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Big interview: Karl Kramer, president, innovation and commercial development, Tate & Lyle

Tate & Lyle innovation chief: ‘We’re not interested in me-too products’

By Elaine Watson , 24-Jul-2012

Kramer: 'Aggressively bringing new products and technologies to market'
Kramer: 'Aggressively bringing new products and technologies to market'

What’s in Tate & Lyle’s innovation pipeline? That’s top secret, says Karl Kramer, “but we are working on some completely new, completely novel ingredients and exciting technologies. We’re not interested in me-too products.”

Some will be developed in house in the network of R&D labs in Tate & Lyle’s state-of-the-art commercial and food innovation center near Chicago.

Others will be developed outside of its four walls by academics or entrepreneurs with which Tate & Lyle is forging partnerships via its open innovation platform. (“We don’t suffer from the ‘not invented here syndrome’,” observes Kramer.)

But in either case, the key to making it through the narrow end of the innovation funnel is simple, says Kramer, who took the helm of a new global Innovation and Commercial Development (ICD) group, which brings together R&D, product management and marketing, almost exactly two years ago.

A sustainable competitive advantage

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA from his office on the top floor of the new center on Friday, Kramer says: “New ingredients or technologies we will consider have to offer a sustainable competitive advantage, have IP protection and add some genuine added value to customers and consumers.

“And they have to be technically and commercially feasible.”

They also have to fit within one of Tate & Lyle’s innovation platforms in specialty food ingredients: sweeteners, texturants or health and wellness (encompassing sugar, salt and fat reduction solutions as well as new health ingredients), although Kramer likes to keep an open mind at the early stages of the screening process.

So what about algae, which offers the promise of a suite of new ingredients from proteins and fibers to colors, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants?

Kramer won’t say, but notes that fermentation is a “core competence” at Tate & Lyle.

Aggressively bringing new products and technologies to market

His overall mission is simple, he says: “To turn ICD into the growth engine of the Tate & Lyle organization, aggressively bringing new products and technologies to market.”

So how is he doing so far?    

As CEO Javed Ahmed told delegates at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer Conference in New York last year, customers already see Tate & Lyle as a long-term valued partner and award it consistently high marks for quality, reliability, and customer service, says Kramer.

However, it could still improve in the innovation game and strengthen its presence in emerging markets if it is to truly transform itself from a London-based sugar trader with one star value-added ingredient (sucralose) and strong positions in North America and Europe to a global provider of a suite of value-added innovative ingredients, he says.

“Would our customers recognize us as one of the best innovators in the world? Not yet, but that’s my aim.”

Tate & Lyle Ventures

In just two years, however, significant progress has already been made on the organizational front, with the firm offloading its sugar operations and splitting into two global business units: Bulk Ingredients and Specialty Food Ingredients, each with its own dedicated ‘go to market’ teams supported by the ICD team and a cutting edge facility near Chicago enabling them to collaborate with customers on a whole new level. 

As for emerging markets, a lot of progress has been made in Latin America and Asia, where the firm has strengthened its sales teams and opened new application labs to meet local needs, he says.

Tate & Lyle has also struck deals with BioVittoria and Eminate to take monk fruit-based sweetener Purefruit and ‘micro-salt’ Soda-Lo to a global market, he adds.

Soda-Lo: Microscopic hollow salty balls for sodium reduction

Sodium reduction is a new area for Tate & Lyle - but Soda-Lo - the microscopic salt crystals at the center of a licensing agreement between UK-based firm Eminate and Tate & Lyle - fits neatly into the 'food minus' part of its health and wellness platform well - says Kramer.

"We have solutions for sugar and fat reduction so sodium reduction is a natural extension of that."

It is well-known that the smaller the crystals, the higher the salt perception. However, simply grinding salt to make the particles smaller does not deliver as the tiny particles quickly lose their free-flowing properties and stick together.

By contrast, Soda-Lo has been engineered using a patented process that re-crystallizes salt to create free-flowing, microscopic hollow balls that at 5-10 microns are a fraction of the size of standard salt (c.200-500 microns), and deliver an intense, salty hit on the taste buds.

This offers formulators a distinct advantage over other sodium reduction strategies as Soda-Lo can still be listed as ‘salt’ on food labels, he says.

"It doesn't work in everything, but it is very versatile."

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