In an interview with FoodNavigator-USA.com about new product development trends, R&D director Bryan Scherer at the Colorado-based firm said bakery continued to present the biggest technical challenges for gluten-free manufacturers in terms of texture, nutrition and shelf-life.
Meanwhile,customer demands for clean-labels only increased the technical challenges, he said. "Clean label formulations preclude the use of dough conditioners, modified starches and preservatives that can significantly improve texture, appearance and shelf life of gluten-free baked goods. This makes clean-label products particularly susceptible to starch retrogradation and syneresis."
While using humectants such as honey and molasses as well as added dietary fiber could help, he said, they did "not completely solve the problem".
"Within the bakery segment, shelf-life is a tremendous challenge. This is the reason why most gluten-free products are distributed and sold frozen. Customers want shelf-life similar to gluten-containing products.
“We are currently working on technologies to slow down the retrogradation or staling of starches in these products but we cannot disclose any findings at this point of the research stage."
He added: "In general, leavened products like bread create the biggest challenge because gluten has three distinct functions that must be compensated for with other ingredients: development in raw dough, gas entrapment during leavening and denaturing to form the final structure of bread. It takes a combination of starches, gums and flours to achieve this kind of functionality."
Gluten-free: Enter the big guns
Technical challenges notwithstanding, the gluten-free market would continue to grow, predicted Scherer, with larger manufacturers increasingly trying to cash in, retailers looking to create more private-label products and foodservice firms starting to wake up to the opportunity.
“Many large companies are starting to develop in-house expertise in gluten-free technologies. We expect to see more of the larger companies enter the arena in the next few years. However, the growth with mainstream bakers is slow because they need to adopt a gluten-free program for their manufacturing facility which requires significant investment in capital and personnel training.
“Over the past few years, there has also been growing interest from grocery stores to sell gluten-free private label products, while restaurants are adding gluten-free options to menus either by identifying what is innately gluten-free or cooking gluten-free versions of gluten-containing foods.”
Meanwhile, demand was being driven by a combination of “more people being diagnosed with celiac disease, more people avoiding wheat and more people thinking gluten-free is healthier”.
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While gluten-free products were arguably more recession proof than some other foods (celiacs can’t trade down to conventional products to save cash) the recession had changed customer priorities in other fields, said Scherer.
“There has been a slight pull back in product innovation to focus on cost containment, but in general, there is still an active and growing interest in new product innovation and differentiation.”
However, there was an “ongoing struggle to pass on higher costs especially in tight commodity markets” and continued efforts to try and reduce the time taken to get new products to market.
“Companies are trying to shorten the new product launch cycle. The product development phase still takes time but many companies are willing to forgo extensive consumer testing in order to shorten the time to market.”
He added: “There is also a growing trend in outsourcing product development to third party companies such as Penford. This is partly due to our specific expertise, but also due to cost savings initiatives and efforts to improve efficiencies.”
Shorter, cleaner ingredients panels
As for what most customers were looking for, said Scherer, “their primary objectives are functionality and cost. However, clean-label, natural ingredients and health and wellness are increasing in importance.
“Most are looking for all-natural contents, with smaller and cleaner ingredient panels, and improved nutrition and better shelf-life.”
When it came to starch, native starches were growing in popularity, but US customers did not typically have the same preoccupation as European counterparts with ridding labels of ‘modified starch’, he said.
“We see clean label as a definite customer trend. That is why we usually try to formulate with native starches and work on natural ingredient alternatives to modified starches. However, the US market is still very accepting of modified food starches that provide specific functional attributes in the finished product such as retort or freeze/thaw stability.”