People ask so much more from their foods today. They want better nutrition, and they define it to go beyond vitamins and minerals. Way beyond. They want antioxidants. They want flavonols. They want fiber. They want omega-3s. And yes, they also want more vitamins and minerals.

Consumers want foods to do more than satisfy hunger. They want energy, digestive health, relaxation, satiety and cognitive benefits, and they want them now.

What’s a formulator to do? That’s where nutrient premixes come in.

Premixes are custom-designed, complex blends of ingredients associated with health and wellness. They can combine vitamins, minerals, nutraceuticals, botanicals, colors, flavors, gums, fibers, amino acids and more.

From the baker’s or snack maker’s standpoint, premixes simplify formulation by providing all-in-one, customized blends assembled by a supplier with access to a worldwide supply chain. The alternative is to stock and scale nutrients separately, with all the accompanying risks of inconsistency, scarcity, inventory expense and storage limits.

The grain-based foods industry has used standardized enrichment blends for more than 70 years. “But more recently, bakers have desired to differentiate their products from their competitors,” said Dave Pfefer, category manager, fortification, Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, KS. Traditionally, they accomplished this by adding a variety of ingredients — nuts, seeds, flavors, herbs, spices, dairy ingredients and more. Now, adding a variety of nutrients answers that marketing need as well, he explained.

Even when many producers aim at similar fortification targets, diverse nutrient combinations allow each to take a unique approach. For example, if the target is bread offering as much calcium per serving as an 8-oz glass of milk, then the baker must add 330 mg calcium. Mr. Pfefer explained that the nutrient can be supplied as calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, cultured whey, calcium lactate and monocalcium or dicalcium phosphate alone or in combination.

Variety: the new normal

In the US, state laws require producers of white bread and white flour to enrich their products with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron, with calcium optional, but breads made from whole grain and non-wheat flours are exempt. When the federal government mandated nutrition labeling for all packaged foods in 1995, enrichment of these products became de facto nationwide. Folic acid joined the national standard in 1998. Also, the federal Standards of Identity for grain-based foods (21 CFR 136, 137 and 139) dictate required enrichment practices for specific items.

“There will always be a place for standard nutrient premixes in Standard-of-Identity-driven products,” said Sam Wright IV, CEO, The Wright Group, Crowley, LA. “In other types of products, the nutrient package is, or should be, a function of what market position is being staked out by the marketer and what related health claims are being communicated to their customers.”

One important difference is that whole wheat bread, whose formulation is governed by a US Standard of Identity, does not carry folic acid because whole wheat flour is not enriched. Various grain-foods industry groups are lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to change this, but the effort faces an uphill battle.

Tectonic shifts in the bread market — the waxing of variety breads and waning of white enriched styles — tripped the trend sensors among many marketers. The new normal of variety products could crack possibilities wide open for additional nutrients.

Did the swing into variety change the nutrient mix? “Yes and no,” answered Michael Beavan, project manager, Watson, Inc., West Haven, CT. “No, because bakers tend to request the same familiar vitamins and minerals — albeit in differing forms, combinations and levels — as they do for white breads. Yes, because in the pursuit of healthier, more natural, cleaner-labeled products, formulating with ingredients that contain naturally high levels of specific micronutrients is preferred, usually in combination with premixes of specialized versions of common macronutrients such as fibers, proteins and oils.”

Singling out whole grain products, Mr. Wright described them as good vehicles for fortification, particularly the addition of omega-3s, vitamin D3 and a combination of calcium plus bake-stable vitamin C. “From an economic standpoint, these types of breads stand the best chance of surviving the added cost for these nutrients,” he said. Such a value-added approach may encourage consumers to accept a higher price point for such items.

Whole made more so

What works in white bread, however, doesn’t necessarily do the job for 100% whole wheat products. “This is due to the difference in background contributions of vitamins and minerals from the bakery ingredients as well as the serving sizes,” Mr. Pfefer observed.

Whole wheat flours, like other whole grain flours and meals, provide more native nutrients than refined flours. “We take this into consideration when formulating nutrient premixes to go on top of them,” Mr. Pfefer explained, “but generally the contribution from the grain ingredients is a small fraction of the final label target. Ultimately, the premix carries most of the weight of that requirement.”

With whole wheat and whole grain, the macronutrient fiber is a natural focus. A claim with whole grain ingredients will be reflected more in the fiber content rather than the micronutrient content. Different rules apply for labeling claims for inherent nutrients than added nutrients, so this must also be considered by the marketer.

Interest in added nutrition tends to be more condition-specific than ever before, according to Cathy Arnold, senior formulation scientist, Fortitech, Schenectady, NY. “We are seeing more requests related to specific health conditions such as heart and bone health as well as weight loss,” she said. “Items being fortified run the gamut of foods, including grain-based products.”

