KEY INTERVIEW: Avian Flu Egg Shortage Creates Opportunity for Fiberstar

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01 Jun 2015 --- The avian flu H5N2 virus that is spreading across the Midwest of the US, leading to the destruction of millions of egg-laying hens, is presenting an opportunity to one US producer of fiber-based ingredients that can be used as partial egg replacers. Until recently, Fiberstar’s Citri-Fi tapped into the market for plant-based, clean label, gluten-free alternatives and non-GM foods that maintain moisture and product integrity. Chief executive John Haen spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst about how winning a Silver Award for Most Innovative Food Ingredient in 2007 catapulted Fiberstar on to the world stage, and how today’s egg crisis puts a new spin on the business.

In the 1990s, the University of Minnesota carried out research on how to make a viable fiber ingredient from a by-product of the  industry, orange pulp. The results showed that a premium product could be made in using natural, sustainable, low-energy method and produce a product that caters to the growing demand for whole foods without any additives.

As a result of that research Fiberstar was born. The company branched out from that positive research and today it makes and markets Citri-Fi, which is a natural, healthy alternative that can be used in various food applications as a moisture management tool.

“Citri-Fi gives a superior water holding capacity and does not release moisture. This is particularly important with applications that require heating or freezing. Many other applications lose moisture and dry out but Citri-Fi gives a better moisture level and therefore, in many cases, better shelf-life,” explains Haen.

For these reasons, CitriFi is also a good egg-replacement product. Eggs are often used in food production for their moisture retention, but of course their inclusion means that a meat-free product cannot be marketed as vegan. Today, the case for egg replacement is even more poignant as the US faces a poultry industry disaster in the wake of the avian flu that is sweeping the Mid West. Eggs are in short supply due to the forced culling of nearly a quarter of farmed hens, prices are rocketing and food producers are looking for alternatives so that they can continue to produce their foods without interruption.

Fiberstar has seen an increase in enquiries in recent weeks as a result of the impending egg shortage. “Because the turn of events occurred so suddenly, heavy egg user manufacturers are proactively looking for solutions to minimize their risk. The actual supply shortage is starting to impact the market now,” says Haen. 

“Recently Fiberstar experienced a significant uptick in egg replacement requests for multiple food applications. Some of these food applications include baked goods, dressings like mayonnaise spreads and meat products like meat loaf.”

“The shortage is affecting companies like egg processors, ingredient suppliers, food service, food manufacturers and retail. The companies within the food manufacturing sector that will be impacted most are those in the bakery segment. There are other food segments that will also be looking for alternative solutions such as dairy desserts, dressings/spreads and reformed meats,” he adds.

“Using Citri-Fi can lead to an 25% reduction in the use of egg products in sauces and dressings. Egg reduction of 20% can be seen in baked goods and 100% in meat-based products,” said Haen.

Fiberstar’s newest product introduction is the Citri-Fi 125. This product is derived from citrus peel and offers additional functional benefits to the Citrus-Fi 100 series. Depending on the food product and functionality needs, Citri-Fi 125 can be used at lower levels than Citri-Fi 100 which provides cost savings. 

In the bakery sector, Citri-Fi 125 can reduce egg usage up to 15% in baked goods such as muffins which is a cost savings while retaining moisture and maintain quality through-out shelf-life. The product also reduces oil, which taps into the market for lower fat and cost savings.

When the company won FI Europe Silver Award at the Food Ingredients Europe trade show for the Most Innovative Food Ingredient in 2007, it was put on the world stage overnight. Europe has led the natural, clean label revolution and of course, it does not us genetically modified ingredients. Worldwide production increased four-fold as a result of the award and business grew dramatically. After slow beginnings in the US, business is picking up and more consumers are looking for natural products that fulfil the need for no GMOs and clean label.

Clean label is of particular importance for Fiberstar, says Haen. “Consumers are looking for recognizable ingredients in the ingredient list, but clean label is subjective and not regulated by the FDA. Every manufacturer has their own clean label program in what they accept as clean label. This is contingent on the type of products they produce. For instance, Kellogg’s and Kraft may have clean label programs that share similar criteria, however, they may not be exact because they serve different types of the market – cereal versus dairy cheeses. 

“Some examples of clean label criteria include ingredients found in a consumer’s kitchen cupboard, easy to pronounce, recognizable and do not sound like a chemical. Ingredients that start with an X may be perceived as a chemical if the consumer does not know what the ingredient is even if the ingredient is natural. An example here is Xanthan Gum. Xanthan Gum is natural but sounds like a chemical. 

“Citri-Fi is a clean label citrus fiber product line derived from citrus. Since this can be labeled as Citrus Fiber it is a double bonus. Consumers understand citrus and fiber is a great term not only because it carries a health halo, but also due to some consumer polling, fiber is one of the top ingredient consumers look for when purchasing a product. 

