Univar targets health and plant-based trends, alongside texture innovation

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02 Oct 2017 --- For Univar Food Ingredients, an ingredient distributor and value-added service provider across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), it has certainly been a demanding start to the year. The company announced several distribution agreements, as well as achieving AA grade for BRC Global Standard.

Back in February, the distributor of food ingredients announced a distribution agreement across Europe for the AlgaVia brand of Whole Algae Ingredients from TerraVia. Since then, the company has also formed distribution agreements with Bunge and more recently, this summer, extended its agreement with Kudos Blends.

FoodIngredientsFirst recently caught up with Mark Ahern, EMEA Technical Manager at Univar and Abigail Dillon, EMEA Product & Marketing Coordinator for the company who discussed the recent business strategies in relation to consumer trends.

Dillon said: “For 2017 and the back end of 2016, our business strategy was to look at the supply gaps in our portfolio and add the missing ingredients for our consumers. Alongside that, supporting and bringing out new product launches with our existing suppliers and driving internal innovations to support the latest market trends in line with consumers expectations.” 

“It’s been an evolution over the past few years and one of which we believe has gone very well indeed,” claims Ahern. “There has been focus and penetration in the market where we could bring substantial benefits to our customers.”

According to Dillion, Univar works very closely with their suppliers to mirror and drive their innovation as much as possible. “We tend to categorize trends into a few different areas now,” she notes. “The health-focused trends such as gluten-free, salt, sugar, fat reduction, protein enrichment, lactose-free are all long-standing trends now they aren’t unknown to the marketplace. What we find now is that they are well established and whereas before people were just happy to accept these products because they were gluten-free [for celiac reasons], now there is a much higher level of expectation and a stronger demand for these products. At the same time, the standard as the normal variety is expected, so the taste of that gluten-free bakery product should be as good as the non-gluten-free varieties.”

Ahern says there is a lot of crossover between trends, in particular with health trends. “You have the social focus trends as well. People are looking for more on-the-go-convenience foods, luxury, premiumization, authenticity, everything comes in together with that and also the linking in with environmental focuses, including sustainability.”

“There is a stronger emphasis on plant-based solutions as well as the more niche areas, for example, the acrylamide concerns, questions over that have been bubbling away for a number of years and now consumers are beginning to gain traction on how they can overcome those issues too,” adds Ahern.

“Then you’ve gone your overriding trends that have been present in the market for five or ten years: clean label. Consumers want gluten-free and salt reduction but it always goes back to clean label,” he continues, “So that is where the challenges really do come into play.”

Dillon (pictured, right) also reveals: “Consumers are becoming more aware and educated almost every month about food, Click to Enlarge people’s awareness of label declarations and what they understand is at the highest level that we’ve ever seen in the food industry almost getting out of control now, people are so aware as consumers of what is possible.”

“Take our protein portfolio, for example, we have a wide variety of whey and dairy ingredients, but then we have pulse proteins, soy, algae, there are so many different types of protein with additional benefits available to consumers,” adds Dillon. Education is really expanding among consumers, the demand for organic is also reflected in Univar’s wide portfolio range organic starches, proteins and sweeteners.  

Ahern says the awareness is general but the need is more specific by age group. “If you take shopping baskets, where does sports nutrition finish and general food begin? We are seeing a much bigger demand in the protein markets where more common foods are becoming protein enriched. The consumers are becoming a lot more discernable, they want the benefits, but they still want it to taste and feel as good as a normal non-enriched protein product does,” he explains.  

“We are starting to do a lot more work in the textures area, which enables us to tweak textures and mouthfeel so that they become more differentiated but still very close to what the target is for the consumer,” Ahern adds.

Historically, it has always been Western Europe that has been heavily focused on these sorts of trends and awareness but according to Dillon, even more countries are also looking for gluten-free and sodium-reduced products. “It’s something that has a serious geographical reach now with Turkey and countries towards the Middle East where there is a high level of vegan and animal-free products naturally, it’s less of a consumer trend and more of a cultural aspect but I think that in terms of geography, health trends are everywhere now,” she states.

“In Western Europe, we are going beyond trends and going back to what I believe the industry used to look like. Those sub-industries within categories is what makes the food industry an exciting place to be,” says Dillon. “For example, in beverages, we have always looked at sugar reduction but now it’s gotten very sophisticated and now individuals are looking at versatile beverages and asking how they can make those healthy,” she claims. “In the dairy-free milk space, the alternatives are getting them from grains, oats, rice and the likes, looking at premium alcoholic beverages, the alternative is making them alcohol-free, as an example.”

“Nowadays, we are looking much more into specific sub-categories of food and beverages and making trends applicable to those as well. So it’s constantly evolving, each dimension is adding another layer of demand to it,” adds Dillon.

“The key thing is that looking at ingredients that customers really accept and identify with,” says Ahern. “Take starch, for example, some people accept and use it readily but some people are still a bit nervous about it so we start using flours. Consumers associate more with the word 'flours' that starch but they still want the functionalities that starch brings.”

“Being able to supply flour that gives them a texture that they can appreciate but by using the ingredients that the consumer is familiar with, opens lots of doors for us,” he adds. “Rice flours, tapioca fours, there are lots of different things that are coming out it's quite an exciting time for us as a whole.

Based on what Univar has achieved so far in the past eighteen months, Dillon believes that next year will be even bigger and better. “We’ve got some exciting enhancements to our portfolio of clean label starches and flours, based on a variety of different material that can be accepted by consumers,” she adds. “We are also bringing a pediatric nutrition range of protein at FiE later this year, which is a new area for us as a whole, but bringing innovation to those markets and looking at what our customers need collaboratively.”

Following on from the news last week that Corbion completed the TerraVia acquisition after cash purchase of US$20 million. As a result, its broad and diverse platform centered on innovative food and specialty ingredients derived from microalgae has now become part of Corbion. Earlier this year, Univar announced a distribution agreement across Europe for the AlgaVia brand of Whole Algae Ingredients from TerraVia. 

Gary Abraham, Head of Supplier Management EMEA for Univar Food Ingredients told FoodIngredientsFirst: “Univar are delighted that Corbion has completed the acquisition of TerraVia and we are continuing to drive our development projects to fruition, supporting both our customers and Corbion throughout the acquisition process. We look forward to working in partnership with Corbion and delivering our high growth opportunities for many years to come.”

By Elizabeth Green

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