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Univar: Cleaning up labels tops R&D agendas in 2014

By Maggie Hennessy , 29-Nov-2013

Looking ahead to the coming year, the biggest trends in R&D for the food and beverage industry will be clean label, natural ingredients and industry regulations, though there are several, more fragmented “micro” trends from sodium reduction and fiber fortification to GMOs, said Charles Purcell, technical development specialist at ingredient supplier Univar. 

“Trends are developed based on need state—there has to be a need for a product before it becomes trendy,” Purcell told FoodNavigator-USA. “I think they can also get really micro and fragmented. We could go on all day about the various health and wellness trends out there,” but the most prevalent one he sees on the R&D side is the continued focus on natural additives and clean labels, he said.

“Clean label and natural ingredients go hand in hand. The term ‘natural’ has gotten muddied up –things are being called natural that lawyers are saying they shouldn’t, which gets messy. So manufacturers are going for cleanest labels they can get—taking anything that sounds like a chemical out and putting real food product in. If you’re one of the lucky producers that have something that fits that bill, you’re going to be in a good place in 2014.”

A number of industry regulations—from the Food Safety Modernization Act to the Food and Drug Administration’s recent crackdown on trans fats to the growing debates on GMO labeling and acrylamide—will all impact the industry in the coming year. But Purcell noted that one to watch in particular is the upcoming rollout of US Department of Agriculture regulations on sodium levels in school lunches for the 2014-2015 school year, which will be felt across the industry.   

“Sodium reduction is definitely still out there, though it’s kind of fragmented. Some companies have chosen to do nothing; some said they would reduce sodium levels and haven’t done anything; others are working on widespread reduction efforts,” he said. “The new USDA regulations regarding school lunch is the only thing I see driving sodium reduction. Companies will want to be prepared, especially if they’re selling into the foodservice segment.”

But cost is a big part of the challenge, as sodium reduction not only alters the flavor of baked products; it also affects the dough characteristics. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, “whatever you substitutes for sodium costs more,” Purcell said.

Along with taking out the “bad” stuff, there are continued calls to add in more of the “good”, which in this case is fiber, he said. “Fiber fortification is not new, but it will continue to be there because Americans don’t get nearly enough of it in their diets. People looking into newer, less mainstream options such as quinoa.”

Moreover, Purcell noted that issues such as GMO labeling, gluten- and allergen-free products, and sports nutrition are other trends to keep an eye on under the more general umbrella of health and wellness. “But at the same time, companies’ margins are compressed and they’re looking to cut costs, so they can’t address everything.”

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