Progress on High-Potency Sweeteners, Taste Modulators and Enhancers Continues

Posted on:April 1, 2019

GRANT DUBOIS, PH.D., Consultant, Sweetness Technologies, LLC, reviewed the progress made on natural high-potency (HP) sweetener systems for food and beverages by offering tantalizing insights on how to resolve some of their negative taste and flavor attributes, in his presentation titled “Replication of Sugar Taste Enabled by Taste Modulators and Enhancers.”

Earlier work with HP sweeteners and sweetness enhancers recognized the importance of both maximal sweetness intensity and taste quality. However, DuBois listed six additional criteria for use in determining the commercial viability of such ingredients: safety, stability, solubility, cost, patentability and consumer acceptability.

A major research focus today is the search for all-natural HP sweeteners and sweetness enhancers. Interest in these ingredients began to grow at The Coca-Cola Company in the 1990s, recalled DuBois. This led to the development and commercialization of rebaudioside A (REBA)—a sweet-tasting diterpenoid glycoside isolated from South American stevia plant leaves. “One challenge with REBA was a maximal sweetness response at ambient temperature of <10% sucrose equivalency (SE). However, in cold solutions, that maxima increased to 18% SE, so it wasn’t as bad as it first looked, explained DuBois.

Unfortunately, as with other natural HP sweeteners, off-tastes were an issue: Most commercial REBA products exhibit distinctive bitter and licorice-like notes. DuBois explained that the REBA under study in early work was 97% (min) purity and that “batch-to-batch bitterness and licorice-like taste variability suggested the culpability of contaminants.” Today, REBA of higher purity is available with negligible off-tastes, albeit somewhat more expensive. (See sidebar “The Cost of Sweetness”).

Additionally, the challenge of social perspectives exists. For example, new ingredients must weather reflexive and hostile social media storms. When aspartame was first introduced, activists charged that the breakdown of aspartame into phenylalanine (Phe) and methanol posed severe public health threats. However, perspective matters: “If I eat 100g of roasted chicken, I ingest 13x the Phe that I get from the aspartame in a 12oz Diet Coke, while 12oz of tomato juice provides 5.9x the amount of methanol generated from the aspartame in a single Diet Coke,” countered DuBois.

More than 40 sweet diterpenoid glycosides have been isolated from the stevia plant of which REBA was one of the first to be brought to the market. In recent years, rebaudiosides D (REBD) and M (REBM) have been commercialized, although they are present only at very low levels in the plant. Because of their low natural abundances, REBD and REBM are manufactured in bioconversion or fermentation processes and therefore cannot be labeled as “stevia leaf extracts,” as is the case for REBA.

Another commercialized terpenoid-type sweetener is the triterpenoid monk fruit sweetener group, members of which are known as mogrosides. The monk fruit sweeteners are very challenging to purify and are available in a range of purities.

Other categories of natural HP sweeteners are on the market or in development and include proteins (e.g., thaumatin and brazzein) and amino acids (e.g., monatin). Each has its own problems, ranging from licorice flavors (thaumatin); lingering sweetness profiles (thaumatin, brazzein and monatin); to rapid-degradation into foul-smelling derivatives (monatin). Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone, a flavonoid-type sweetener, is commercially available and claimed by some to be natural but does not occur in nature.

DuBois equivocated on the opportunities presented by flavors with modifying properties (FMPs) of the positive allosteric modulator (PAM) type. PAM FMPs significantly enhance the sweetness intensities of carbohydrate sweeteners. Dihydroxybenzoic acid, for example, will increase the sweetness perception of sucrose by 1.3-fold and fructose. by 1.2-fold he noted.

“While PAMs were hoped to be a big deal for us when I was with The Coca-Cola Company, they ultimately were not,” said DuBois. The reason? In vivo, “the probability of sucrose and PAMs binding at a taste receptor at the same time, as required to enable this synergistic response, is far too low; and so, the hoped-for 10-20-fold “enhancements were never found.

While PAM FMPs have not realized significant commercial success, sweetener FMPs such as glucosylated steviol glycosides (GSGs) have realized success as natural flavors which enable reduction of caloric sweetener levels. These FMPs are used below their sweetness detection thresholds and thereby enhance sweetness by 1.1-1.2-fold.

