When ConAgra Food Ingredients launched Ultragrain whole wheat flour in 2004, combining whole wheat nutrition with the taste and texture of refined flour, it began to change consumer perceptions about whole grains. The flour starts with a specially grown variety of white wheat with a sweeter, milder taste and lighter color than traditional red wheat.
It’s milled with a patent-pending process that retains whole grain nutrients such as fiber and protein, and has four to five times the levels of B vitamins (niacin and thiamin), potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, fiber and increased antioxidants, including 12 times more vitamin E than refined white flour. But it accomplishes all that while still delivering the fine granulation and texture of white flours.
Breads were one thing, but a chicken-breading application was a new challenge. Tyson’s R&D team collaborated with ConAgra’s R&D team to refine this application of Ultragrain.
"They developed several formulations that could stand up to long holding times without drying out or getting too dark in color and without the whole grain dark specks, which kids don’t like," says Jirka. "It took some time to come up with the right formulation, because we use school commodity chicken. Ultragrain has an even color consistency, and the texture also met the kids’ approval."
Taste is still the most important factor for kids and affects their desire for the product, she emphasizes. "Our whole goal was to offer nutritious products that taste good to the students, meet the operator’s goal of serving nutritious products and our goal of taking the costs out of the supply chain." The result - Whole Grain Chicken Nuggets and Whole Grain Chicken Patties – "was a win for all three goals," Jirka says.
"We tested the product in three different school districts around the country, and it was tasted by more than 500 kids," says Jirka. "Served at school in their normal lunchtime setting, prepared and served by the staff just as they normally would, it received a 98 percent approval rating. We knew we had a win. This product, launched last year, has been a top seller. We sold so many pounds, it exceeded our expectations. Actually, it was a three-way win, for kids, operators and for us."
As for upcoming new products, Jirka says Tyson has had a request to develop a whole grain product with a hot a spicy flavor profile. "Ultragrain allows us to use flavor profiles to extend options for our customers."
"Kids who are in elementary school now will grow up accepting a more nutritious school lunch," she says. "By the time they get into high school, the whole profile of school lunches will change. I really hope that the emphasis on child obesity now will have a positive effect down the line."
It was pure coincidence, but the same week in late August that Dunkin’ Donuts announced it was switching to trans fat-free frying oil, so did Cork’s Old Fashioned Donuts. While Cork’s is just a one-store operation in Albany, Ore., the bakery runs all night producing donuts for local grocers, convenience stores, espresso shops and the hospital in its home town. The hospital was a large account the donut baker might have lost if it had not switched to trans fat-free frying oil.
Owner Paul Fraser recalls hearing concerns about trans fats at the International Baking Industry Exposition the year before the labeling requirement for packaged foods. When the rule went into effect (January 2006), people at his hospital account started to hint they would like trans fat-free donuts.
Fraser says he tried several low- or zero-trans oils. "The process of switching was trial and error. We tried a liquid shortening, but that gave us a soggy donut. Then we tried a palm oil, but the flavor was off and the mouthfeel wasn’t as pleasing. I kept asking my Bake Mark [supply company] rep, ‘Do you have something new yet?’ "
Eventually, that something was NovaLipid from Archer Daniels Midland Co. (www.admworld.com), Decatur, Ill. The NovaLipid line is a suite of zero- or low-trans fat options tailored to customers’ needs, including blended base stock oils, naturally stable oils, tropical oils and ADM’s enzyme interesterified shortenings and margarines. For Cork’s Donuts, a cottonseed-soybean oil blend was the solution. "We gave it a try and we’ve never looked back.
"Since switching to a trans-free donut fry, our customers have been commenting on how much better our donuts taste," he notes. "The neutral flavor also was a selling point. We don’t want anything influencing the flavor of our donuts."
Fraser says the products are less greasy. "The oil is light and the donuts don’t draw nearly as much shortening. We’re ordering 35 percent less oil." Plus, the cottonseed oil blend has a longer fry life and helps employees maintain a more consistent product quality – something Fraser describes as a "big challenge" in his business.
Just after the switch, Fraser landed his biggest wholesale account: a major hospital in Corvallis, Ore., he’s been calling on for several years. It was his move away from trans fats that sweetened the deal.
ADM worked a lot more intimately - and comprehensively - when a large U.S. bakery customer asked for help in creating a line of better-for-you versions of its existing well-known sweet snacks. Although ADM has helped scores of customers with product formulation challenges, a chance to start from scratch on developing an entire line was an unprecedented prospect and one the company’s R&D people were eager to tackle.
ADM put on the task its bakery application experts, who are familiar with the firm’s hundreds of ingredients. High on the list were ingredients with the potential to impact the customer’s enhanced health and wellness profile while remaining compatible with the product’s taste, texture, visual appeal and consistency. Attention also had to be paid to how ingredients work together, the impact on the label and affordability. In addition, ADM wanted to make certain the proposed concepts would meet Kosher and Pareve food requirements.
Testing combinations of ingredients such as cocoa, specialty sweeteners, enrichments, flour, emulsifiers, wheat starches and wheat protein isolates, ADM’s application scientists were able to achieve the "looks like, tastes like" quality for the products and presented finished product prototypes for the customer.
But could the products withstand the rigors of the production line? Since time to market was an essential ingredient and production lines were busy during the day, the first pilot batch was produced at the bakery’s facility at 2 a.m. Line employees were no doubt surprised to see ADM’s bakery application experts alongside at the plant to check the equipment, taste the results and offer feedback for optimal results.
Last year, the line of no-sugar added and low-fat goods debuted, and the products fared so well that additional better-for-you sweet snacks are on the drawing board for the bakery and ADM.