Food Entrepreneur KANSAS CITY — Product developers encounter various challenges when formulating with functional ingredients. Certain compounds, such as reishi mushroom or caffeine, typically taste bitter or unpalatable, said Sam Kressler, owner of Stir Innovation, a consumer packaged goods consulting firm.

 “It doesn’t matter how good the product is for the consumer,” Mr. Kressler said during the Food Entrepreneur Experience, an online event presented by Food Business News. “It doesn’t matter what your claims are. If it tastes like garbage, no one’s going to buy it twice.”

Consumers may forgive off-flavors if a product promises perks such as improved digestion, mood support or immune health, he added.

“There’s a little bit of leeway with functional foods,” Mr. Kressler said. “Occasionally consumers will think that if a product tastes too good, if it doesn’t taste medicinal enough, it’s not working.”

The Food Entrepreneur Experience, held April 19, featured wide-ranging conversations with industry experts and startup founders on the functional foods movement.

Mathew Thalakotur, founder and chief executive officer of Mighty Gum, discussed the issues he faced as he partnered with medical professionals, herbalists and formulators to develop a sugar-free chewing gum boosted with botanicals and vitamins. One ingredient is reishi mushroom, a popular fungus used in Eastern medicine that has a “very strong flavor,” he noted.

“What I was able to do was find a supplier who took just the beta glucan out of the reishi mushroom and isolated it, which prevented the rest of the flavor of the reishi mushroom from coming through,” he said.

He described a process of “trying all these ingredients independent of the rest of the product before incorporating it… and figuring out what is the right balance of this ingredient for how this product will be consumed so they can still reach efficacy while still providing good flavor.”

He added, “Certain ingredients I just don’t use. I would love to have some of the ingredients I initially had, like astragalus and stuff, but I had to take them out of the gum because they had a very strong flavor profile.”

Parker Olson, founder of FORIJ, shared his experience of creating granola and soft-baked bars made with lion’s mane mushroom, citing similar difficulties in balancing functionality and flavor in the finished product.

“We spent about a year with a product developer and food scientist looking at how can we incorporate these ingredients with a couple of objectives in mind: How do you make them taste good? How do you make sure that at the end of the processing these medicinal or valuable compounds are still there?” Mr. Olson said. “We definitely went through a lot of challenges early on trying to figure out some of these problems.

“We rely pretty heavily on a blend of healthy fats and oils and potent spice, and we found … that if you can create the right mixture of rich fats with potent spice, it can almost recreate a sweetness sensation. With that said, there is added sugar in our products … from maple syrup, agave and coconut sugar.”

Speakers revealed additional insights on developing and marketing functional foods during the Food Entrepreneur Experience.

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