Renovation as innovation

by Keith Nunes
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Product renovation with the goal of simplifying the ingredient statement or removing an ingredient of concern to some consumers has become a strategic effort for some food and beverage companies, most notably the Kraft Foods Group, Northfield, Ill. Kraft has embarked on an ambitious effort to renovate many products within its stable of brands with the idea of creating cleaner labels.

This past February, during the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference, Tony Vernon, Kraft Foods’ chief executive officer, said three trends define recent innovation efforts at the company: protein, snacking and cleaner labels.

“Oscar Mayer has really defended itself beautifully with its Selects line, where we have replaced a very long chemical-sounding preservative with celery juice,” Mr. Vernon said. “We took that learning across the line, and we have seen how moms respond, and it is not just educated moms. It is every mom understands that this is the push for their kid, whether they are economically strapped or whether they are at the higher end of the barbell economy. So we believe it is a trend we can capitalize on. No artificial colors, preservatives and flavors is something you are going to see Kraft riding to the future.”

On May 1, during a conference call to discuss first-quarter earnings Mr. Vernon expanded on Kraft’s new product renovation efforts.

“I would tell you that most people would say that renovation is more profitable than innovation, because innovation requires building a new Mio brand, for example,” he said. “I don’t want to lead you to believe that we’re replacing innovation with renovation. It’s both, right? It’s sort of the difference between incremental, profitable, substantial and transformational. I do think Mio was transformational. I think ‘single-serve’ pods are transformational.

“But we’re basically extending innovation to our base brands to renovate them. And a lot of it, I want to emphasize, has to do with offering consumers choice in the health and wellness, ingredient powering up area, right? So that’s how we look at renovation versus innovation.”

Removing ingredients of concern

Kraft is not the only company investing in product renovation. The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, for example, is joining the list of companies removing ingredients of concern from popular products. The beverage maker said that over the coming months it is transitioning from brominated vegetable oil (B.V.O.) to sucrose acetate isobutyrate and glycerol ester of rosin in a variety of formulas for ready-to-drink and fountain products.

Glycerol ester of rosin is commonly used in chewing gum and beverages, and sucrose acetate isobutyrate has been used in beverage products for more than 14 years, Coca-Cola said.

B.V.O. already has been removed from fruit punch and strawberry lemonade bottle varieties of Powerade sports drinks, and the company said it expects to complete the transition for all other beverages in the United States by the end of the year.

The move follows a petition on Change.org, as well as an announcement last year from PepsiCo, Inc. to remove B.V.O., which is used as an emulsifier, from its Gatorade sports drinks. Though the ingredient is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration, it is a compound used in flame retardant materials.

Subway and General Mills, Inc. are among a spate of companies responding to consumer pressure over the use of artificial ingredients. Kraft Foods removed artificial preservatives from its Kraft Singles individually wrapped cheese slices and artificial yellow food dyes from its character-based shaped varieties of macaroni and cheese.

Earlier this year, Subway revealed plans to remove azodicarbonamide, a dough conditioner, from its bread. The sandwich chain said it had begun the process to eliminate the additive, which is approved by the F.D.A., before petitions urged the change.

Other companies, including Post Foods, Unilever and Chipotle Mexican Grill, have announced the removal of bioengineered ingredients from products as consumers increasingly demand cleaner labels from packaged foods.

Product renovation considerations

Leaslie Carr, wholesome marketing manager for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., said ingredients should have a functional role in a product if they are part of a formulation.

“We have seen ingredients declarations that contain a myriad of ingredients and the question is whether all those ingredients need to be there?” she said. “Is there an opportunity to optimize a formulation whereby the number of ingredients is reduced and the ingredients in use are providing a benefit to the finished food?

“The fundamentals of food formulation, of course, need consideration as if you were formulating any product in terms of ensuring stability, shelf life, taste and texture preservation, etc. Product testing, to include sensory and consumer testing, will help to ensure these products hit the mark. Ingredion’s Dial-In technology can help manufacturers match clean label formulations to traditional benchmarks.”

Ms. Carr added that compromise may be required when it comes to a product’s shelf life and stability.

“There are instances where decisions may need to be made to account for a shorter shelf life or a texture that is not as perfect as the conventional texture,” she said. “Examples may be that if the norm is 12 months, then perhaps a compromise for 9 months may need to be made in order to meet the requirements of a simpler label. Or in the area of colors — you may have to accept that the natural color will not be as bright as an artificial color.”

Ms. Carr added it may be helpful for companies considering product renovation to develop a definition of clean label to guide their efforts.

“Ingredion defines clean label as: free from food additives, simple ingredient listing and minimally processed,” she said. “In the absence of a legal definition, food companies look to what resonates with consumers as well as what key influencers are promoting. Many food companies do look to Whole Foods’ published list of ‘unacceptable ingredients’ for some guidance. Also terms such as ‘additive free,’ ‘preservative free’ and ‘no artificial colors’ are easy to understand for consumers.”
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