A Cross-Functional Approach to the Most Important Meal of the Day

July 9, 2019
Whether formulating or manufacturing, all things point to convenience as this year's breakfast food trend.

Peeping out between granules or flakes, nestled within a muffin, scone, biscuit or bar, or blended in a smoothie or meal replacement beverage, fruit appears in almost every breakfast application. It helps make this daypart more colorful, nutritious and fun.

Whether looking for flavor, health benefits, color or all three, formulators often turn to blueberries for their classic appeal. “Blueberry-based breakfast products and innovations have been growing exponentially in number and importance in the past two years,” says Jeannette Ferrary, spokesperson for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Product incorporating blueberries include breakfast burritos, sandwiches and salads in addition to breakfast smoothies, tea and of course, traditional RTE or hot cereals and baked goods.

Classic formulations might introduce a line extension that includes blueberries, such as blueberry Cheerios for example. New product introductions also rely on blueberries “because blueberries are homey and familiar.," she says. "They help make novel and innovative products less intimidating, lending the product ‘curb appeal.’”

Blueberry ingredients come in a range of formats from single strength juices to concentrates, frozen whole blueberries, or powders, purees, flakes and granules. Blueberry powders and other products work well in rice cakes and bar cookies; blueberry fillings are easy to incorporate in toaster pastries and filled breakfast products. Dried blueberries work well in bread mixes. The council offers a guide listing the variety of available forms along with ingredient characteristics such as moisture levels or water activity and includes storage tips.

Montmorency tart cherries provide another colorful choice for breakfast formulators. These cherries supply “a natural way to help bind dry ingredients, increase moisture, add volume and create texture,” explains Mollie Woods, executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board.

In addition, she said low water activity makes tart cherries a good choice for low moisture snacks. “Frozen tart cherries also offer a versatile product form for breakfast applications since they can easily be included in consumer favorites like muffins and scones."

U.S.-grown Montmorency tart cherries are available in dried, frozen, canned or juice forms (both concentrate and single strength) or pureed and powdered forms.

Vicki Gawlinski, corporate marketing content manager for Van Drunen Farms/FutureCeuticals, Inc. agrees that familiar fruits like blueberries are a popular inclusion in breakfast formulations. A blueberry puree for example, can be utilized in a puffed or extruded cereal when freeze dried into a puree and then ground into a powder.

“Although,” she said, “there is a lot to be said for piece identity. Consumers want to be able to see it and taste the fruit. Is it real? Is it good for me? Real fruit pieces blend together aspects of comfort alongside clean label and transparency.”

Beverages continue to be a big hit for breakfast or any daypart and offer the potential to include a blend of fruits, vegetables and even grains within one delivery system. At IFT 2019 in June, FutureCeuticals' Greens drink mix provided one full serving of fruit and vegetables (per WHO guidelines) along with 16% dietary fiber, in an organic format. The beverage served at IFT included the equivalent of half an apple, 33 spinach leaves, 1/8 of a lemon and 3g of the company's QuinoaTrim.

A new ingredient from Gat Foods of Israel called Fruitlift might even provide a tool to help declining sales in the category of ready-to-eat cereal. While cereal can boast almost universal penetration, it has struggled over the past decade. Mintel research has found that lightly sweetened varieties pose the most popular consumer choice (60%) among RTE cereals. And Innova data states that 71% of Americans examine the sugar content on all ingredient labels with one-third of the population linking sugar with weight gain.

Fruitlift is an all-natural, liquid ingredient comprised of 90% fruit components with a variety of fruit blends available for the base. It's designed to be injected into the flour mix of puffed or extruded cereals to help replace (or entirely eliminate) refined white sugar. The ingredient can either supply a fruit flavor or be designed with a neutral taste to help the final product maintain the brand’s signature flavor.

Hila Bentman, international brand manager, says Fruitlift is recommended as 15% of total ingredients to supply an “ideal sweetness level. It can be added in the standard production process in the extruder or coating drum, while eliminating the sugar from the recipe."

Frozen breakfasts are hot

Frozen breakfasts, whether assembled on trays or into products like sandwiches, bowls and scrambles, are popular because of their convenience, which is especially needed in the morning. Whether or not breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s definitely the most rushed.

But simplicity for consumers means complications in the plant. Breakfast components often feature several proteins, like egg and meat, with different freezing points and handling characteristics. Eggs and other typical breakfast foods have relatively high water activity, which makes them liable to lose moisture during freezing. Frozen breakfasts also often include carbs that can be tricky to handle, like pancakes or specialty sandwich breads like croissants or biscuits.