One area in which very significant progress has been made is in the identification of taste modulators for HP sweeteners. “In early work, we noticed that osmolytes worked well at eliminating the lingering sweet aftertastes of HP sweeteners.” As example, adding salt at 500 mg/L to REBA “eliminated the lingering sweetness effect; however, such formulations were too salty.” Erythritol was also found to be very effective in elimination of the REBA sweetness lingering aftertaste, but cost remains the challenge with REBA/erythritol formulations.

In closing, DuBois hinted at major developments in taste modulation technology on the verge of disclosure. Stay tuned.

The Cost of Sweetness

A key metric for commercial viability is cost. Beverage companies measure ingredient cost impacts in terms of cost/unit case. “If we use HFCS as a benchmark, the sweetener cost is about US$0.51/unit case for a beverage like Coca-Cola. In contrast, the cost/unit case for a beverage like Diet Coke sweetened with aspartame today is ca. US$0.03-0.04 (ca. US$0.33 in 1985 when aspartame was under patent protection),” noted Grant DuBois.

Currently, a blend of REBA with erythritol to balance the sugar taste pro?le and which tastes pretty good, incurs a cost of about US$0.99/unit case. In his opinion, the cost threshold for viability should be ca. US$0.40/unit case, so there is work to be done.

“Replication of Sugar Taste enabled by Taste Modulators and Enhancers,” Grant DuBois, Ph.D., Consultant, Sweetness Technologies, LLC

This presentation was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Sweetener Systems Conferences at

Studies Show Reduced Sugar Doesn’t Mean Reduced Weight

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AT THE OUTSET OF HIS TALK, “Reducing Added Sugars: Will It Reverse the Trend Toward Overweight & Obesity,” John White, Ph.D., President and Founder, White Technical Research, asked how many in the audience believed that sugar consumption was correlated with obesity. About 40% said they were in agreement.

Added sugars as the root of many of contemporary American’s health problems was referred to by White as the “added sugars hypothesis” which has two key justifications: 1) Significant diseases are increasing as sugars increase in the U.S. diet and 2) high value, cause-and-effect evidence uniquely links added sugars metabolism to these diseases in humans at typical exposure levels and patterns. Neither of these hypotheses are true, asserted White. “There has been a great deal of pressure on industry to reduce added sugars,” he noted, “but is there evidence-based research to support such decisions?”

Scientific evidence is not all created equal. The evidence pyramid (see chart “Value Hierarchy in Evidence-based Medicine”) indicates that systematic reviews and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), followed by randomized/non-randomized controlled trials have the least likelihood of bias. Epidemiological and animal data is often used to associate HFCS and fructose consumption with disease, although the FDA considers both to be of low evidentiary value for establishing cause and effect, noted White.

Negativity regarding fructose grew with the claim that an increase in consumption of HFCS is related to the epidemic of obesity, a temporal association that did not in any way establish cause and effect. In fact, per capita availability trends from the USDA for sucrose and HFCS show that sucrose consumption increased 40% between 1910-1921 and remained constant for >50 years. HFCS was introduced in the market in the late 1960s and rapidly gained market share at the expense of sucrose.

“What isn’t acknowledged is that HFCS use peaked in 1999,” said White, “and has been in steep decline for nearly two decades. This decline has occurred as obesity rates continued to rise,” and the data have shown no positive association between HFCS and obesity for 19 years.

White explained that U.S. per capita energy intake increased by 449 kcal/d (21%), between 1970-2010. Notably, increased energy from caloric sweeteners was minor, accounting for <8% of this energy increase. Energy from cereal grains and added fats increased disproportionately, accounting for >90% of the increase. “The most likely contributor to overweight and obesity is an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure, not increases in sugar intake,” said White.

Fructose studies don’t model the range of human intake, White explained. Using NHANES data, fructose intakes are on average 9.1% energy (E) and 14.6% E for the highest 5% of fructose consumers. White presented an overview on 57 human and animal papers reporting adverse effects of fructose. However, he stressed that these studies fed extreme fructose doses, exceeding the 95th population percentile intakes in many human studies by 1.5-3-fold, and in animals by >4-5 times.

White also emphasized that humans don’t eat fructose or glucose alone, but always in combination in the diet from fruits, vegetables and nuts, as well as added sugars. “Extreme dosing under conditions of exaggerated protocols bias biochemical out-comes,” he concluded.

