While Europe has yet to introduce rules on the labelling of trans fats, mumblings at a national level herald a sincere debate, and possible new regulations, in the near future.
Taking the lead, last year Denmark became the first country in the world to ban trans fats from food products over fears these hydrogenated fats could contribute to heart disease. And in the US, incoming rules mean that by 2006 food manufacturers will have to label the trans fat content on the nutrition label of foodstuffs.
We spoke with Swiss firm Nestlé to find out how the world's number one food industry player is tackling this increasingly sensitive issue.
What are the key challenges faced by your food technologists when removing TFAs from your food formulations? The main problem is to retain the texture and taste of the product without the trans fatty acid (TFA). Low TFA fats have a lower percentage of solid fat at a given temperature, thus they are softer. This has a large influence on products such as bouillon cubes in which fat functions as a 'binder'. It also influences the 'crispiness' in many baked products.
A second main problem is to keep the product from spoiling (going rancid). TFA are very stable fats (from an oxidation or rancidity point of view). Special techniques to protect the products have been used - using antioxidants, changes in recipe or processing methods, packaging et al.
In some parts of the world, oil/fat suppliers did not have the technology to produce low TFA fats that would fulfil our specifications. We have therefore worked together with local and international suppliers to develop low TFA fats.
In which brands have you achieved zero per cent trans fatty acid (TFA) content in the formulation? Zero per cent TFA does not exist because tiny amounts of TFA are formed whenever oils are deodorised. Thus you will always have tiny amounts of TFA in every product that contains fat. These TFA have no significance from a nutritional point of view.
Our goal is to reduce TFA in foods so that in a normal consumption pattern, TFA intake would meet the WHO guidelines of 1 per cent daily energy intake. By the implementation of the 60/40+ process (According to this process, 60 per cent of the consumers should prefer a Nestlé product to other competitive products. The additive nutritional value of the Nestlé product turns into a competitive product advantage) we continuously screen many of our products for their nutritional value.
Our brands are global and include many hundreds if not thousands of product recipes. In some countries it has been possible to meet our goals to take out the TFA from many products, whereas in another country with other kinds of products this may not have yet been achieved.
Which brands have been reformulated to reduce TFA presence? TFA are being reduced in all brands where there are products containing them. The only exception is products containing milk fat. As you know milk fat is a natural source of TFA.
Any unexpected benefits for the consumer (eg. taste, texture) revealedafter altering the food recipes to remove TFAs? Some products became creamier, which was in some cases desirable.We were able to reduce the fat content of some recipes because of the physico-chemical characteristics of the fats low in TFA.
What have been the cost implications in removing TFAs from your brands? This is variable. In some countries the purchase of low TFA fats were less expensive, in some countries they were more expensive and in some countries there was no cost impact.R&D has been applied to solving these food improvements. In 2004, Nestlé spent 1.4 billion CHF on R&D which corresponds to 1.6 per cent of sales.
Has the current ingredients market been able to meet your needs in termsof alternatives to replace and remove TFAs, or are there ingredients withspecific properties that you would like to see? If so, what would be theirprofiles and properties? There are many good ingredients available on the market. We also continue to research and develop fats with specific properties which can give a special edge to our products and become part of our competitive advantage.
Our comment: leading ingredients firms have already launched a raft of oils to target the growing 'trans free' market.
Earlier this month Germany's Bayer CropScience announced an agreement with private agro firm Cargill to bring a high oleic rapeseed oil, that will not require hydrogenation, to market by 2007.
They join firms Dow AgroSciences, Bunge, ADM and DuPont that have all launched their various brands of zero or low trans oil, in the battle for market share as food makers undergo the investment in new technologies and new oil ingredients.