More for less
As nothing seems to stop the rise in input prices, processors are more inclined to cut costs on sauces and additives, leaving ingredients companies with a challenge. MRC brand manager Scott Dixon says: “The biggest issue we face at the moment is value for money. Companies are definitely trying to cut down, so we are being squeezed and doing the same to our suppliers.”
Richard Parnell, sales and marketing director at BHJ, adds that ingredients companies need to be adaptable, as the meat industry is going through tough times. “We need to be responsive to customer needs at all times. The whole meat industry is suffering from the increase in raw material prices, so we are offering more and more technical support to help reduce costs,” he adds.
Business development manager for Middleton Food Products Jeff Langton says that the price rise has increased ingredient companies’ competitiveness. “Ingredient costs in certain areas have really impacted on the business, and margins have been squeezed. We have to be very competitive, as everybody is facing the same issues,” he says.
But despite the need to reduce costs, meat processors cannot afford to compromise on quality. Dr Adam Anderson, research and development director at Kerry Ingredients & Flavours EMEA, says: “Our customers are currently faced with a number of challenging issues concerning cost control, cleaner ingredient declarations, improved nutritional profile and authentic flavour profiles and textures, all while continuing to deliver a really great product to their consumers. In dealing with all these key issues, product quality and performance are areas of no compromise.”
Most ingredients companies have noticed that, though concerned about price, their customers are still willing to pay for high-value goods. “The customer is happy to pay a little bit more for better food,” says Peter Van Cotthem, general manager of Verstegen in the UK.
This has led ingredients providers to focus on quality and innovation in order to keep their client base. “We need to show them that we still sell good value ingredients, and treat our loyal customers with much appreciation, as well as enticing new customers. The key is to maintain the level of quality and not to become the cheapest on the market,” Dixon adds.
In an effort to respond to processors’ demands and concerns, ingredients companies have had to reduce fat and salt content without compromising on taste.
As dietitians and lobbyists campaign more than ever for higher transparency, processors are under pressure to reduce fat and salt content in their products. In October, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested implementing a ‘fat tax’ on foods with more than 2.3% saturated fat, following the example set by Denmark. Whether it is implemented or not, the tax is having an impact on consumer behaviour, prompting processors and ingredients suppliers to adjust their fat content. Dixon argues: “It’s likely that it will be implemented in the next couple of years. If it is, it would put people on their toes and open up transparency, but this is already happening naturally.
“Companies tend to lower fat content and be more transparent. However, a fat tax could be a shock for companies that are behind in that area.”
Richard Parnell at BHJ, adds: “The fat tax is a possibility, but in the end, its success will depend on whether consumers are willing to pay extra money for the affected products. Meanwhile, we have more requests to help companies reduce fat levels in meat products. There is a health aspect, but it’s also because fat products are extremely expensive at the moment.”
The prospect of implementing a fat tax is still far away, and Anderson says it is too early to estimate its potential impact on the industry, but his company always works on fat content reduction to satisfy customers’ needs. “Fat reduction is always on the agenda, whether as part of a low fat or lower calorie proposition, or as a way of targeting saturated fat reduction in some products,” he adds.
Faced with increasing pressure to cut fat, ingredients companies have come up with innovative solutions to maintain moisture. Vion Foods is currently working on an ambitious project funded by the Dutch government to replace fat with protein products. Research and development director Ronald Klont explains: “We have already commercialised a plant protein that helps reduce fat in minced meat in Germany, and we are now working on the same with a meat protein. With animal protein, 60% of the meat is used right away, but we are trying to make better use of the waste.”
The plant protein product was launched on the German market a year ago, and has been selling well, prompting the company to commercialise it in the Netherlands. The meat protein solution is still in its early stages and Klont says he does not expect it to hit the market for another three years. “We are working together with suppliers and we have opened innovation to look at different solutions,” he adds.
Vion Foods is also working on vegetable-based ingredients that could improve moisture in sausages. “There are 45,000t of vegetables that go to waste every year in the Netherlands, just because they are not the right shape. Our suppliers have started making juice out of it and, from that, we have extracted a carrot fibre that we use to reduce fat in sausages. It is very efficient and you cannot taste the carrot at all,” Klont says.