In short-term studies of human subjects consuming HFCS and sucrose in randomized, controlled trials, few differences were found for clinical markers of obesity (plasma glucose and insulin; ghrelin and leptin; triglycerides and uric acid; hunger and satiety) over the range of exposure from 9%-15% E as fructose (45–75 g/d) (Rippe et al. 2013. Adv Nutr./

In longer term studies of 10 weeks and more, no significant differences between three levels of HFCS and sucrose intake (8, 18 or 30% of isocaloric energy in 342 individuals) were reported for these markers.

Recent meta-analyses—the highest evidentiary value—have assessed the relationship of sugars to chronic disease. Isocaloric (equal calorie basis) comparisons of fructose with other carbohydrates (sucrose, HFCS, lactose, starch) found no adverse effects on body weight, fasting lipids, blood pressure, uric acid concentration, glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, postprandial lipids and markers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (Khan et al. 2016. Eur J Nutr/ Some differences in these metabolic markers were observed with hypercaloric feeding trials, in which excess calories from fructose were added to a diet compared with the same diet without the excess calories. These variances were most likely due to confounding from extra calories, rather than fructose.

White concluded that high-level evidence from systematic reviews/ meta-analyses and randomized/non-randomized controlled studies does not support a direct causal relationship between added sugars and obesity and overall disease. He stressed that considering the disproportionate increase in consumption of added fats and cereal grains over the past 50 years, it is unlikely that reducing added sugars will reverse the trend toward overweight and obesity.

“Reducing added sugars: Will it reverse the trend toward overweight & obesity?”, John S. White, Ph.D., President and Founder, WHITE Technical Research

This presentation was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Sweetener Systems Conferences at

Confusion Abounds with FDA’s Proposed Added Sugar Labeling

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ANTICIPATE TURBULENCE AHEAD! Mandated FDA changes to the Nutrition Facts label in order to accommodate “added sugar” labeling requirements are intended to help, but can also potentially confuse suppliers, manufacturers and consumers, noted Lauren Swann, MS, RDN, LDN, President and CEO of Concept Nutrition, Inc., in her presentation “An FDA Update: Sugar Ingredients’ Impact on Added Sugar.” She added: “This poses a huge educational challenge for government, industry, academic and public health authorities.”

Swann explained that, “this most recent revamp of FDA regulations is designed to support public health goals in line with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) recommendations, which (stipulated) that consumers limit their daily caloric intake from added sugars to 10% of total intake in order to reduce their risks of chronic heart disease.” Swann wondered why the DGAC focus was on sugar links to heart disease, rather than the more immediate public health risk posed by type II diabetes.

Formerly, Dietary Fiber and Sugars were listed under the designation of Total Carbohydrates in the nutrition label, which includes complex-but-easily-digestible carbohydrates, such as starches and maltodextrins. Under the new label requirements, Sugar is redesignated as Total Sugars, to which is added the sub-designation, Includes “x”g Added Sugars.

One problem, according to Swann, is that the numbers for dietary fiber and sugars may not calculate to total caloric value. “Consumers tend to equate carbs and sugars with calories.” The new Total Sugars and Added Sugars designations, which include both digestible and non-digestible mono- and disaccharides, must be listed irrespective of caloric content or digestibility—e.g., 0-cal/g erythritol versus sucrose. So, some sugars don’t get counted. Confused yet?

Fruit pieces, dried fruit, pulps or purees do not need to be labeled as Added Sugar when added to maintain the fruit properties of products not generally considered to contain Added Sugar.

The new Added Sugars designation is defined as sugars “added during the processing of foods or packaged as such.” These include: honey and syrups; free sugars (mono- and disaccharides); and sugars from concentrated fruits and vegetable juices. As a result, “I have clients scrambling to get these ingredients out of their products,” said Swann.

Another complication is that, whereas there is no %Daily Value (%DV) for Total Sugars (which would be required to establish a defined regulation for a “low in sugar” claim), there is now one for Added Sugars, “which I find rather odd,” commented Swann. The new %DV is 50g per 2,000 calories.

Not labeled as Added Sugars are: fruit and vegetable juice concentrated from 100% juice to be reconstituted to single strength by consumers or processors; used toward meeting a required %-juice designation; used for oBrix standardization; or used in standardized preserves, jams, jellies and for the fruit component of spreads. “Neither are fruit pieces, dried fruit, pulps or purees which maintain the fruit properties of products not generally considered to contain Added Sugar,” said Swann.

