Leatherhead top trends: Holistic R&D, healthy marketing, food safety and the environment

Leatherhead Food Research: While consumer concerns around health aren't new, they are extremely relevant to bakery, snack and cereal makers

Healthier products remain a top consumer demand, interpreting and communicating health claims is an ongoing challenge, and food safety is top of mind amid eco-friendly advances, according to Leatherhead Food Research.

The food consultancy firm compiled five top food and beverage issues for BakeryandSnacks.com that it said fell broadly across the entire sector but rang true for bakery, snack and cereal makers.

The five issues:

  • Consumer demand for healthier products continues, fueling a holistic R&D approach
  • Challenges in the interpretation of health claim wording
  • Health concerns and political pressure fuel a focus on reformulation and portion size
  • Challenges remain in food safety and authenticity, increasing checks and balances
  • Focus on eco-friendly, efficient production must consider food safety risks

“Consumer demand for healthier products is clearly not a new trend, neither is the need to reformulate,” said Alice Cadman, head of business development and marketing at Leatherhead Food Research. “But, these remain the most relevant for bakery, snack and cereal makers because these categories are quite well placed to play into it,” she said.

Holistic, healthy R&D

Cadman said the research and development (R&D) process for healthier bakery, snack and cereal products had shifted to a more rounded model.

“We’re seeing a much more holistic link between the areas of ingredient innovation, product development, consumer testing and the regulatory side of developing a healthier product.”

R&D was a closed loop that started and ended with the consumer, she said. In between, she said it was about working backwards through the development process to make a product that tapped into consumer motivations and stood strong on health claims.

She said, however, that communication of health claims and functions to consumers was a stumbling block for many, particularly in advertising channels. “What often happens is things happen in different departments and so they’re not necessarily taking on board some of the other regulatory aspects. Ad agencies typically aren’t as well-informed on health claims regulations as experts,” she said.

Following the formalization of the 222 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) health claims over the last few years, ensuring communication on product claims was accurate had been thrown into the spotlight, she said.

For bakery and snack manufacturers, the future of healthy NPD was in new processes and replacer blends, she said. For example, Leatherhead was investigating the impact of sweetener blends to replace sugar.

“Clearly there’s a lot of noise around sugar at the moment,” she said. Although, there had been far more in the UK compared to the US, she added. “I haven’t seen the same level of pressure in the US; not in the last six months or so. Although, that’s not to say that consumer health concerns aren’t as relevant in the US. I think the UK just has some particular pressure groups and media that are very active on it.”

Wayne Morley, head of food innovation at Leatherhead, previously told this site that the future of bakery reformulation was about minimizing compromise and making the most of ingredients manipulation.

Food safety focus with an eco-friendly twist

Cadman said food safety remained top of mind for most manufacturers and would remain in the spotlight for some time. “Because of the way in which industry is going to be expected to respond to food safety and quality concerns over the next 12 months, there will be a heightened focus that manufacturers tick all the boxes. That’s an area that will be resource hungry.”

Tighter processes and procedures like testing along production lines for contamination risks, for example, was a focus area that had gained traction.

However, one “bubbling” trend was a need to ensure eco-friendly production didn’t increase food safety risks.

“Obviously manufacturers are looking at how they can reduce energy, costs and improve their environmental footprint, but what they have to balance that with is an assurance they’re not taking any food safety risks,” she said.

For example, reduced packaging in cakes or snacks to lower the environmental footprint could reduce the film spec, she said, and manufacturers must consider how that impacted shelf life and contamination risk.

“That’s something we might see a bit more of a focus on – I see that as something on the horizon.”

Leatherhead Food Research will be at IFT in New Orleans June 22-24 to discuss regulation and formulation processing, among other things, with industry.

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