KANSAS CITY — The perception of clean remains a powerful force in food and beverage product development. What started as a trend focused on removal of specific ingredients from formulations has rippled through the supply chain and to the farm. Food and beverage manufacturers are advocating for improved production practices to enhance the functionality and sustainability of raw materials.

During the Wheat Quality Council’s annual meeting in Kansas City on Feb. 20, Hayden Wands, vice-president of global procurement, commodities for Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V., Dallas, told attendees consumer desire for clean labels is altering the way commercial bakers are baking bread. This interest has created a need for improved wheat functionality.

“Our consumers are changing in their day-to-day demands,” Mr. Wands said, citing as an example consumers’ preference for clean labels. As a result, bakers need to be able to buy flour with specific baking qualities since they are limited with solutions that can improve the quality of the flour through additives such as some dough conditioners or emulsifiers.

“It forces more functionality on the flour itself,” he said.

Mariano Lozano, chief executive officer of Danone North America, White Plains, N.Y., told those attending the International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Forum 2019 in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 20-23, that the dairy industry needs to rethink its sustainable agriculture practices because the current approach is not working for farmers, the soil or processors.

Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of some key ingredients used in product formulations. Research released by the market research company Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., identifies the Gen Z demographic as a driver of consumer interest in the widening definition of clean label. In its report Looking Ahead to Gen Z: Demographic Patterns and Spending Trends, Packaged Facts said, “Compared to their millennial counterparts a decade ago, 18- to 24-year-olds today are more likely to look for organic or natural foods when they go food shopping and to prefer foods without artificial additives. They also are more likely to be vegetarians.”

Data from Nielsen shows 73% of global consumers said they would change or probably would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Another 81% said it was either “extremely” or “very” important that companies implement programs to improve the environment.

“No longer is the purchasing decision boiling down to a simple question of how much does it cost, and how much do I want this item?” said Julia Wilson, director, global responsibility and sustainability for Nielsen, in a Feb. 7 webinar hosted by the company. “Consumers are thinking more deeply about what happened before their moment of purchase and what will happen to whatever packaging or other materials used in the product after they’re done using it.”

Giving consumers options

To meet the varied needs of Gen Z and other consumers, Danone N.A. is taking a “one-size-does-not-fit-all” approach in how it thinks about sustainability. Its goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050. The company is investing in the land in both dairy farming and planting crops for the manufacture of plant-based products.

Danone plant-based products“By advancing regenerative agriculture practices, we help to restore the soil so it works harder for us,” Mr. Lozano said. “We take a multi-faceted approach.”

The approach includes offering a variety of plant-based products, such as almond, cashew, coconut, oats, pea and soy. The company educates its family farmers about rotating crops to improve soil and yields.

“By investing in a sustainable approach to agriculture, we reduce uncertainty in our own costs, leading to more innovation,” Mr. Lozano said.

That innovation is taking place in both the dairy and plant-based categories. The company’s new Two Good yogurt is made with a slow-straining process. The technology removes most of the sugar from the milk before the yogurt is made. Each cup is slow-strained down to two grams of total sugar. The result is a Greek-style yogurt rich in protein with 85% less sugar than average yogurts.

On Feb. 8, the company opened a new building at its DuBois, Pa., facility to increase production of plant-based foods. This multi-million-dollar investment to expand capacity grows the nation’s largest production facility for plant-based yogurt alternatives and adds capabilities.

“Many people who enjoy our products look for plant-based options because they are interested in lessening their impact on the environment through diet,” said Chad Stone, plant director at the DuBois facility.

Applegate embracing regenerative ag

Applegate Farms, L.L.C., a subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corp., launched The New Food Collective in February, a premium brand featuring pasture-raised meats and small-batch production methods. The launch includes a line of fresh sausages made with certified grass-fed pork.

Applegate New Food CollectiveThe brand sources meat from farms in Georgia, Kentucky and Missouri that use regenerative agricultural practices, according to the company. The pork in the sausages is the first to be certified by the American Grassfed Association, which mandates that hogs have maximum access to forage and graze in the woods and pasture.

“The American Grassfed Association standard is a leap ahead of anything else out there,” said Gina Asoudegan, vice-president of mission and innovation for Applegate. “The organization’s name focuses on pasture — and these new sausages deliver on that.

“But A.G.A. also stands for no antibiotics, no genetically modified feed and the highest animal-welfare standards. You’d need five separate logos to replace what A.G.A. does.”

The New Food Collective products include sweet Italian pork sausage with fennel, sea salt and pepper; hot Italian pork sausage with fennel seeds, chili flakes and cayenne; ginger-scallion pork sausage; and breakfast sausage, featuring salty, sweet and spicy notes.

“At Applegate, we want to change the meat we eat, and this launch propels that mission forward,” said John Ghingo, president of Applegate. “We’re making a big bet on regenerative agriculture as one of the paths to show the world that raising animals and eating meat doesn’t have to be problem. Animals can and do play a vital role in a healthy food system.”