Reference oBrix values for common single-strength (unconcentrated) fruit and vegetable juices [21 CFR 101.30(h)], together with calculation models for determining added sugar values, can be found at the FDA’s website, said Swann. However, there may be ingredients and formulation scenarios beyond those addressed in these guidance documents. Accounting for changing sugar contents due to fermentation and enzymatic browning poses yet another challenge.

Unfortunately, there exists no laboratory methods that distinguish between sugars inherent in the product and added sugars, so manufacturers are obligated to maintain very detailed records at all regulatory compliance levels of the supply chain in order to demonstrate compliance.

In response to a question from the audience, Swann indicated that monk fruit (or luo han guo) juice, which contains sugar, but is 15-20X sweeter than sucrose, could be added to a product at single-strength without affecting its Added Sugar designation. “That would not be the case if it is added as a concentrate, (though).”

Swann commented that FDA Commissioner Gottlieb has indicated that the FDA is still looking for a final guidance, but that it would like to have everything finalized by early 2020. She strongly recommended that processors closely follow developments and continue submitting comments at

“An FDA Update: Sugary Ingredients’ Impact on Added Sugar Labeling,” Lauren Swann, MS, RDN, LDN; President and CEO, Concept Nutrition, Inc.”

This presentation was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Sweetener Systems Conferences at

Uncertainty Leaves Consumers in a Sweetener Paradox

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“SUGAR REDUCTION may be the top-cited dietary priority globally, but consumers aren’t quite willing to give up sweeteners completely,” said Julie Johnson, General Manager, HealthFocus International. She also noted that consumer perceptions of sweeteners are complicated. Johnson gleaned her information from a “HealthFocus’ 2018 Global Trends Study” that interviewed more than 12,000 consumers in 22 countries.

Johnson cited three overriding trends—product personalization, clean eating, and calorie and weight issues that help influence consumer sweetener perceptions. The first trend, where consumers wish to personalize food and beverage taste preferences, included the following statistics: Globally, 48% of consumers interviewed indicated they always or usually add something to their foods and beverages to adjust taste (only 26% in the U.S.).“Consumers want control of their taste preferences,” she said, citing yogurt cups that add honey or fruit preparations on the side.

The second trend is a general interest in “clean eating.” Globally, 63% of people (versus only 39% in the U.S.) claim to be interested in eating clean, noted Johnson. And thirdly, consumer concerns about calories and weight track well with their attitudes toward sugars and sweeteners. “In the U.S., food and beverage sugar and caloric contents top the informational items sought by consumers on food package labels,” said Johnson.

Top purchase-decision influencers identified in the 2018 study remain: price (56%), followed by better taste (52%) and recognizable ingredients (49%). Drilling down, 41% of respondents listed no artificial sweeteners, and 40% listed lower sugar as “extremely” or “very important” to them. When asked: “Which of the following 10 factors had become more important to them over the past year,” 54% put reducing sugar at the top of their list.

Asked to choose between 10 different factors that might make food and beverages appear healthier, sugar reduction ranked #2 at 52%, while using no artificial sweeteners rated #6 at 47%. So, to summarize thus far consumers want less sugar, but does that mean that they want to sacrifice sweetness?

“Don’t overlook that this study was based on stated attitudes and perceptions, not necessarily actions,” warned Johnson. Actions do speak louder than words. A closer look at specific sweeteners suggests that familiarity with particular sweeteners improves perceptions thereof.

In the U.S., reducing sugar and avoiding artificial sweeteners are high priorities. But, globally, 96% of consumers around the world still use sugar, and 78% admit to using artificial sweeteners (67%, in the U.S.). Age is also a factor, with older consumers more amenable to using artificial sweeteners to cut calories. In the U.S., while only 18% of shoppers believe artificial sweeteners are safe, 26% believe that they are a good way to reduce sugar content, and 38% will choose beverages with lower sugar content, even if they contain artificial sweeteners. In other words, they make tradeoffs.

