Dispatches from IFT 2014

RIBUS: consumers avoiding 'chem lab' ingredients; GMOs the biggest agro development since the tractor

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetically modified organism

During the IFT 2014 show in New Orleans, FoodNavigator-USA caught up with RIBUS Inc. CEO Steve Peirce for an update on its all-natural and organic rice-based ingredients and the sustainability of rice in a world that faces staggering levels of food waste. 

And we couldn’t resist prodding Peirce a bit for his views on GMOs and their role in feeding the world, given his pedigree as an ag-economist and former Monsanto employee now working on the natural and organic sector.

Consumers continue to seek alternatives to artificial, “chemistry lab” sounding ingredients, which has sales of RIBUS’ natural and organic rice hull-derived anti-caking agent Nu-Flow on the rise. Even though organic food and beverage manufacturers are coming up on the Nov. 3, 2014 deadline for swapping silicon dioxide for organic rice hulls​ on the heels of changes in legislation around organic, manufacturers and consumers appear most concerned with clean label.

“While organic sales ​[of Nu-Flow] are going straight up, natural sales are going up even faster and higher,”​ Peirce said. “It’s a time when the consumer is much more informed.People are getting concerned with what they’re putting in their body, and we’re offering a natural alternative to the chemistry lab-sounding words.”

As cleaner ingredients come to the fore, so does a demand for more responsible practices for harvesting and processing them. Indeed, given that 30% of our food supply globally is thrown away each year—either through spoilage or excess food that’s thrown away, manufacturers and suppliers are looking for ways to more efficiently use ingredients.  

“One of the words everyone’s heard a lot about over the last few years is sustainability,” ​Peirce said, adding that with statistics like 30% global food waste, such topics should be at the forefront. “When you look at the rice plant, 70% is white rice, we’ve been eating that for centuries; 10% is bran, and RIBUS is able to use that to make new rice and baked products; and 20% is the rice hull, which is used for Nu-Flow, So for the first time, we’re able to use 100% of harvested rice for human consumption, whether through food or dietary supplements.”

GMOs have revolutionary potential; Monsanto didn’t help raise enough awareness early on

When discussing consumer perception and chem-lab ingredients, the highly contentious issue of GMOs will inevitably come up. Peirce says it’s hard to deny the revolutionary potential of this technology to help feed a growing population, though GMO supporters started on their back foot with a dearth of information early on.

There are a lot of people opinionated on both sides, and I respect all opinions,”​ Peirce said. “I have an ag-economics degree. I do believe that the GMO is one of the biggest agronomic developments almost since the tractor. It has the potential to revolutionize a lot of things. I truly feel on the negative side, I don’t think Monsanto helped the scientific community and consumers with their awareness early on, so people built up maybe a resistance in attitude to whether we want to do this, and Europeans led the charge.”

Still, questions abound when it comes to GMOs, and Peirce says that the best way to empower consumers is to keep an open dialogue, particularly in such a fragmented market. “Many American consumers feel like they have the right to know. I think through conversations and knowledge, people will have choices, whether they’re buying organic, natural or conventional.”

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