Industry underscores how sustainability is shaping ingredient development
19 Apr 2023 --- As the F&B industry faces unprecedented climate change challenges and consumer desires shift toward clean label products, producers and manufacturers are looking toward sustainable alternatives for their traditional ingredients. The urgent need for environmentally sound ingredients is driving a wave of innovation and change across the industry.
FoodIngredientsFirst talks to some of the major companies propelling sustainable ingredient innovation and insights on the topic, particularly what the future may hold.
“The food ingredients industry has seen a real shift toward developing ways to optimize the process of manufacturing ingredients sustainably,” says Leigh Ann Vaughan, senior global marketing director for taste at Kerry.
“Sustainability is shaping ingredient development in many ways. It has created a need for supply chain transparency, support for local farming communities and clearer visions for long-term ingredient viability.”
Crucially, companies and products with demonstrably sustainable practices are proving to heavily influence consumer behavior.
“Food and beverage sustainability has become one of the essential purchasing decision drivers for many consumers and the focus of food and drink producers across the globe,” says Kelly Gilroy, vice president of sustainable and natural products at Univar Solutions.
However, consumers aren’t easily convinced.
Consumers are also more skeptical when it comes to sustainability claims, notes Els Zeeuwen, director of branding & communication at FrieslandCampina Ingredients.
“Specific and measurable claims, verified by independent third-parties, can help brands stand out as doing the right thing for the planet.”
Committing to sustainable production has broader benefits beyond addressing climate change.
“At DSM, we believe that doing good for people and the planet isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business,” adds Fatima Zoundri, head of sustainability at DSM Food & Beverage.
Industry leaders are flagging the need for a seismic shift toward sustainable food production.
“We also need new food production methods alongside sustainable, traditional agriculture. A key question is how to produce more food for the globally growing population without needing more arable land,” says Harri Kallioinen, senior vice president of research and development at Valio.
Gilroy agrees, noting: “It is essential that the agricultural supply chain adapts to climate change and population growth in a manner that will guarantee its long-term stability. This presents an opportunity for innovation and leads to many interesting developments in the sustainable ingredients space.”
Gilroy theorizes that such innovation can be broken down into key categories.
“The main driving forces behind sustainable ingredient innovation in food and beverages could be considered under the three following categories,” she explains.
“Firstly: farming. For example, redesigned agricultural practices incorporating high-tech remote sensing and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to optimize crop yields. Secondly: alternatives. This could mean using plant proteins to replace animal proteins. Finally: new technology, such as new methods of creating ingredients from sustainable sources, like precision fermentation.”
Zoundri flags that “to feed the projected ten billion people by 2050, we need to switch to the more sustainable production of animal proteins and scale up production of plant-based protein alternatives.” However, these alternatives aren’t without challenges.
“Soy has long been a popular base for meat alternatives but concerns around allergens, hormones, GMOs and soy’s environmental impact have led to consumers seeking alternatives.”
Sustainability driving innovation
The push for sustainable ingredients leads many producers to leverage the latest food technology.
“On our highly mechanized orchards in the US, our almond teams are working with the University of California, Davis to explore the use of AI to optimize fertilization and water use, make smart data-driven decisions and maximize almond yields,” says Dr. Christopher Stewart, global head of social, environment and climate for ofi.
Similarly, Vaughan notes the importance of maximizing efficiency to promote sustainability.
“We have the capabilities to upcycle food, like cheese, and transform it into sustainable, authentic tasting and shelf-stable ingredients,” she says.
“This means that we can maximize the potential of the food source and the resources such as water and energy that it takes to manufacture the ingredient in the first place.”
A great deal of sustainable product innovation involves this minimization of environmental impact.
“One of the trends in food manufacturing is ‘hyper-efficiency,’” says Louisa Luxton, head of commercial, specialty oils, at oil specialists Kerfoot.
“This focuses on smaller, incremental efficiency gains through the manufacturing supply chain.”
