Ulrick & Short: Is fat and sugar reduction pushing clean label off the edge?

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05 Mar 2018 --- British starch specialist, Ulrick & Short, offers a comprehensive range of clean label, functional native starches, fat replacers, sugar replacers, flours, phosphate replacers and proteins from a range of crops and cereals. Tapping into the need for clean label, the company maintains that it has always been a part of the company strategy, but now there are other trends in that running, but does that mean that clean label has taken a back seat?

FoodIngredientsFirst recently caught up with Co-owner and Director at Ulrick & Short, Adrian Short, who discussed several of the happening driving innovation at the company. “One trend that we have been involved in is fat replacement and I don’t think it is going anywhere anytime soon. In the past, a reduced fat product was just an option on the shelf, but now it is becoming part of standard products, which now must hit a particular profile.”

“Fat mimickers and fat replacers are being used more widely, rather than just a “healthier option,” and we are seeing that roll out across the board. The challenges for us as a company have been reducing fat in a range of applications within a product, for example. If you take a cake, it isn’t just the cake element that needs to be changed, it would also be in the frosting and the topping too, as different fats do different, therefore, you can’t reduce one part of the product fat without reducing another.”

And it’s the same with ready meals. “If you have a creamy sauce and a meat product, you won’t hit the right fat levels unless you reduce the fat in both the meat and the sauce, so some of the challenges can be quite diverse regarding functionality, for different applications coming together in one product. That is one of the main challenges, but we also have to work harder to create more products that allow the manufacturer to hit their nutritional targets, this is just the mainstream now rather than specialty lines or healthier lines,” he explains. 

Another aspect is people who are looking for specific dietary requirements, gluten-free has grown into a core sector itself, according to Short. “It’s no longer niche or a fad, food manufacturers have done so much work to ensure so many products now carry the gluten-free claim, to go back now would be more hassle than it was worth even if the demand for gluten-free wasn’t there,” he continues. “The big challenge for gluten-free would be making products that are qualified to stand up against conventional products so that anyone will eat them. In the past, consumers would be willing to compromise their eating experiences, but now you have a gluten-free product, the consumers expect it now to be as good and as tasty as the standard product that they would have consumed.”

Egg free and vegan is also a big area of development for Ulrick & Short. “Vegetarianism has almost been bypassed, from a product development point of view, if you are going to make a product vegetarian you may as well make it vegan because it appeals to a wider audience. Vegan has become very popular almost overnight it is everywhere at the moment,” says Short. “Vegan has become a friendlier term and an increasing number of consumers want to know that their food is ethical and sustainable.”

As a result of that, Short thinks there will be a lot of vegan NPD, specifically using plant-based proteins such as pea, lentils, but this “may make the price of these proteins rise as a knock on effect,” he says. 

He also noted that: “Insect protein will rear its head again more so in the EU again, it was knocked down a few pegs, but if you look at protein and the efficiency of farming insects, it is a lot more sustainable than other proteins such as meat or fish. It’s an obvious progression for this market to grow,” he claims. “I think that it may come in via another route, and it might take a while for acceptance in Europe, but with the story of how efficient insect protein is for farming, I think it will gather a fair bit of momentum.”

Ulrick & Short recently revisited the need for organic produce. “We first looked at this category fifteen years ago and we wanted to revisit it to see what the opportunities were for us. We currently aren’t seeing a huge demand for organic, but there is a rumbling knock-on effect because of the other trends which organic is linked to, such as vegan and gluten-free. People purchasing these products are making those choices because they can afford to make those choices and they fall into that mindset that sees organic as a positive choice and they see value in paying more for it,” he claims.

“We are continuing to look at a wider range of crops, at the moment we are working with wheat, tapioca, rice, but they all have different inherent qualities. In a food product these all have a different mouthfeel, for example, so now we have a bigger story to look at. There might be a nutritional aspect built around this, as the functional properties. Our selection criteria has moved on and now we are looking at the ingredient on a bigger scale.”

“We see an expansion in sugar and fat replacements, so we are looking at new crops we will also be looking at expanding to some new sectors, but we need to build our expertise on that first,” he adds.

Short also sees an overhaul in breakfast market coming soon: “Breakfast is an important meal of the day, I think that with the demand for reduced sugar and increased protein, there has been a lot of work done for on to the go drinks, biscuits and bars that claim to be healthier. But if you walk down the cereal aisle, I think some of the bigger cereal types will probably see a need to change, people will start to look a bit into more detail on their breakfast tables and the requirements of the consumers may shift,” he states. 

“Big breakfast brands will react and I think there will be something else that comes into the market, which steps away from the traditional breakfast types cereals,” Short claims. “That sector is ripe for a change.”

And as for the future of the business, Ulrick & Short will continue on their quest in reducing sugar across food sectors and continue to innovate in the functional ingredients sector. “We are getting a lot of requests for functional products, we do see it as mainstream now and we need to react. Gluten-free is a good example of that; it’s not always as simple as one in one out regarding ingredient changes, sometimes it requires a processing change or a new approach altogether.”

“We like to be considered experts in our field and our actions reinforce that. We tackle challenges head-on by rolling our sleeves up and getting our hands dirty when it comes it to reformulation and problem-solving with customers,” Short concludes. “Clean label is still a dominator, but there are these overarching trends that must be addressed, by doing so, we are setting ourselves up in good stead for the future of the business.”

By Elizabeth Green

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