Today's consumers want food they can trust and ingredients they can understand. They're checking package labels for artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, certain dough conditioners, GMOs, partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Replacing such ingredients can be much trickier than it sounds. While formulators are facing pressure to swap-out ingredients that consumers are avoiding, ingredient suppliers are managing to come up with label-friendly, even natural ingredients that are making the substitutions easier.
But it's not always easy. "When three or four highly effective ingredients are replaced with various alternatives, there's somewhat of a compounding effect," says Troy Boutte, principal scientist-bakery at DuPont Nutrition and Health (www.dupont.com), New Century, Kan. "The result can be that processing efficiency goes down even with additional vital ingredients added, causing the overall costs to go up."
Azodicarbonamide (ADA), which improves dough and bread texture, has been removed from many bakery products largely because it's also used in yoga mats and packaging components. Despite FDA assurances that it's safe as used in food, Food Babe blogger Vani Hari called out Subway restaurants for ADA's presence in the chain's breads, and Subway removed the ingredient in 2014.
"We replaced ADA using other ingredients relatively easily, but at much higher cost," Boutte points out. "The groundwork for ADA replacement has been done over the past 20 years, but wasn't implemented because the cost of replacement was higher and functionality wasn't quite as consistent. There are ways of replacing most ingredients either by using alternates, combinations, process changes or as a last resort by changing the specifications of the final product." Gelatin, an animal byproduct, and some modified starches, also are being replaced to pacify some consumers. But they provide cling and a mouth coating difficult to achieve with other ingredients. Cargill "can provide solutions via a single ingredient or a custom, tailor-made functional system," says Drew Kleven, manager of functional systems and hydrocolloids at the Wayzata, Minn., firm (www.cargill.com). "For example, we can replace modified food starch and gelatin using one ingredient or a functional system based on corn or tapioca starch, pectin and agar."
Sugars in the crosshairs
With added sugars destined to be called out in the new Nutrition Facts Panel (with compliance due in 2018), more processors than ever are looking for non-nutritive replacements. But workhorses aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose all have their detractors. Switching among those three is little help. In the face of consumer concerns about aspartame, PepsiCo replaced that sweetener with a blend of sucralose and acesulfame potassium (ace-K) in Diet Pepsi in late 2015. But already declining sales of Diet Pepsi only got worse, and by the middle of this year PepsiCo returned aspartame to a new diet cola, Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend.
Fortunately, two natural replacements have come to the fore. Stevia is slowly taking hold, and monk fruit also is beginning to make a dent.
Stevia received generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status from the FDA at the end of 2008, thanks to petitions from Whole Earth Sweetener (a division of Merisant, and backed by PepsiCo) and Cargill (which teamed with Coca-Cola). And monk fruit, also called luo han guo or Buddha fruit, was called GRAS in January 2010. BioVittoria was the petitioner, but Tate & Lyle quickly allied itself with that company and became the dominant U.S. supplier.
"The biggest challenge we face is flavor masking, since some natural high-intensity sweeteners have a slight off note," states Thom King, founder/CEO of Steviva Ingredients (www.stevivaingredients.com), Portland, Ore. But Steviva and other stevia suppliers – prominently Apura Ingredients, Blue California, Cargill, Ingredion, NiuSource, PureCircle, Sweet Green Fields and Wisdom Natural Brands – all offer masking agents and are working on purer extracts of stevia to reduce the bitter or metallic taste.
Tate and Lyle's Purefruit monk fruit extract has found application in a range of food and beverage applications. Monk fruit has been used in coffee drinks from Starbucks and Nestle, in a Yoplait Yogurt & Juice beverage, in Chobani Simply 100 yogurts and many other products.