Premixes: Strong potential for plant-based nutritionals and protein innovation
07 Aug 2018 --- The aging of the population, increasing scientific evidence of the benefits of nutritional supplementation and the trend toward foods and beverages rather than pills and capsules have led to increased consumer interest in the incorporation of nutrient premixes to support a healthy diet. “Consumers are doing everything they can to stay healthy so that they can stay out of the traditional healthcare system,” says Sam Wright IV, CEO at The Wright Group, which develops custom nutrient premixes, the enrichment of rice and grains, as well as the microencapsulation of vitamins, minerals and omega 3.
Wright adds that demand for nutrient premixes is growing across the board with the more recently developed markets, such as China and South Asia, enjoying the most dramatic growth. Consequently, the big food & beverage brands “are facing severe growth challenges in a changing retail market as well as with more demanding customers looking for unique value-added characteristics in the products that their family uses,” he notes.
“Today, many consumers read the ingredient list and nutritional table of their favorite products carefully. They won’t hesitate to remove a lot of them from their shopping list if they’re not healthy enough,” says Jonathan Romano, Global Business Manager Fortification, Vitablend and Vitasquare at Barentz. “The signal is loud and clear, so the industry needs to move fast to propose innovative products that are good for their health. One way to improve the nutritional profile of a product is to add vegetable proteins, omega 3, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics or plant extracts,” he adds.
The protein trend has been going strong for some time, making it a fertile ground for further NPD. Of rising interest in both powders and beverages are BCAAs and essential amino acids. “On the powders side, BCAAs have been popular for some years now, but the next stage is the use of essential amino acids. They are components with lots of proteins, but now a free-form blend has been created with the nine essential amino acids (EAA) that is geared towards the sports nutrition market. Like BCAAs that have been around for a while, EAA blends are becoming more popular,” says Tony Gay, Prinova’s Head of Technical Sales and New Product Development Premixes/Flavors/Specialty Ingredients/Extracts.
As consumers become more mindful of what they are consuming they have also upped their demand for more natural ingredients. As a consequence, the industry will be seeing more natural focused energy products, or amino acid type products, according to Gay. “Along with the natural side, there is a trend towards the use of extracts in premixes. Companies are no longer just using vitamins, minerals and amino acids. They are also looking to some extracts with health benefits, such as green tea and guarana, as well as those centered around recovery or overstimulation, such as ashwagandha or rhodiola,” he notes. “These ingredients are increasingly cropping up in beverages and powders, almost to counteract the overuse of stimulants.”
Another trend within the blends space is the incorporation of vegan proteins, such as pea, rice or pumpkin seed protein. But also less conventional sources such as chia seeds are being applied. These are often being blended to achieve a complete protein profile and the right balance of amino acids. Although this vegan trend is becoming more popular with a broader base of consumers than those following an entirely vegan lifestyle, their usage presents challenges. Consumers are often used to the flavor and texture attributes of dairy-based proteins, such as whey or dairy protein, and are therefore accustomed to creamy or milky textures in, for example, shakes.
“The challenge with vegan shakes is that they can be quite grainy in texture or quite strong in flavor. Companies and manufacturers are now launching ingredients to support these blends and improve their functionality. Prinova can offer a vegan creamer called Clean Cream. Combining that with a vegan protein will give a sensory element that is close to that of a creamy milkshake, making it an interesting ingredient,” Gay says. “Masking is also a challenge, with pea protein being an example of a protein with a strong flavor profile.”
The incorporation of vegan protein is an area where consumer demand for natural, health-driven products intersect with the notion that taste will always be king. “There is a segment of the market looking for natural flavoring, but a bigger driver still is the general lack of acceptance of bad tasting products. It used to be the case that consumers may think that if a product does not taste good, it must be good for them. Whereas now, consumers demand good flavor and formula,” Gay says.
Innovations in the inclusion of premixes are also prevalent in beverages, with energy drinks and sports beverages offering prime examples. “There is a large consumer market for energy drinks, but consumers are now more aware of the benefits of certain ingredients and formulations with more high-quality products. Within the carbonated drinks market we are now seeing drinks being launched with BCAAs,” says Gay. “These BCAAs have been extensively researched regarding their benefits for muscle recovery and energy when you are deprived of glycogen, so they are appropriate for people looking to improve their performance or recover from exercise.”
Following whey protein, which has been adopted by the mass market channel, BCAAs are likely to be the next growth area, Gay notes. Prime examples are brands such as NOCCO and Nutramino. “Alongside the energy drinks, some companies are looking to integrate nutrients that not only target stimulation, such as caffeine and taurine but also target the overall energy cycle in the body by including ingredients such as CoEnzyme Q10 and L-Carnitine that may support cellular energy,” he adds. Driven by an interest in all things “natural,” companies are also starting to use concentrated caffeine ingredients from a natural source, usually derived from green coffee bean extract or green tea.
Despite their growing popularity and ever-increasing market potential, powder products come with a set of industry challenges, both from a formulation and regulatory perspective. “Solubility, taste and microbiology are the key parameters to consider. As a consequence, premium expertise in spray-drying and blending become a must,” Romano notes on this point. “Spray-drying excellence will provide fantastic powders with perfect solubility and appearance. Then, formulations can be finalized by extra dry-blending steps without heat treatment, where very sensitive nutrients such as omega 3, vitamins or trace minerals will be added. So such blending steps must be done in super hygienic conditions to guarantee a perfect microbiology profile. This is where Barentz’s Vitablend and VitaSquare excel and can be seen as a unique combination.”
Technical challenges would include considering which forms of available vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to utilize to achieve the desired label claim, notes Wright. “The order in which these nutrients are incorporated into a blend, the type of blender used, the resulting stability and organoleptic characteristics of the mix, particle size and guaranteeing equal dispersion, sometimes with the use of triturations and microencapsulates, all combine to yield an excellent-tasting and stable finished product,” he explains.
On top of growing consumer awareness about scientifically underbuilt ingredients, flavor innovation is also crucial in blends and premixes. “People are not just looking for standard flavors. In the case of energy water, for example, consumers are no longer looking for a basic orange or lemon flavor but something different such as cucumber and mint. In recent times, there have been some exciting flavors coming out, including cocktail flavors such as pina colada or mojito,” Gay explains.
However, more traditional flavors, such as elderflower, that may not previously have been associated with sports or lifestyle products are also entering the fray. As with the nutritional industry as a whole, industry experts see a key role for personalization. Especially since interest in segments such as children, sport, women trying to get pregnant and seniors are gaining momentum.
“The variety of products is currently still rather narrow regarding customer scope. However, the food of the future will be more personalized,” Romano notes. “In addition to standard morphologic data, parameters like genome, microflora profile, social behaviors, and even next week’s agenda will make the equation much more complex. This is the challenge the industry will have to answer.”
This is a shortened version of an article set to appear in the July/August edition of The World of Food Ingredients.
By Lucy Gunn
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