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INTERVIEW

"Trend towards health and wellness continues to grow"
Monday, 03 July, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ingredion is a global ingredients solutions company manufacturing sweeteners, starches and unique ingredients from plant sources such as corn, tapioca, rice, sago and potato. The ingredients produced by the company cater to almost 60 industry sectors across more than 40 countries.

The company is currently on the major task of replacing synthetic ingredients with naturally-derived ingredients that make yogurts creamy, candy sweet, baked goods more nutritious. Rishandran Pillay, vice-president and general manager, ASEAN and India, Ingredion, analyses the current consumer trends and industry demand for food ingredients in an email interaction with Harcha Bhaskar. Excerpts:

Where do you source the raw materials for processing of ingredients? What are the quality checks that take place while sourcing?
Where possible, we source most of our raw materials from the region. For example, our recently acquired manufacturing facility in Shandong Huanong, China, is strategically located in an ideal growing area for the specialty grains used to make our ingredients. Our newly completed Kalasin facility in Thailand also takes advantage of locally sourced materials to produce our industry-leading line of clean label functional native starches.

We take the quality and safety of our products seriously, and benchmark ourselves against respected and globally recognised standards. In 2016, we received Global Food Safety Initiative (GSFI) certification for all our existing manufacturing sites, and are now working towards this for the Shandong site.

What are the current trends in the Asia-Pacific food ingredients sector?
In Asia-Pacific, the first trend we observe is an increased demand for foods perceived to be more natural and wholesome - this is the cornerstone of our current innovation focus. Building on this demand, the trend reflects growing consumer interest in ‘clean label,’ with easily recognised ingredient names used for on-pack labelling. The increased acceptance and expectation of ‘clean label’ means that manufacturers have this top of mind when formulating products, as it is a now qualifier for the consumer decision to purchase.

The trend towards health and wellness continues to grow, in response to the many public health initiatives across the region promoting awareness of obesity and diabetes in the region. As a result, sugar reduction is also high on the agenda. Manufacturers face ongoing challenges to replace sugar with lower calorie options to make products ‘healthier’ without compromise in taste and texture.

Which is the food ingredient that is experiencing growing demand in the food processing sector?
Reflective of prevailing consumer trends, ingredients that can support clean label formulation, sugar reduction initiatives and offer added nutritional benefits are gaining popularity. Such ingredients help meet consumer expectations without compromising the taste and texture all while meeting food production requirements regarding labelling and costs.

Ingredion offers a range of resistant starches that allow fibre to be incorporated into a wide range of foods such as breads, cereals, biscuits and other baked goods, with little to no impact on product taste, texture and colour. This is quick and easy to achieve, as the resistant starch dietary fibres have a water-holding capacity similar to that of wheat flour, and can be readily processed. The result is improved consumer acceptance of high-fibre foods, which historically have been perceived to be poorer in taste.

These starches are particularly applicable for manufacturers targeting health-conscious consumers looking to cut their calorie or carbohydrate intake. These high-fibre ingredients can help them feel fuller for longer and contribute to the prevention or management of ‘lifestyle-associated’ conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Which are the emerging sectors that are seeking more of food ingredients in their manufacturing process (other than food processing)? Specify which ingredients and why.
As part of the overall consumer trend toward more natural and being free from artificial ingredients, consumers are also looking for these benefits in their cosmetics, lotions, and other personal care products.

For example, starch – a common ingredient in food products – can help these personal care products feel velvety and soft. They are also water and oil absorbent, and can reduce shine and moisture. These ingredients, being naturally sourced, enable ‘natural’ and ‘clean label’ claims, offer effective, sustainable solutions.

What technological expertise is used for the development of these ingredients?
At Ingredion, we take a science-based approach to innovation. In fact, we invested 3 per cent of our specialty revenues into R&D in 2016, and employ more than 350 scientists worldwide. Our global network of Idea Labs innovation centres allows us collaborate closely with our customers to develop solutions to a broad range of challenges such as providing improved nutrition, using simple ingredients, adding fibre and making gluten-free products taste delicious.

The regional Idea Labs in Singapore includes state-of-the-art facilities such as sensory laboratories, pilot plant and culinary facilities. In this lab, we apply the latest consumer insights and research to developing innovation capabilities such as formulation knowhow, advanced process technologies, and Culinology services for our customers.  

Culinology is the intersection of food science, culinary arts, leading-edge restaurant and food knowledge, and is our way of helping manufacturers accelerate their product development and reformulation processes – all the while delivering chef appeal to the food products in a safe and scalable way.

We also have a trained sensory panel of experts at the Idea Labs innovation centre in Singapore. They play a key role in product development by enabling food and beverage manufacturers to achieve the target food taste and texture they require within a shorter timeframe. Sensory tests are performed in temperature-, humidity- and pressure-controlled booths with coloured lights to disguise any variation in appearance of the samples being tested, which can influence flavour perceptions.

Where do you see growth opportunities in coming five years?
We see growth opportunities in both the developed markets, such as Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in faster growing emerging markets such as China, South East Asia and India.

With the growing obesity and diabetes rates across Asia, we’ve seen strong consumer interest in reducing sugar, and food regulators are also stepping in to limit the intake guidelines. We have already developed a successful specialty sweetener portfolio in Korea, which we are now introducing to South East Asia.  This includes our Sweetis sweetener system, which helps manufacturers replace sugar with options that are similar in sweetness profile, but with lower sugar content and calories in their product recipes to satisfy consumer desires for healthier foods, while still satisfying the sweet tooth of consumers.

What are the company’s clean label and sustainability goals? How are they achieved?
Ingredion has been a pioneer of clean label for the past 20 years, with our Novation functional native starches, establishing a definition of clean label within the industry, to help our customers understand the trend and align their product development efforts accordingly.

Our definition of clean label is - free from chemical additives; a simple ingredient listing; minimally processed with techniques that are understood and not perceived as being artificial.

Since 2011, we have set goals in areas such as governance, safety, social accountability, environmental conservation, operational excellence, sourcing, continued innovation and community engagement. As well as the sustainable sourcing and operational excellence mentioned earlier, for the fourth consecutive year we have been included in the 2017 Ethisphere World’s Most Ethical Companies List. We have worked with The Global Food Banking Network (GFN) for five years and are in our third year with the Food Bank Leadership Institute.

How much is the expected turnover of the company for the year 2017-18? At what rate is the company growing?
The Asia-Pacific region presents a growth opportunity for Ingredion. The integration of the Sun Flour Industry rice business and Shandong Huanong Specialty Corn further broaden our specialty portfolio and capacity while the integration of TIC Gums further expands our texture capabilities and enables us to deliver custom solutions faster.
 
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