Reformulation will always have some impact on the product, process or business, said Wayne Morley, head of food innovation at Leatherhead Food Research.
“I often describe reformulation as a compromise exercise. Whether it be in raw material costs, shelf life performance or consumer acceptability, there’s bound to be a compromise somewhere because someone will notice a difference in the product, whether that be taste, texture or shelf life, and as soon as someone notices that, it may well impact their purchasing behaviour next time,” Morley told BakeryandSnacks.com.
He said a multitude of factors could be impacted by salt, fat or sugar reduction, from taste, texture or appearance, through to food safety and stability, shelf life and even cost.
“Ultimately if any of these are considered to be critical for a particular product category or brand and they are not met, it may kill the project.”
Morley said that while priorities may differ among companies, “nothing happens unless the cost structure is right”.
However, he said that when it came to straight-forward ingredient replacers, fat and sugar reduction could save on costs as the replacers were often cheaper. Salt replacement could be pricier, he noted.
Salami slicing and ingredients manipulation for low impact…
Manufacturers could consider making incremental changes – a strategy known as ‘salami slicing’.
“A thin slice of the quality is cut out of the product each time and the consumers don’t notice. But of course when you do that 10 times, the product will be very different and the consumer might notice… You have to be very careful with small changes – if you make too many, too quickly, consumers may notice and move onto something else.”
Salt reduction has been an exemplary example of this salami slicing strategy – as bakery manufacturers have slowly reduced salt levels in products over the years without consumers noticing, he said. “Consumer palates have been retuned successfully.”
Another strategy to minimize compromises, Morley said, is to manipulate ingredients – either by restructuring the molecules or repositioning the ingredients within the food matrix. For example, food manufacturers could use smaller salt crystals or nano sprayed sugar, he said.
With smaller salt crystals, he said there was no compromise on taste but a possible concession on cost – as these manipulated molecules would be pricier than regular salt.
Shelf life – the best compromise for everyone
Considering all the possible impacts that reformulation can have on bakery products, Morley said that shelf life was probably the attribute that could be altered and accepted among all parties.
“With taste, consumers won’t compromise, but shelf life, for example, is maybe one area that all parties can compromise on and accept.”
Manufacturers would need to adjust supply chains, working closely on storage and transport temperatures, and consumers may have to store their baked good in the fridge, rather than in a cupboard, he said, but these are compromises that don’t hit anyone too hard.
“There are big advantages to having a long shelf life, but actually, looking at all parties involved in getting a product from a factory to someone’s home, that’s probably the one that everyone can give a little on,” he said.
“If you’re reducing the taste, then the consumer is the one who suffers but if you’re reducing shelf life then everyone can share the pain a little.”
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