Such efficiency is often realized via the reduction of unnecessary ingredients.
“Our latest innovation is a powder mix based on almond protein, which enables the consumer to prepare their own almond drink by simply adding water to the mix,” says Werner Hildenbrand, CSO of OPW Ingredients, which produces vegetable proteins and cold-pressed oils.
“This reduces CO2 as the protein is non-animal derived and is even more sustainable because it avoids water transportation.”
Eliminating inefficient or unnecessary parts of the ingredient production process can often benefit manufacturers and consumers alike.
“Our Botanicals Collection Botanicals Zero 2.0 is a great demonstration of our forward-looking ways of working here at Kerry,” continues Vaughan.
“In this range, we can deliver great taste while walking away from traditional solvents. This has allowed us to reduce the energy and water consumption that would otherwise be needed to purify traditional solvents by distillation.”
Zoundri notes similar sustainability developments underway at DSM.
“We have introduced plant-based omega 3 sourced from natural algae. We also offer a more sustainable zero calorie sweetener and a feed additive which reduces methane emissions by 30%,” she says.
Plant-based and beyond
Gilroy highlights that plant-based alternatives are often center stage in the sustainable ingredients space.
“The interest in plant-based products goes hand-in-hand with environmental concerns. The disparity in the resource mass balance when comparing animal protein and plant protein is well documented and plant-based alternatives can positively impact resource use,” she says.
“Pulse proteins from various sources such as peas and lentils present great sensory and functional benefits along with their favorable environmental profile,” she continues.
“There is also an opportunity to help consumers rethink the composition of mealtimes. Traditionally, the protein was the ‘hero’ of the meal, but using pulse proteins combined with targeted enzyme technology can enhance the protein content of everyday staples such as baked goods.”
Leveraging new technologies
Cutting-edge food processes are attractive for companies looking to find new ways to maximize ingredients’ sustainability profile.
“Valio is collaborating with VTT, Technical Research Center of Finland, in the area of cellular agriculture and looking into ways to produce food by microbial fermentation,” notes Timo Pajari, senior vice president, business unit powders at Valio.
Kallioinen is excited for what this process could unlock for Valio and beyond.
“Alongside traditional food production, cellular agriculture is one of the possible solutions to feeding the growing population,” he says.
Challenges facing sustainable production
While all these innovations offer options for moving toward a sustainable means of food production, there are roadblocks ahead.
“Greenwashing, in which the apparent sustainability or environmental data can be manipulated to appear to present a better picture of a product or process, is a primary concern,” flags Gilroy.
Consumer perception of new ingredients and processes also needs to be managed.
“There is a growing concern among consumers regarding the intake of ultra-processed foods and their impact on our health. This has boosted the clean eating trend, which propagates minimally-processed and environmentally-friendly food,” says Pajari.
“Healthier eating and nutrition-dense products are in our focus at Valio R&D. Our latest innovations address natural sugar reduction, digestive well-being by ultrafiltration and enzymatic hydrolysis of lactose and opportunities for high-quality milk protein in food and beverage production.”
The next few years will be crucial regarding how the industry combats climate change and what trends or innovations will lead those efforts.
“Plant-based meat and dairy will continue to be at the forefront for many consumers, who are dropping more plant-based foods into their shopping cart. We predict that the steady growth of plant-based meat consumption will continue over the next five years,” says Gilroy.
Successfully meeting sustainability targets will be an industry-wide effort.
“Sourcing, growing and producing sustainable ingredients is ultimately a collaborative effort with our customers and partners,” flags Stewart.
“No company alone can deliver the scale or speed required for transformative impact on the food system.”
Ultimately, Pajari underscores the general sentiment of the industry’s push toward sustainable ingredients. “Climate change is the global challenge of our era,” he says.
“Through our actions, however, we can help improve things. We are aware of our operations’ environmental impacts and want to be part of the solution.”
By James Davies
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