U.S. consumers are also far more likely than their global counterparts to rate sweeteners negatively: In the U.S., less-than 10% of respondents rated 15 specific sweeteners as “good,” and only honey and maple syrup were rated positively by more than 50%. Globally, consumer antipathy toward artificial sweeteners as a category turned neutral regarding specific high-potency sweeteners, whether they were of natural origin or not.

Johnson also posted data suggesting a continued erosion of consumer opinion toward artificial sweeteners over time. This included stevia. Unfortunately, consumers in this study appeared to conflate “artificial” sweeteners with natural high-potency sweeteners (such as monk fruit or stevia leaf extract), suggesting that consumers may require more education on these specific sweeteners.

In summary, sugar reduction is a top global priority among consumers and the top dietary priority in the U.S. However, consumers aren’t willing to give up sweeteners altogether, which opens up major opportunities for non-sugar sweeteners. And, whereas views of virtually all sweeteners and especially “artificial sweeteners” remain generally negative, the confusion and negativity surrounding these ingredients lessens considerably when high-potency sweeteners are addressed individually. This should serve as a call to food and beverage ingredient marketing departments everywhere.

Understanding Shopper Attitudes towards Sweeteners in the U.S.” and Beyond,” Julie Johnson, General Manager, HealthFocus International

This presentation was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Sweetener Systems Conferences at

Innovative Challenger Brands Panel

Posted on:February 4, 2019

THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRIES today enjoy a historical confluence of rapidly shifting consumer trends and low barriers to entrepreneurship, generating a flood of innovation. To explore the motivations as well as technical and business challenges of entry-level food and beverage entrepreneurship, Global Food Forums convened a panel of entrepreneurs to share their insights and experiences.

The panel was moderated by Kara Nielsen, Vice President of Trends and Marketing, CCD Innovation, an Emeryville, Calif.-based food and beverage innovation consultancy.

Panel participants included:

• Miyoko Schinner, CEO and Founder, Miyoko’s Kitchen, a Petaluma, Calif.-based manufacturer of vegan dairy cheese alternatives.
• Dariush Ajami, Ph.D., Vice President, Research & Development, Beyond Meat, an El Segundo, Calif.-based manufacturer of vegetarian meat alternatives.
• Kurt Seidensticker, CEO and Founder of Vital Proteins, Elk Grove, Ill., a manufacturer of hydrolyzed collagen products for joint health.
• Natalie Shmulik, M.L.A., CEO, The Hatchery Chicago, a business incubator focused on food and beverage start-ups.

Nielsen opened the panel by describing her own company’s focus on developing “challenger brands”—the focus of the panel and a term that reflects how many emerging companies are challenging the status quo in food manufacturing. “When we look at challenger brands, we need to ask what it is that we are challenging and why. Consumers have changed and, consequently, their needs have changed. So, when thinking about the trends these new brands are driving, we are talking not only about changing consumers, but also about their evolving values.”

Nielsen then asked panelists what motivated their entrepreneurial ventures.

Entrepreneurial Motivation
For Miyoko’s Kitchen’s, Schinner, a vegan for 30 years, it was an opportunity to change the world. “I have a deep respect for all species to live on this planet as they wish to live, not as commodities for us,” she began. “To be healthy, we need to think about the health of the planet and the health of animals…and create a world that supports all life forms.” But, she emphasized, “we also need to appeal to people’s taste buds, to make people think, ‘if I like products like this, I could go vegan.’”

Ajami, Beyond Meat, said that his company’s goal is to engineer a global shift from animal to plant-based meat. “We believe we can perfectly replicate animal muscle protein with plant protein.” He argued that, ultimately, the animal protein industry is not sustainable.

Seidensticker, Vital Proteins, was motivated to create his company five years ago as the result of sports-related joint injuries. “Humans are creatures of motion and flexibility,” he said, and that means they need to create collagen for joints and other connective tissue. His research suggested that humans synthesize insufficient quantities of the essential amino acids required to meet their collagen maintenance needs. He also found that collagen supplementation helped his joint recovery after running. Thus, he launched his company on the value proposition of health, wellness and functional benefits of hydrolyzed collagen.

For Shmulik, The Hatchery Chicago, motivation in her work was to, in turn, help entrepreneurs succeed. The Hatchery currently occupies a 400,000 sq ft (37,200 sq m) facility that Shmulik expects will eventually house 75-100 entrepreneurs, along with manufacturing, packaging, training and support resources. She also added, “Our social mission is to serve one of the most underserved communities in the nation with one of the highest unemployment rates.” Shmulik predicted that the Hatchery would create 900 new jobs within five years of inception.

