CHICAGO — Better-for-you and better-for-the planet food product development knows no boundaries. The ingredients in dips and drizzles, as well as spreads and squirts, is becoming just as important as the carrier of the condiment. Think plant-based burger with vegan mayonnaise, low-sodium teriyaki-seasoned free-range chicken and hickory-infused zero-sugar uncured bacon.
“The dip and sauce category is no exception,” said Doug Resh, director-commercial marketing, T. Hasegawa USA, Cerritos, Calif. “Consumers want simple, high-quality ingredients and are looking for all-natural products that don’t compromise on taste.”
Several condiment innovators are seeking clean label ingredients that are sustainably sourced. Formulations often are designed with higher levels of desirable nutrients coupled with lower levels of undesirables.
“We’re seeing an increase in ethics-based consumption, in which shoppers want food purchases to not only benefit themselves, but also their communities and the planet,” said Jennifer Zhou, senior director of product marketing-North America, ADM, Chicago. “Consumers are checking product packs for clean label cues like ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients, natural flavors and colors, as well as reduced sodium and sugar content. This is especially important for dips, sauces and condiments, which have gained scrutiny as sources of ‘hidden’ salt and sugars.”
Daniel Espinoza, corporate research and development Chef, OFI, Chicago, agreed. He said the main health concern condiment manufacturers must grapple with is reducing salt and sugar content while still crafting craveable flavors.
“This is an area where OFI’s food scientists, culinary chefs and innovation experts work together to help solve customer challenges through creating great flavor combinations that enable salt and sugar reduction via a broad palette of spices, nuts and cocoa, all while delivering a balanced taste experience,” Mr. Espinoza said.
That balanced taste experience at the benchtop must be scalable. Make that, it must be consistently scalable.
“One of the most challenging processes food brands face is preparing a prototype sauce recipe for manufacture at scale, and it’s something our culinary team at OFI helps customers with regularly,” Mr. Espinoza said. “Consistency is the key factor food technicians need to bear in mind to ensure recipes make a successful transition from bench to commercially available batches.
“This means keeping the core ingredients the same, while finding formats that are better suited to cooking on an industrial scale. Take onions for example. A chef may use fresh onions during the prototype stage, but these can later be swapped for frozen onion puree, dried chopped onions or powder.
Managing a sauce’s flavor intensity during the scale-up process is another hurdle, said Mr. Espinoza.
“When working with industrial-size batches, a higher ratio of seasonings might be needed to replicate the same product consistency achieved on the new product development bench,” he said.
Erika James, senior applications technologist-savory, Hoffman Estates, Ill., identified other technical challenges when scaling better-for-you condiments. Challenges include creating a stable emulsion with the color and texture a consumer associates with conventional condiments. Natural, low-sodium ketchup, for example, should mimic mainstream high-fructose corn syrup-sweetened ketchup.
She also said maintaining microbiological stability can be problematic in better-for-you formulations. That’s because consumers have grown accustomed to leaving staples like ketchup out on picnic tables in the sun for long periods of time. When sodium or sugar, both natural preservatives, are reduced or removed, there may be food safety and shelf life concerns.
Chef Christopher Koetke, corporate executive chef, Ajinomoto Health and Nutrition North America Inc., Itasca, Ill., said that while the clean label movement has been growing, there is no consistent definition or agreement across the industry on what that means. To some it means low sugar and to others it’s plant based.“These trends are impacting innovation, with today’s consumer able to find numerous alternatives for their favorite condiment, dip or sauce,” Mr. Koetke said. “Possibly due to consumer confusion, we’re also starting to see somewhat of a growing ‘anti-clean label’ movement, which strives for moderation, and is backed by science and the growing understanding that an ingredient is no healthier for you just because you can pronounce its name. Across the board, the important thing to remember is that taste remains king. If the product tastes bad, it won’t do well.”