The trend started with a growing interest in ‘natural’ products. Consumers who were growing concerned about the amount of artificial ingredients in their food. Natural and clean label piggy-back off each other since they both follow similar guidelines. 

“Citri-Fi is a natural citrus fiber derived from by a natural process,” says Haen. “The citrus fiber isolation methods uses natural processing conditions. There are other ingredients in the marketplace that may be clean label but are processed via chemical means. Fiberstar prides itself on a clean process to create a highly functioning fiber product.”

Although Citr-Fi is not in itself a high-fiber product, Haen is confident that food producers can use it to increase natural fiber in their products. “Though Citri-Fi is used in small amounts to achieve functional benefits such as moisture retention, emulsify stabilization and thickness, it will still register on a food product’s ingredient statement as fiber,” says Haen. “Many companies use multiple fibers to be able to make fiber claims. Citri-Fi can work synergistically with other fibers to make this happen.”

Of course, genetic modification of foods is an increasingly important topic. Many consumers now say that they are willing to pay extra for a product that does not contain any genetically modified (GM) ingredients and Citri-Fi can also make that claim.

“Market demand for non-GMO ingredients has been increasing over the past few years. Several advocacy groups within certain states are trying to change packaging guidelines to highlight when GMOs are used. This is a heated controversy since this will impact the entire food industry – from farm to table. 

“Since FDA has not approved GMO oranges, Citri-Fi is non-GMO,“ says Haen. 

Some of the advantages that Haen sees around the world relate to regulatory issues surrounding the inclusion of certain ingredients. In most cases, Citri-Fi is able to provide the functional properties required, as well as the regulatory approval, due to its natural, kosher, halal, gluten-free, vegan status.

“Some countries do not allow the use of specific ingredients in food products. In those cases, Citri-Fi has been a great natural and clean label ingredient with hydrocolloidal properties,” explained Haen. “For instance, in Turkey, regulatory required manufacturers to remove soy proteins from some of the meat products. As a result, manufacturers began using Citri-Fi to help with moisture retention and texture. 

“In Chile, there is a plan to reduce fat across all food categories. Hence, Citri-Fi can reduce fat/oil in foods like baked goods and dairy which will support this health and wellness directive. 

“And in the EU, there is an initiative to limit or remove phosphates in specific meat products. Thus Citri-Fi is offered to replace phosphate and improve yields and moisture retention in meats,” explains Haen.

And the future? Well, Fiberstar doesn’t yet know what the impact of the egg shortage will be on the food industry as a whole, or on its own business. Before, the crisis emerged, Fiberstar’s goals were to identify and pursue value added opportunities using citrus bi-product which reduces the carbon foot print and supports sustainable practices and to provide a natural and clean label functional fibers to the food industry to provide: cost savings, textural improvements and/or nutritional enhancements and to support health & wellness initiatives.

“The big trends in the future will involve whole foods formulating – manufacturers will continue to seek out ingredients that are holistic in form to provide: Nutrition via healthy components found naturally such as fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals And formulating for better-for-you foods will move beyond reducing or removing ingredients such as sugar, fats/oil and salt. 

“The gluten-free market started this segment and has grown significantly over the past five years. Free from is now encapsulating not only gluten-free but other foods formulated without any of the eight US listed allergens. Some of the upcoming segments include dairy-free and egg-free foods. 

Haen concludes: “Technologists will be challenged to formulate in new ways using new type of ingredients from their formulating tool box. These ingredients will provide the missing textural functionality needed to create nutritious, tasty and high quality food products.”

By Kelly Worgan

Fiberstar, Inc.

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Fiberstar, Inc. is a privately held innovative biotechnology Company focused on enhancing food performance by manufacturing and marketing value-added food ingredients. Its largest brand, Citri-Fi is an all-natural highly functional fiber produced sustainably from orange pulp using a patented process. Citri-Fi is GRAS, non-allergenic, neutral in taste & odor and non-GMO.  This functional fiber line benefits meat, dairy, bakery, gluten-free, sauce, condiments, frozen food, beverage and health & wellness food products through textural improvements, nutritional enhancements and/or cost savings.  Headquartered in River Falls, Wisconsin with manufacturing in Florida and Wisconsin, Fiberstar sells products globally in over 65 countries.  

Citri-Fi®, a non-GMO, natural citrus fiber is produced from a patented process which keeps insoluble and soluble fiber and protein intact. This holistic composition provides hydrocolloidal, gelling and natural emulsification properties to deliver cost savings, health enhancements and/or textural improvements to a variety of food applications such as meats, bakery, beverages and sauces. The Citri-Fi portfolio also includes specialty blends using guar or xanthan gum to increase the functionality within food products such as dairy and dressings.  

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