificial, as both natural and artificial flavors are manufactured through the blending of chemicals. The difference is, for example, when an essential oil is used in the manufacture of the flavor, or when commercial artificial chemicals are blended to simulate the essential oil. The former is considered natural, the latter artificial. Nevertheless, the trend towards using flavors that are “not artificial” is growing, particularly in dairy foods, which are often marketed as better-for-you choices.

When it comes to natural colors, FDA does not consider any color added to a food product to be “natural,” no matter what the source. The exception is if the color is natural to the product itself, such as coloring cherry fruit variegate with cherry juice. Thus, an orange sherbet colored with annatto extract should not be labeled “all-natural orange sherbet.” What is acceptable is “made with all-natural ingredients,” or “does not contain any artificial colors.” 

Innovations in food ingredients will continue to drive product development. A careful balance between economics and consumer appeal is necessary for a product to succeed in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The Uncertainty of EU Health Claims Influences Ingredient Addition in European Innovations

New product development in the European Union (EU) supplements sector is slowing down and food product manufacturers are switching to more general claims in the healthy foods space, as uncertainty around health claims continues, according to Robin Wyers with Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands.

The market researcher tracked 703 new products with an “active health” positioning (June to August 2010), compared to 986 new products with this positioning in the corresponding period in 2009. This decline in active health, also known as food-plus products came despite a growth in “passive health,” or food-minus claims on new products, with 4,426 products with a passive health claim tracked from June to August 2010, compared with 4,118 new products over the same period in 2009.

“Functional foods innovation in Europe as a whole is on a decline in terms of new product launches as manufacturers wait for European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinions on health claims,” says Wyers.

At the end of September, the EU Commission announced its intention to restructure the process of progressive adoption of the list of permitted health claims on food products, which will now be established in two steps. First, the list of permitted health claims for all substances other than so-called “botanicals” will be adopted in a single step. EFSA opinions on all general function claims (known as Article 13.1) other than botanicals are expected to be finalized by the end of June 2011. Subsequently, the claims regarding the botanicals will be considered.

Due to the large number of Article 13.1 health claims - 44,000-plus consolidated into a list of 4,637 - and to the delay in submissions by stakeholders through Member States to the Commission, the original deadline of Jan. 31, 2010, for the adoption of the list of permitted health claims was not met. EFSA has so far published three series of opinions. The most recent series released on Oct. 20, came from scientific experts on EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies. They adopted opinions on 808 “general function” health claims by taking into consideration all available scientific data. With this third series of opinions, EFSA has assessed to date slightly more than a third (1,745) of the claims on the consolidated list. These opinions have been sent to the Commission and to Member States, which are responsible for the authorization of the claims.

Outcomes of the evaluations of the 808 claims addressed in 75 opinions were favorable when there was sufficient scientific evidence to support the claims, EFSA said. These related mainly to vitamins and minerals but also included claims on specific dietary fibers as related to blood glucose control, bowel function or weight management; fatty acid claims related to brain function, vision or heart health; and claims related to live yogurt cultures and lactose digestion.

As for EFSA’s previous work on general function health claims, scientific experts issued unfavorable opinions on many of the claims in this series due to the poor quality of the information provided to EFSA, the watchdog reported. Information gaps included, for instance, the inability to identify the specific substance on which the claim is based (e.g., claims on dietary fiber without specifying the particular fiber); lack of evidence that the claimed effect is indeed beneficial to the maintenance or improvement of body functions (e.g., claims on renal water elimination); lack of precision regarding the health claim being made (e.g., claims referring to terms such as energy and vitality); or lack of human studies with reliable measures of the claimed health benefit.

EFSA said it will pursue its dialogue with stakeholders to further explain how it is carrying out its work and to provide applicants with more detailed information on the preparation of health claim applications. EFSA is organizing a series of consultations on specific topics to provide additional guidance to applicants, the first of which will be held on Dec. 2, and will focus on health claims related to gut and immune functions.

Content for this article was provided courtesy of Innova Market Insights.