Initial Hurdles
For Beyond Meat, said Ajami, the first major obstacle to overcome was a supply chain issue: to identify appropriate sources of protein, as defined by amino acid content, that were available in the amounts required. For Miyoko’s Kitchen, the first major hurdle was manufacturing scale-up. She had started making artisanal vegan cheese at home but ran into problems with scaling up the ripening process. They initially built an aging room using galvanized steel but were forced to switch to stainless steel after rust problems developed.

For Seidensticker, it was about speed and persistence: “The quickest way to learn is to do and optimize something yourself.” Thus, Vital Proteins, built its own manufacturing facility from day one and quickly constructed a vigorous online-sales and marketing presence to develop consumer awareness. Plus, he stated, “Anytime you create a new market category, you may have to go through three or four iterations before you get it right.” That requires time and money.

Shmulik listed the top hurdles she had observed in her work with entrepreneurs. First, she said, they need to do their market research up-front, in order to confirm that what they perceive to be a market opportunity really is a market opportunity. Financing is also a major challenge, as entrepreneurs almost always underestimate how much funding they will need at the outset. “We encourage our clients to build their first prototypes on the cheap and to get them in front of potential customers for feedback.” Third, they should investigate the legal and regulatory terrain in order to avoid making expensive, “brand-shaking” errors.

Nielsen asked Schinner to address the potential labeling issues of marketing non-dairy cheeses as “cheese,” as the U.S. dairy industry is required to label its products, including cheese, according to rigidly defined Federal Standards of Identity (SOI).

“Even though SOIs exist to prevent confusion in the marketplace, they don’t help determine what new, innovative products should be called,” said Schinner. “So, if you can’t call something a substitute for something else, this only further confuses consumers.” There is a lot of legislation and lobbying underway by the plant-foods industry to resolve these issues, she continued, but, until then, “we decided to put ‘cheese’ on our label.”

Sometimes, entrepreneurs need to be bold and willing to create their own market category, added Seidensticker. “At first, I didn’t think we could enter the protein category, as it was so crowded and dominated by dairy and plant proteins. So, we decided that we would create a third category…functional protein.” He and his colleagues spent a lot of time testing their concept by talking to people at trade shows. “Trade shows gave us the opportunity to get in front of major influencers and perfect our message.”

Nielsen asked Shmulik how The Hatchery Chicago advises its clients to leverage resources. “We encourage our community of entrepreneurs to exchange resources, such as leads to distributors and outside manufacturers,” she responded. Being an entrepreneur can be very isolating, and “we spend a lot of time playing psychiatrist.” Also, many entrepreneurs become so excited and anxious to get their product out to retailers that they overlook the importance of negotiating favorable terms and developing long-term relationships with retailers, said Shmulik.

“One of the things that we did very successfully was to go first to consumers through online sales in order to build brand recognition,” said Seidensticker. As a result, Vital Proteins was able to immediately secure national distribution at Whole Foods based on its online presence and extensive consumer community. Ajami added that developing tight relationships early on with the supplier community is critically important. “We wanted to communicate to them that we were in it for the long-run, so that [our supplier community] would be there when they were most needed.”

“Sometimes we come up with products on purpose, sometimes we don’t,” observed Schinner. Some new products are developed by sheer accident, but an active online interaction with consumers provides instant feedback on whether they represent real market opportunities or how they can be adjusted to better fit consumer expectations. Seidensticker confirmed: “Direct-to-consumer sales allow one to innovate more quickly and develop closer, interactive relationships with their customers. They send us suggestions that help us to better resonate with our customers.”

Also, consider cross-brand collaborations, offered Shmulik. She noted several such collaborations, such as online custom coffee roaster Stumptown Coffee‘s (Portland, Ore.) collaboration with Taza Chocolate (Somerville, Mass.), an online, direct-trade chocolate manufacturer.

Some innovation opportunities become evident from simple walk- throughs of food and beverage stores. “If you walk into a butcher shop, you will see all the products that we seek to emulate,” explained Ajami, of Beyond Meat. The company has systematically expanded its original platform to include The Beyond Burger, Beyond Sausage, Be- yond Breakfast Sausage and Beyond Chicken product offerings.