BHJ is also in the process of introducing a beef protein suitable for injection in cooked meats, and which could help reduce fat. “We are confident that by enhancing succulence in cooked products and reducing cook losses (typically by 3-4%) there is scope to redevelop products to reduce the fat level and maintain the products’ characteristics,” Parnell says.
But reducing fat often means increasing meat levels, leading to higher costs. Interfood Technology technical sales manager Rob Habgood says vegetable-based solutions can help cut fat without increasing the end price. “By combining clean-label soluble and insoluble vegetable fibres, which do not contain calories, with vegetable fats, you can obtain reduced-fat products that have the mouth feel and texture of meat fats.”
As well as fat, processors are still concerned about salt levels in their products, leading ingredients companies to perfect sodium reduction solutions. Purac recently won a Food Ingredients Europe excellence award for its PuraQ Arome NA4 product, a strong-tasting ferment used for salt reduction in meat. Commercial director Pieter Paul Lamers says this trend started five years ago, but is still an important source of worry for processors.
“At the time statistics showed that the average UK citizen had 12g of sodium a day, when health professionals recommended 6g as the maximum,” he says. “The industry felt pushed by the government to lower salt levels, and now they have gone down. It’s not just a trend, it can be enforced by legislation, so it is there to stay.”
Lamers believes salt is more of an issue than fat for manufacturers. “Big multinationals have policies to reduce fat content, but the trend is not as clear as it is with salt. So far, only the Danes have implemented legislation to reduce fat, whereas salt content is regulated in most countries,” he says.
But as additives companies work towards reducing fat and salt and improving the texture of meat, sauce and marinade manufacturers find themselves confronted by a dilemma. Dixon explains: “We have a constant policy of reducing fat as much as possible, but it’s a necessary ingredient by the very nature of our products.”
Cutting salt while maintaining flavour can be challenging, and consumers still give a lot of importance to taste. Jeff Langton, business development manager at Middleton Food Group, says: “In certain cases where salt levels have been dropped to such an extent that it impacts the final product, we have had complaints from consumers. And if the flavour’s not strong enough they will put salt on it themselves, and that is not the intended effect. It’s important to find the right balance.”
Habgood adds that salt is needed for more than flavour, as it also helps with moisture in meat products. “There are alternatives, for example using potassium or yeast extract instead of sodium, but there is still a lot of work to do to find bespoke blends to help people reduce salt,” he says.
Middleton’s products comply with the 2012 reduction targets set by the Food Standards Agency in 2008 for salt levels, and Langton adds that many different factors have to be considered when calculating a product’s salt content. “Processors might add salt at their end before applying our products, so it’s about adapting to the requirements and ensuring that we do our part by asking the right questions,” he says.
Taste and provenance
Other companies have adopted different strategies. MRC is focusing on the provenance of its products. “People and companies are more and more interested in provenance – where the ingredients in our products come from. It’s good to say if a lemon is Sicilian, it makes people feel like it’s an authentic, quality ingredient,” Dixon says.
MRC is also investing more on market research and consumer surveys, as cost-conscious processors have become more demanding when it comes to ensuring products respond to consumer needs. Dixon adds: “Consumers and manufacturers are more specific on flavours and the reasons behind them. Big companies are not going to take a gamble, and they want to know why we suggest certain flavours. We sometimes buy market research or conduct it ourselves in order to justify trends. It’s all about making sure it’s a consumer-focused product.”
At Kerry, the focus is on taste. In fact, the company launched a ‘taste campaign’ after a US soup manufacturer reversed its decision to reduce salt levels because it had caused important losses. “Our customers have told us that their consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with the taste of products that have been formulated – or reformulated – with lower salt, sugar and fat profiles.
“This formulation, or reformulation, of products with lower salt, sugar and fat levels has created a ‘taste space’ that provides a real challenge. We hope our campaign will help global manufacturers realise that they don’t have to compromise on taste when reformulating products – an essential strategic concern when growing and protecting market share and sales in today’s highly-competitive, cost-conscious markets,” Anderson says.
