Californian natural flavors firm Blue Pacific has joined a growing number of ingredients suppliers to go through the Non-GMO Project Verified certification process.
The LA-based firm has initially had five flavors certified: Natural Peach with other natural flavors (WONF); Natural Strawberry WONF; Natural Vanilla WONF; Natural Coffee Concentrate; and Synature Beverage Enhancer, a natural flavor modifier. A further 13 will follow.
While most flavors do not contain GMOs, a small number are made with enzymes or substances produced using genetically engineered ingredients, president and CEO Donald Wilkes told FoodNavigator-USA. So in some cases, Blue Pacific has had to make changes to formulations, whereas in others it has been more of a paper-based exercise.
“Compounded flavors may contain certain adjuvants that have been produced using GMOs including ethanol from GM corn and some carbohydrate carriers made from GM corn or soy,” he said.
“A small number of individual flavoring substances such as some terpenes may be produced using GMOs within fermentation processes.” But these represent something like 20 out of 3,000+ individual flavoring substances used to prepare compounded flavors (flavor systems, flavor preparations etc), he pointed out.
We want to be transparent
But if customers want non-GMO, why don’t they just seek out organic flavors - given that USDA National Organic Program (NOP) identifies genetic modification as an excluded method?
Lots of reasons, said Wilkes. For a start, organic versions are not available for every flavor, and some customers are just interested in making Non-GMO claims, rather than full-blown organic.
Meanwhile, some firms say the NOP rules - which don’t require testing for GMOs - were developed when genetically engineered crops were in limited production, and cross-pollination and contamination was not a significant issue, and feel the Non-GMO verified label provides extra reassurance.
“One could argue that third-party verification of non-GMO is not needed provided there is compliance with the NOP,” he said.
“[But] there seems to be concern that the NOP is not capable of enforcing non-GMO labeling [which partly explains why many organic products are also Non-GMO Project verified, although another explanation is that it's the next big thing in food marketing, and organic firms just want a piece of the action too].”
But why pay for a third party stamp? Why not just state that your products are non-GMO - assuming you’ve got the evidence? You could, said Wilkes, but the Non-GMO Project label is about showing your claims have been validated independently.
“We wanted to be transparent.”
Stevia: We’ve come up with a really interesting way to modify the bitterness without losing the integrity of the flavor
While Blue Pacific is best-known for its natural fruit flavors - via proprietary flavor platforms including Farm to Flavor, Whole Fruit Flavors, hortRealfruit, True-to-Fruit Flavors and Heirloom Sun-Ripened Fruit Flavors - it has also been developing some innovative solutions for firms using stevia, which has some lingering bitter notes.
Said Wilkes: “Stevia products are getting better all the time, but there is still a need to mask the metallic aftertaste in some applications. In the past, flavor companies have been supplying flavor modifiers that will do this, but they also flatten out the overall flavor and you can lose the top notes.
“We’ve come up with a really interesting way to modify the bitterness without losing the integrity of the overall flavor.”
The growing interest in plant proteins has also created new opportunities for Blue Pacific, which has been helping customers tackle the bitterness that is associated with some of these proteins, he said.
“We’ve also very recently introduced a new wholegrain oat-paste that also works very well in plant-based protein products.”
Approved supplier lists: ‘It’s like saying to Van Gogh - you’ve only got four colors to work with…’
Blue Pacific is doing very well at the moment as more firms seek out natural fruit flavors and whole food ingredients, said Wilkes.
However, the system of approved supplier lists can still make it challenging for innovative companies to get access to some customers, although things are beginning to change as food and beverage manufacturers start to realize that this approach is not doing them any favors either, he added.
“I’m not a big fan of these approved supplier lists as they can disincentivize companies that are on the list and block access for innovative companies that aren't,” said Wilkes, who stands at the helm of a sizeable “medium-sized player” in the trade with manufacturing facilities in Asia and North America and offices all over the world, but is not on the scale of Givaudan, IFF, Firmenich or Symrise.
“I understand the need to keep things simple from a supply chain management stand point, but it’s like saying to Van Gogh, 'You’ve only got four colors to work with.' It’s limiting and short-sighted.
"However, I think more companies are starting to engage with slightly smaller companies that are innovating like us.”