Authenticity and Transparency
Authenticity is the key to resonating with consumers, said Seidensticker. “When we first got into this space, there were collagen tablets in the market, but nobody knew what collagen was…it was perceived to be some type of pharmaceutical or chemical material. We had to explain that it was made from the remnants of already dead animals and that we only obtained our collagen from humanely raised animals. People could connect with that.” Vital Proteins’ website prominently features a video explanation of its collagen’s sustainable origins.

For Miyoko’s Kitchen, “whole foods” is the key. “We have an easy job, because all of our ingredients are organic-certified, clean label ingredients; the fermentation used for aging is a traditional process well-understood by consumers,” said Schinner. “Natural, whole foods are what we believe to be healthier, and they are also in line with consumer trends,” agreed Seidensticker.

Ajami concurred. “Our strategy is to be very transparent with consumers. Currently, we use a variety of proteins to ensure our products can not only meet, but in some circumstances exceed, the nutritional profile of their animal counterpart. We recognize that consumers are looking for cleaner labels, so we are constantly trying to come up with technical solutions to reduce the complexity of our ingredient lists. Focusing on simple, plant-based ingredients and building products without gluten, soy or GMOs, as we know consumers are increasingly uncomfortable with those ingredients, is a key guardrail that guides our innovation team and helps ensure a simpler label.”

Exit Strategies
Nielsen asked panelists how they viewed the role of large consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) in food and beverage innovation, particularly with respect to mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

“Gone are the days when consumers perceive big-brand acquisitions of start-ups as a problem,” maintained Shmulik. “When we speak with entrepreneurs, 99% have an exit strategy that envisions acquisition by a larger company, and we now see more entrepreneurs and CPGs embracing the concept of partnering.” Meanwhile, CPGs have been learning to let entrepreneurs keep doing what they do best without meddling in the process. “Such partnerships become especially beneficial if entrepreneurs can access the legal and regulatory resources of larger firms and learn what it takes to build and maintain a brand,” continued Shmulik. Many CPGs also offer access to venture capital.

Miyoko’s Kitchen’s Schinner noted, “You need to build a brand that you believe will attract investors whose values are aligned with your company’s mission.” This point prompted Seidensticker to add: “But you don’t build a brand to sell it; you build a brand about which you are passionate.”

Ajami noted that Tyson Foods, a leading American CPG company, has been a major investor in Beyond Meat. “It’s nice to know that Tyson recognizes that the protein aisle is changing,” he said.

The People Factor
Growth brings challenges, especially with regard to people.

“As we get bigger, we want to make sure that we keep our start-up culture,” added Ajami. Three years ago, the company’s employee count rose from 20 to 200, he noted. “We have to be very careful about our hires, as we want to make sure that they are passionate about the company’s mission.” To which, Seidensticker added, “The danger is that the larger we get, the more we start behaving like a big CPG company.”

“Human resources (HR) becomes a huge challenge as we navigate companies from point A to B,” agreed Shmulik. “We offer HR services to our companies; getting the right talent for them is extreme- ly challenging. Companies need to strike the right balances between hiring people straight out of school that are agile and enthusiastic, and hiring experienced people that know how to take a company to the next level.”

Keep it Simple
An audience member asked about the challenges of having to deal with people, whether customers or investors, that don’t share the same vision as the entrepreneur.

Schinner replied that the underlying issue is the difficulty of explaining an entrepreneurial vision. “Ultimately, what you want is a self-explanatory product,” she noted. Shmulik agreed: “Sometimes success eludes innovators, because they spend too much time and resources trying to explain their vision or product to others…because it’s their baby!” That can make it difficult for them to listen to the advice or feedback of others. Thus, Shmulik said she often found it necessary to find ways to convince entrepreneurs that any changes made were “their idea.”

“Our company’s decision to call itself ‘Beyond Meat’ was actually quite clever,” noted Ajami, “because it is easy for consumers to understand.” It is also not a challenge to meat-eaters. “Our major target is carnivores, and our products are developed for that group.”

“Ultimately, it is the entrepreneur’s responsibility to educate the market on their product’s benefits,” concluded Seidensticker.

Keep it simple, in other words.

2018 PTT Biz/Innovative Challenger Brands Panel

This presentation was given at the 2018 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at

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