For these and other reasons, it often makes sense to freeze individual components of a sandwich or a trayed breakfast before assembling them. Cryogenic freezing is popular in these applications because of two advantages over mechanical freezing: it lowers product temperature faster and it takes up less space, which is important for an intermittent processing step.

Cryogenic freezers from Praxair are used to freeze both individual components and entire breakfast sandwiches and wraps, says Debbie Benjamin, manager of Praxair’s food technologies laboratory. The former is more common, but “we are beginning to see more products in final assembly, so it’s sort of an evolution,” she says.

The rapid freezing available with cryogens like liquid nitrogen heightens quality and lowers weight loss, Benjamin says.

“When each of these products is handled hot from the cook/preparation line, cryogenic systems allow for rapid chilling over traditional freezing-cooling methods and results in improved yield due to reduced product weight loss through evaporation,” she says. “If you cool the surface down quickly you seal in the moisture. It’s a yield issue. It helps the final producer to improve yield as well as quality for the product.”

However, freezing individual sandwich components sometimes leads to challenges when it comes time to put the entire sandwich together, says Jon Hissrich, application specialist for the Grote Co.

“Fully automated breakfast sandwich assembly is difficult because components are received and kept frozen, for food safety and energy conserving reasons, and are often irregularly sized and shaped,” Hissrich says.

This puts a crimp in automation, which Grote is trying to work through. “Currently, frozen breakfast sandwich assembly can only be somewhat automated feasibly,” Hissrich says. “Grote is working with both fresh and frozen sandwich manufacturers on a variety of projects that would increase automation and reduce their dependency on manual labor, which is a challenge for all food manufacturers and processors. We especially see potential in machines and robotics replacing tedious, non-value-added tasks such as sandwich lidding and stacking.”

Grote offers conveyors, bread denesters and slicers that can all be used in breakfast sandwich assembly. “Our slicers commonly slice and apply cheese and Canadian bacon onto the sandwich bread product,” Hissrich says.

Slicing bread just before sandwich assembly is important for both quality and, if the bread is made off-site, economy; unsliced breads are cheaper.

“Our horizontal bisectors slice a variety of bread products horizontally for sandwich assembly, including English muffins, croissants, biscuits and bagels,” Hissrich says. “This reduces manufacturers’ costs compared to pre-sliced products. Typically, even the bread products are received and kept frozen, which can sometimes pose challenges for slicers because of the consistency and moisture content; however, our slicers operate in as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Batter up

When it comes to frozen breakfasts, protein-based products like sandwiches are increasing in popularity, but pancakes and waffles still rule. Kellogg recently came out with a new version of Eggo, its No. 1 brand: Thick & Fluffy Belgium Style.

Keys to producing pancakes and waffles quickly and reliably are precise batter portioning, and easy-release, easy-to-clean cooking surfaces.

“We’ve developed and successfully sell depositors that have a far higher accuracy and [faster] rate,” says Michael Fleetwood, managing director for Franz Haas Machinery of America. Haas equipment can deposit about 120 pancakes or waffles per minute per lane. The key is servo drives on both the valves that deposit the batter onto cooking plates, and the positive-displacement pumps that feed the valves.

Pancakes and waffles are usually light, airy products, meaning that it’s best to cook them with a minimum of oil – or even none at all. But that requires a treated surface to allow the product to release reliably while maintaining its integrity. Unfortunately, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), popularly known as Teflon, is not a good option for industrial equipment because it chips and scratches easily.

For the cooking surfaces on its griddle lines, Haas features a patented treatment, used in the automotive and other industries, called Celas, Fleetwood says. Instead of sitting atop the griddle plate in a layer like PTFE, Celas bonds with the metal. As a result, a Celas-treated plate has an expected life of more than 20,000 hours, compared with about 1,000 for PTFE.

Of course, pancakes and waffles aren’t the only kinds of products that use batter or other free-flowing components. Hinds-Bock makes depositors, fillers and other equipment that can be used for a number of potential breakfast components.

“Typical ingredients and mixes include everything from basic muffin batters, sauces, jams and jellies to nut butters, slurries and dry ingredients such as streusel,” says Lance Aasness, Hinds-Bock executive vice president. “Hinds-Bock designs multi-piston production systems for pancake batter, waffle batter, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, egg mixtures for mini egg bites, multi-level yogurt parfait and dipping trays for fresh fruit.”

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