Kerry has also launched ‘flavour modulation technology’, a range of products designed to modulate the perception of taste in reformulated products. Anderson adds: “However it is important to remember there is no magic ingredient, no ‘silver bullet’. What is needed varies by product application.” In order to adjust to the needs of its individual clients, the company has started to spend more time with processors to understand their challenges and advise them on finding the right balance between cost control and flavour.
Another target in ingredients companies’ drive for more transparency is allergens. Langton at Middleton says: “The portfolio of allergens is ever increasing so we need to be aware of that. Every year, two more ingredients are added to the list of allergens as people become more intolerant to certain things.”
Van Cotthem explains how Verstegen has put all its focus on making its products as safe as possible. “Over the last two years, we have noticed an increase in requests from people who want to be sure that their food is allergen-free, so we have integrated this concern in our whole processing structure. For us, quality is food safety.”
Verstegen now has a monitoring programme for allergies, judged by an independent audit company. Production staff are specifically trained and machines are cleaned and sterilised after each production change to comply with the company’s hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) procedure, and Verstegen is certified high-level food safety by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
“We have our own unique patented production system, and we have made it measurable by third parties, so it is not just a statement of fact. As a result, we haven’t seen a decline in sales because people are happy to pay that money for food that is completely safe,” Van Cotthem adds.
Due to the recession and current health issues, ingredient companies are being pushed to come up with innovative solutions that will give them an edge over competitors. Technological developments are flourishing, and now is a great time for meat processors to keep an open mind when it comes to additives and sauces.
EU additives guidelines introduced
In November, the European Commission released new guidelines aiming to make the use of additives more transparent. Two lists of authorised additives were approved. The first one, regulating their use in foodstuff, will come into force in June 2013. The second one, regarding additives in food ingredients such as other enzymes, flavourings and nutrients, is already in place.
The two lists aim to improve transparency in the ingredients industry and make it obvious that very few additives are authorised in certain types of products, including yoghurt, butter, compote, pasta, simple bread, honey, water and fruit juice, while they are more commonly used in highly processed foodstuffs like sauces and flavoured drinks. This move makes it easier for consumers to make an informed decision on their diet.
EU health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli said: “[These guidelines] represent a landmark in our efforts to strengthen food safety in the European Union. The adoption of two regulations on additives will further empower citizens and industry alike as they will make it easier for everyone concerned to know exactly what additives are allowed in foodstuffs. In a nutshell, this means a better informed citizen and, at the same, an EU food industry properly equipped to come up with new innovative and safe products.” The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will also re-evaluate all additives by 2020, with food colours and aspartame high on the list of priorities, as the EFSA estimates that exposure to those additives can be potentially too high for certain groups of consumers.
Clean label solutions
Processors are increasingly concerned about clean labelling, and ingredient companies are constantly looking for ways to replace man-made ingredients with natural ones. Rob Habgood, technical sales manager for Interfood Technology, says: “We aim to provide the whole processing solution as our team of processing and ingredients specialists will carefully examine the whole process – not just the ingredients, but also the way to process them – to come up with bespoke blends to maximise yield, minimise functional ingredient addition rates and ensure final products meet customer expectations.”
He gives Meat Trades Journal the latest updates in terms of clean labelling solutions.
- Trans-glutaminase (TG): This enzyme derived from meat makes it possible to reduce waste and improve yield by reforming trimmings. “Processors can reform trimmings and product ends allowing them to be sliced or chopped rather than sold as offcuts,” says Habgood.
- Lemon juice and vinegar: Blends of vinegar or lemon juice combined with vinegar, which have been buffered, offer clean label antimicrobial solutions to prevent the growth of organisms in meat products. “Processors are increasingly interested in this type of product to control listeria and increase shelf life,” he says.
- Acerola juice and rosemary extract: These two natural anti-oxidants can be used in place of sodium ascorbate.
- Vegetable-based nitrites: Allergen-free options, based on Swiss chard, can be used as part of a natural curing system.