Formulating with Sustainable Ingredients

Formulators around the world are pursuing the use - and subsequent marketing - of ingredients produced utilizing the three primary components of sustainability: social responsibility (how a business impacts employees, customers and the communities in which it operates), ecological integrity (how a company’s operations impact the world and its resources) and economic stability (how a company makes, spends and saves money).

For example, South Africa’s Fair Cape Dairies recently launched the Fair Cape Free Range line of cup yogurt. Not only does the yogurt come in multi-serving containers, which reduces packaging materials, the yogurt is made with locally produced milk from cows allowed to graze in open fields. Further, two of the varieties are flavored with regionally grown rooibos tea.

Fair Cape is the first dairy in South Africa to offer free range dairy products, guaranteed and underwritten by unequalled cow comfort, animal wellbeing and environmentally friendly production processes. The healthy, happy Fair Cape cows are fed only natural products with no animal by-products or added hormones, ensuring that the milk is 100% natural, according to the company. To ensure that the milk they produce is of the very best quality, the cows are measured weekly according to the Fair Cape Cow Comfort index.

Fair Cape Free Range Rooibos Yoghurts are also the first yogurts ever to carry the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) Smart Choice emblem. CANSA recognizes Fair Cape Free Range Rooibos Yoghurts as a “smart choice” mainly because a 100-gram serving contains the same amount of antioxidants as one cup of brewed rooibos tea.

In the States, Honest Tea, Bethesda, Md., the nation’s top-selling organic bottled tea company, recently announced that it will be expanding its Fair Trade Certified offerings to include its entire tea portfolio.  The company expects the transition to sourcing only Fair Trade tea to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2011. Fair Trade offers tea workers fair wages, community investment funds called Fair Trade premiums and the business skills training necessary to produce high-quality products that can compete in the global marketplace.

“After water, tea is the most consumed beverage worldwide. We’re excited to expand our commitment to Fair Trade as a way to help ensure the people who are picking and processing our tea leaves are earning a fair wage in third-party monitored working conditions,” says Seth Goldman, president of Honest Tea.

“Honest Tea is once again raising the bar for the entire industry. Honest Tea has been a pioneer in social responsibility from the beginning, so this decision is a natural, authentic progression in the company’s history,” says Paul Rice, president of Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair USA), Oakland, Calif. “This expansion makes the statement that sustainability and empowerment in the developing world matter to Honest Tea, and that they care about the workers who harvest their tea and the future of their communities.”

Another example of using sustainable ingredients comes from Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, LLC, Baton Rouge, La. Whenever possible the company uses locally produced inclusions in its ice cream, flagging their use on product packaging. Most recently the company rolled out a selection of fall- and winter-themed ice cream flavors, including Honey Pecan Vanilla made with Louisiana-produced honey and Ginger Snap made with cane syrup from nearby C.S. Steen’s Syrup Mill Inc., Abbeville, La. According to Jeff Kleinpeter, president, the dairy helps the Louisiana economy by working with locally produced and manufactured ingredients.

Organic ingredients play an active role in the sustainable platform, too, reports The Nielsen Co., New York. According to the Nielsen Global Online Survey conducted during the first quarter of 2010, environmental and social considerations are many of the reasons why Americans purchase organics. Americans buy organics to avoid toxins (71%), promote environmentally friendly organic farms (59%), help small farmers (58%), avoid genetically modified products (45%), do the right thing (38%) and vote against modern farming methods (23%).

Recognizing that consumers are increasingly finding an emotional connection to organic, and the fact that organic dairy products command a premium, private label marketers are actively pursuing organic ingredients. For example, Target Corp., Minneapolis, recently added a line of single-serve 2% reduced-fat milks in regular, vanilla and chocolate varieties. The flavored versions include organic cocoa or vanilla. Merchandised alongside its mainstream single-serve milk bottles, the organic variety commands a 30-cent premium.

The concept of sustainability will only grow stronger in coming years. Thus, all types of sustainable ingredients will continue to drive innovation in dairy foods both here and abroad.