Whether you're exploring new sweeteners, cautiously launching some gluten-free products or trying to save on in-plant labor or inventory, food processors increasingly are turning to their ingredient suppliers to supply not just ingredients but customized blends of ingredients.
"It depends on the size and goals of customers. Some customers are startups and do not have the volume to justify bringing blending in-house. Others are piloting products, and therefore need smaller blended batches," says Bryan Scherer, director of research and development at Penford Food Ingredients (www.penford.com), Centennial, Colo.
"And then there are those who are entering the nonallergenic markets," he continues. "They use private label manufacturers or contract manufacturers with certified facilities to blend and make those products."
Scherer sees strong interest in gluten-free blends of ingredients right now as customers explore whether this could be a lucrative product niche for them. But the quantities of ingredients are smaller during this test period and they must come from certified gluten-free facilities. Most processors will not make that kind of investment, in bulk ingredients or blending equipment, until they have proven market demand. So custom blenders with gluten-free facilities are in demand.
While gluten-free is an interesting but niche demographic, the aging population is a much larger opportunity.
"With boomers being the largest segment of the population, we are regularly developing premixes that address many of the health issues of concern with this demographic," adds Cathy Arnold, formulation supervisor at Fortitech (www.fortitech.com), Schenectady, N.Y.
"These formulations have focused on cardiovascular health with nutrients such as CoQ10 and omega-3 fatty acids being utilized; bone and joint health with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, chondroitin and collagen; and cognitive health with nutrients such as choline and phosphoditylserine being included."
Fortitech specializes in nutrient premix development. Each one is customized to the unique needs of the customer, and, of course, the end result is a product that does not alter the final product's taste, stability, mouth feel and shelf life.
Arnold lists some of the benefits of using premixed ingredients:
- Accelerated product development: "We can quickly turnaround new formulations–including providing free samples during the development phase," she says.
- Reduced testing: Fortitech tests and documents every premix, documenting every batch with a certificate of analysis.
- Lower purchasing/inventory costs: Processors store only the premix; Fortitech maintains the larger quantities of all the constituent ingredients.
- Reduced labor: Batching is simplified with a single blend.
- Increased output: Faster batching means increased output – and eliminates downtime associated with recreating or reworking premixes in-house.
- Reduced equipment costs: No need to purchase, operate and train staff to operate ingredient blending equipment.
She also notes interest in ingredients to combat obesity. "The weight management market continues to grow. We are seeing more requests for formulations that include CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] and whey protein being developed by our technical team."
Whey also is a big ingredient for PGP International (www.pgpint.com), Woodland, Calif. "We make a lot of prototypes with whey for the makers of sports and nutrition products," says Doug Bishop, contract manufacturing sales manager. "We are noting some hesitancy on going forward with new products and new flavors. Maybe it's the economy. They seem to be sticking with whatever is currently working for them.
"But we also foresee all kinds of opportunities in and around those segments," he continues. "Those products are not just for athletes or body builders anymore." Anyone who wants a good workout at the gym or is concerned about protein intake is gravitating toward whey-enhanced products.
"We make the whey ourselves but source any number of other ingredients – vitamins, flavors, sweeteners," Bishop continues. "Ninety percent of our business is supplying a complete, customized mixture of ingredients, not just whey." He acknowledges that this ties up PGP resources in buying and storing large quantities of ingredients, but relieves food processors of both the financial investment and the storage.
On the subject of sweeteners, Bishop sees increasing interest in stevia, as processors (and their customers) are attracted by its natural claim. Some recent requests have come through for stevia mixed with luo han guo, or monk fruit. PGP's product developers have gotten themselves familiar with both sweeteners.
"We have our Functional Ingredients Technology Center, our FIT Center, in Eagan, Minn., outside St. Paul, where our people can formulate blends to customer needs," says Bishop. "In addition to having us blend ingredients, customers are making more use of our R&D resources."