Thomas Schmidt, BENEO: “We Observe an Increase in Low-sugar Items Across all Categories”

What new ingredients, such as palatinose, will come into play shortly; why front-of-pack communication becomes very important; which are the textures the customers appreciate the most when it comes to bakery fillings? Thomas Schmidt, marketing director at BENEO, and Benoit Tavernier, BENEO Rice Ingredients product manager, provided valuable insights about all these topics in this exclusive interview:

What are some of the latest trends you can observe in bakery filling applications?

Thomas Schmidt: When we analyze trends, we collect data from several research organizations, in addition to our own “radar” in each country – our network of sales partners. Looking at bakery fillings and applications surrounding cakes in general, sweet fillings are the best performers, unsurprisingly; often though, these star performers are also linked to the seasons – so we can observe occasional spikes in the preference for pumpkin flavor, or cinnamon, for example, especially in the USA. Throughout 12 months, in the last two-three years, it’s the nut fillings that have ranked first with consumers though – mostly pistachio, hazelnut, peanut butter, nut butter, and pralines – in Europe in particular. Coffee-inspired flavors also continue to be popular, from cappuccino to mocha or latte varieties.

In foodservice, we also see an increase in colorful fillings; for example, green shades for pistachio especially are popular among consumers. Since the pandemic has diminished impulse sales, the on-the-go consumption needs to be buffered and the industry is taking steps by introducing exotic flavors and inspiration from exotic cuisines to entice consumers’ curiosity.

In our field, we observe an increase in sugar-reduced items across all categories and an interest in glycemic control reflected in bakery fillings as well.

Covid has also made consumers more responsive to the clean-label trend, as health has come to the forefront, and in bakery, it means more natural, plant-based, and animal-friendly ingredients – and that’s where Beneo comes in. The vegan trend is also set to keep momentum as it’s a strong-performing market sub-segment, and it is something that we will definitely continue to observe in the coming years.

What further shifts regarding clean label (and their bakery applications) can you anticipate?

TS: Considering the changes that occurred this year, it is particularly health that comes to the consumers’ mind. People want to boost their immunity, they want to stay fit and healthy, and this is why trends like gut health, weight management, and meat replacement will be very important topics in the future. In the bakery arena, this can mean fiber additions that could have prebiotic properties to support good bacteria in the gut. Sugar reduction is part of the weight-management topic; the next step in this area could be blood glucose control, aside from the calorie intake, to manage the likelihood to develop pre-diabetic conditions. People are becoming increasingly aware of these factors and want to learn about nutritional information. An ingredient like palatinose, for example, with a low glycemic profile, will come into play.

How do different national regulations impact the consumption of various categories of baked goods?

TS: Labels such as color-codes can be two-edged swords; on the one hand, they help simplify the information provided, which is perceived positively by the consumer who can very easily grasp a product category from A to C, for example. But we must not forget that these schemes, like France’s Nutriscore, are very algorithm-based and are only looking at the chemical composition of the product. In many cases, these labeling schemes do not reflect the physiological effect that the product has, which is equally important. When you look at innovative ingredients like palatinose, for example, it has a slow-release sugar, which would make it labeled as sugar. By default, it would fall into a “bad” category, but it has such a benefic influence on your blood glucose profile, that it should be seen in a different light. That is where labeling schemes don’t often go far enough. Science will play its part in the coming years and result in new adaptations of such labeling schemes, to accurately reflect innovation in the market. For instance, olive oil would probably be an E in the Nutriscore because of its fat levels; but, from a physiological perspective, it is known that it is, in fact, a beneficial ingredient.

We are benefiting and are also hindered from this one-dimensional approach: when considering our fibers, we stand to benefit generously. We can achieve sugar reduction with our replacer as well – and ultimately help the manufacturers earn a better nutrient score, for example. But more innovative ingredients may lack the proper interpretation tools and not be correctly evaluated.

Are consumers looking beyond the information provided in systems such as the Nutriscore? How can one correctly communicate all the properties of baked goods?

