The overarching trend of wellness—an ongoing and evolving driver of the current food industry—continues to give rise to greater segments of healthy eating, including those focused on specialized dietary needs. “Health is more important to today’s consumer, they are becoming increasingly cognizant of what goes into the foods they are eating,” Mr. Richard explained. “This heightened awareness of food ingredients is driving several top industry trends including fiber fortification and gluten-free food options.”
He explained that the challenge for food formulators is helping customers create products that meet the new trends without affecting the taste or texture of their food product offerings. “For instance, not all fiber products are digested the same,” he said. “Acacia gum is 90% soluble with no side effects, yet other fibers might not be. This is especially important because it is being used more often in a wider range of products, from traditional baking products to beverages and processed meals.
“With gluten-free foods on the other hand, there is a true texture issue,” he continued. “When the gluten is removed from a product the viscosity of the batter changes and the structure of the final product is compromised. By adding hydrocolloids, such as xanthan gum and methocellulose the cell structure is maintained by improving the viscosity during mixing and baking.”
While fiber fortification and gluten-free foods will likely rank as this year’s top health trends, Mr. Richard said the true challenges and innovations over the coming year will be in development of formulations that capture these trends without changing the tastes and textures that consumers expect.
He added that consumers across many segments—chief among them the Baby Boomers—are drawn to the increased satiety and health benefits associated with fiber fortification. And while gluten-free products were originally created for those diagnosed with Celiac disease, the category caters to a broad range of consumers. “Some consumers believe that too much gluten in a diet can cause inflammatory issues, so they are attempting to eat less gluten in their diets to reduce inflammation,” Mr. Richard said. “Consumers are also looking to be healthier and take advantage of additives (such as fiber fortification) and reductions (gluten-free or sodium or sugar reductions) in new, convenient ways. Making foods healthier while still convenient and without changing the texture or taste—is a big draw to consumers.”
He went on to say that the challenge to ingredient suppliers and formulators like Univar is not just to keep pace with the trends, but to anticipate them. “Our goal is always to be a partner in innovation—connecting customers to the ingredients and innovations they need to stay ahead of trends,” he said. “One way we are helping customers navigate [the growing trend in health-focused food formulations] is by offering formulation tools that allow customers to select smart ingredients that lower sugar, sodium and fat in food and beverage products, without sacrificing taste or texture.”
As an example, Mr. Richard pointed to the company’s Less is More tool. Launched in 2011, Less is More was created with “healthy reduction” in mind and helps customers choose the best ingredients to formulate their new foods and beverages while minimizing sugar, sodium and fat contents. The tool employs a point-and-click browser interface that enables customers to investigate ingredient options via case studies, trend guides and starting formulation examples.