Because consumers tend to view sports and nutrition bars as a way to fill nutritional gaps, these products make appealing vehicles for added nutrients. “Fortification ingredients resonate with bar consumers,” said Patrick Morris, Fortitech’s communications manager. “Flavonoids are picking up pace, especially in the bar category.” Examples include sports bars that tout muscle restoration and cereal bars that boast immunity support for kids. Of course, ready-to-eat cereals have long gone in for added vitamins and minerals.

More complex and costly nutrition packages can be justified for products at the higher end of the bakery market, according to Mr. Pfefer said. He cited additions of omega-3 fatty acids, phytosterols, choline and vitamin A.

Observing the international market, Lena Kempehl, MSc, food, R&D, SternVitamin GmbH & Co. KG, Ahrensburg, Germany, found broad trends. “Basically, any product can be vitamin-enriched — be it cake, cake filling, chocolate, cookies, snacks, cereals or similar,” she said.

Going beyond standard

Among nutrient premixes that outdo mandated enrichment patterns, there is no standard product; however, most premix suppliers carry blends developed around health-and-wellness market positions. Such presets provide a starting point for formulators, according to Ms. Arnold. As the project develops, the supplier then customizes the nutrient blend to exact needs.

“Such premixes can provide a simple entry into the better-for-you market,” said Diane Hnat, senior technical marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ. The company developed a portfolio of 17 health platforms that address consumers’ current health concerns, including heart health, cognition, children’s nutrition and women’s essentials, among others.

What the premix contains depends on exact needs, according to Ms. Kempehl. “Each customer has his own needs, which depend on the specific country, the application and the end product, and naturally also on the target group such as children, older people, athletes or people who like lifestyle products like energy drinks,” she said. “Plus, each premix has to be exactly right for the customer’s production process.”

Typically delivered through precision micronutrient feeders, premixes usually take the form of dry blends, although oil-soluble liquid emulsions are normally used for vitamins A, D3, K1 and the color beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin C). Mr. Pfefer described another format, a liquid slurry system that injects water-soluble materials into the water line supplying the mixer.

Tableted premixes and soluble batch-pack pouches provide convenient consistency and avoid the need to scale powders. Although such forms are available, they are not yet common for nutrient premixes. Mr. Wright said that most premix users prefer to scale the dry blends themselves to properly dispense the required quantity.

Encapsulation protects sensitive materials from interaction with other ingredients as well as atmospheric oxygen and moisture and can mask off-flavors and unpleasant odors, according to Mr. Beavan. This method can also time release at a specific temperature or in the stomach.

Antioxidants from botanicals are attracting attention, Mr. Pfefer observed. But one of the most important antioxidants, vitamin C, warrants special attention because it is not heat-stable during baking. He reported that heat-resistant microencapsulated vitamin C is readily incorporated into grain meals or flakes and applied to the tops of products after baking.

Practical factors

The content of a premix depends on several practical considerations, the first being the target set by the nutritional label. “Next, formulators need to know all ingredients going into the product so they can calculate the nutritional contribution of each,” Mr. Pfefer advised. “Finally, they need to know the processing parameters such as dough pH, baking time and temperature and shelf life considerations so they can account for processing losses.”

Evaluation of the other ingredients in the formula is also necessary to avoid unwanted interactions, Ms. Kempehl stressed, and to select the right raw material compounds.

Such considerations may limit use of some nutrients. “Magnesium, zinc, selenium and other trace minerals are generally not used in bakery fortifications,” Mr. Pfefer said. “First, they can affect fermentation and finished product color. Second, they are not well understood or demanded by the consumer.”

Where the finished product will be sold is another factor. Here cost enters the picture, especially when the baker expects to charge a premium price for a nutrient-enhanced item. “The consumer tends to look for the better-for-you products in mainstream grocery stores but seeks value products at the dollar stores,” Mr. Morris said.

Mr. Wright cautioned that fortification math is based on serving size rather than flour, the basis for all other ingredient measurements. “Nutrition is also calculated in metric terms, which is sometimes a shift from the norm for some bakers,” he said.

“Formulators can accurately hit targets from a mathematical stand point,” Mr. Pfefer said, “but an assay of the finished product after baking and at the end of shelf life is the gold standard. If the nutrients present at that time are outside the product’s specifications, it is an easy matter to make a knowledgeable correction.”

In addition to sharp pencils and accurate spreadsheets, food companies considering fortification need to know the rules and regulations. “For a company without regulatory support staff, use of a consultant is prudent to help design claims or choose ingredients that are Generally Recognized As Safe for the intended use,” Ms. Hnat said. She advised consulting with expert organizations such as AIB International not only for “guidance and support in labeling but also in use of ingredients including micronutrients and nutraceuticals.”

Suppliers can assist with calculating overages to achieve the final label claim and advise about processing, handling and storing of the finished product as well as the premix. “No matter what, due diligence is required on the part of the manufacturer or marketer because they are ultimately responsible for achieving the final label claim until last day of purchase for their product,” Ms. Hnat said.

With consumers wanting better nutritional choices, the baking and snack industries have great opportunities to profit from product improvements. “Producers of even the most iconic brands may want to consider health claims,” Mr. Morris said. “Fortification for better health is where the action is.”