TS: Front-of-pack communication becomes very important. A certain degree of simplification is good because it helps consumers reach a quick decision at the point of purchase. That is where we see that the blood-glucose response that we achieve with our palatinose is very beneficial. Also, people will positively evaluate labels that have easily recognizable components, such as rice starch, for example. On one hand, the Nutriscore definitely serves its purpose because it helps consumers become more aware of the effects that certain ingredients have. Nevertheless, looking into the future, there should be a more differentiated view.

What is BENEO’s interpretation of clean labels; how do your clients view it, as observed in their requests?

TS: What we can see in the consumer perception of clean labels is a preference for fewer “bad” components: less artificial ingredients, less (potential) allergens; and more of the familiar, cupboard-regulars, which are deemed natural. Traditional ingredients are linked to long-term health benefits, and rice belongs in this category; rice starch is also seen as natural and familiar by two out of three consumers.

What are the applications that can benefit the most from including rice starch in their formulations?

Benoit Tavernier: Rice is used the most in everything gluten-free; it is among tour customers’ favorite ingredients in this product segment. It is used to help with the volume of gluten-free bread, for example. Thanks to its unique properties, rice can also ensure crispiness which makes it sought after in hard dough cookies, for instance. We also see a breakage reduction effect when using rice starch, especially relevant for cookies packed together; this brings one of the key benefits.

On the other hand, bakery fillings gain their creamy texture thanks to rice and its small granulation. Additionally, we see benefits in baking stability, freeze-thaw stability. We see a lot of interest in using rice starch in bakery fillings, thanks to its unique molecular structure that conveys the desired creamy texture.

What is your view on the textures of bakery fillings – is there room for improvement and what are possible opportunities?

BT: Consumers are always looking for creamy textures, a full-body mouthfeel which is one of the assets of rice starch. Besides, we have some challenges to overcome: freeze-thaw stability, for example. As creams are transported frozen, you do not want to lose texture during the thawing process. Quite often, when you use starches that are not freeze-thaw stable, you will have a watery texture after defrosting and the cream will look less attractive.

Another challenge is the bake stability: when the cream is added to the dough or inserted as a filling, the texture after baking should be the same it was as before. Baking stability is one of the positive points when using rice starch, our tests show.

What are the challenges in this regard for the bake-off segment?

BT: You run the risk of having cream with a lot of water content and a resulting slimy texture in this segment, especially when products might not be thawed at all but baked directly. When there is a lot of water, the cream also has lumps in its structure, which should be avoided; starches, in particular rice starch, can help overcome this challenge and can support this product category.

What do you estimate the impact of the COVID-19 and its related measures is over the bakery ingredient markets?

BT: On the one hand, the consumption on the go has taken a blow due to COVID; however, the healthier snacking element is still very much alive in the home consumption. I think that also the energy topic comes into play here: people want to snack to be energized. Figures show one in three consumers globally say this is a reason why they eat snacks. This, combined with the quest for health, means they will seek healthy snacks that will keep them energized, so a lower glycemic profile is definitely beneficial, as it helps consumers watch their blood sugar levels. All health-related aspects have become more important since the pandemic. This will continue to have an impact on the market even after COVID, it is a consumer shift that will continue.

How is convenience redefined?

BT: Convenience continues to be important. Although home baking has seen an upswing, people are not interested in spending hours baking in the long-run, even if they are confined at home. It is effort and time they can better invest elsewhere, which makes convenience stay relevant. People want to consume things that just need to be unwrapped and can be eaten – but, at the same time, they need to be healthy. This is a double challenge. Also, the trend to more sustainable products and more plant-based ingredients will continue.

How has 2020 influenced your R&D planning and your innovation priorities? And what are key takeaways going forward?

BT: Beneo will continue to be very science-driven. We aim to be able to use health claims in the majority of cases for our products – which requires a lot of substantiation and a lot of work, long-term developments. The focus will be on our natural raw materials; other plant-based ingredients will be considered. Looking at our R&D, we are working on introducing more innovation in our rice ingredients.

How do you see the long-term evolution of bakery ingredients?

BT: Plant-based will continue to stay relevant and will become even stronger. The natural halo of raw materials that even Beneo is using carries a lot of weight and authenticity. Materials we use include sugar beets, chicory root, rice, and wheat – plants that have been around for millennia. People trust this type of ingredient and this will be reflected in bakery labels in the future. The megatrend here is the surge of natural ingredients.

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