The evolution of better-for-you food and beverage consumption
Note from the editor
Few trends in the food and beverage category have shown to have the staying power as the consumption of better-for-you offerings. The purchase of healthier products was already gaining momentum before COVID-19, but the pandemic has only proven to be a catalyst for growth as people pay even more attention to what they put inside their bodies.
Americans increasingly have a wide range of options at their disposal to not only increase how much better-for-you food they consume but to minimize their intake of salt, fat and sugar-laden items. From portion control to plant-based foods and reduced sugar to immune-boosting ingredients, Americans can choose what works best for them when it comes to how they view what it means to be healthy.
Large food and beverage CPG companies, including PepsiCo and Danone, have taken notice and responded by rolling out new products or reformulating existing items already on store shelves to make them more attractive to consumers who have a bevy of choices available to them.
At a 2017 public hearing about the “healthy” label claim, several nutritionists, medical professionals, community advocates and food company execs made one thing clear: “Healthy” does not have one specific definition. When it comes to food, there are many facets that need to be considered about the product, its process, its ingredients and how it is meant to be consumed.
FDA’s long awaited definition of the term reflects that belief. The 105-page rule is an in-depth and nuanced look at different types of food and beverage and how they can meet the classification of “healthy.” This definition also pulls from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, using the research into what people should be eating in a more practical way.
“Claims like ‘healthy’ provide information to consumers that allow them to quickly identify foods that can be the foundation of a healthy dietary pattern,” the proposed rule states. “Thus, the goal of this rulemaking is to update the definition of “healthy” as an implied nutrient content claim in the labeling of human food to help ensure that consumers have access to more complete, accurate, and up-to-date information about those foods.”
The claim was published less than an hour before the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health began. In the Biden administration’s strategy, published earlier this week, updating this definition was one of the top priorities to empower consumers to make healthy choices.
This definition of healthy takes into consideration different aspects of the typical American diet, as well as the way that people tend to eat. As most people eat three meals and one snack, the definition considers four eating occasions per day. And it defines some products as intrinsically healthy — raw, whole fruits and vegetables and water. It also emphasizes some products with less fats, looking at skim and fat-free dairy products as “healthy,” as well as looking at eggs, seeds and nuts as “healthy.”
For packaged products, it’s less easy to be able to tell from the outside if a product is “healthy” under the new definition. An example given in an FDA press release says a serving of “healthy” cereal would have ¾ ounces of whole grains, no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars..
“Healthy” was first given a regulated definition in 1994, but it focused heavily on fat content. After FDA asked Kind to remove the “healthy” claim from its labels in 2015 because of fat content — which came from the nuts in the company’s bars — the company formally petitioned for an update to its regulations. Under the old definition of “healthy,” naturally occurring fat content would prevent nuts, salmon and avocado from bearing that label.
A bit of progress toward a definition was implied in March when FDA announced it would conduct consumer studies to find a regulated, voluntary front-of-pack symbol to denote a “healthy” product. When the department announced the forthcoming studies, it said the “healthy” symbol could be used for any item that met its current definition of the term, though it makes sense for the revamped definition to come out at the same time, since less-than-healthy products including sugary cereals and pudding cups met the former definition’s standard.
This definition isn’t set in stone just yet. FDA is looking for comments on some of the nuances, like whether the guidelines for dairy and eggs — which can be naturally higher in saturated fats — make sense, or whether fruit and vegetable powder can count in calculating food group equivalents. The comment period will be 90 days.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Save A Lot
Will 2023 be the year food plays a role in sustainability policy?
Policymakers are starting to connect the dots between the sector — which represents roughly a third of all emissions — and climate change. But traditional ideas about food are hard to change.
By: Megan Poinski• Published Jan. 31, 2023
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on the trends that will shape the food and beverage industry in 2023.
While the food system has always been a vital component of climate change, it’s largely been ignored in favor of attention to other sources, such as emissions from factories and vehicles. Until last year, that is.
The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly called COP27, featured the first-ever Food Systems Pavilion. And, for the first time, agriculture and food systems took the main stage in discussions about climate change.
Eat Just founder and CEO Josh Tetrick used that conference opportunity to make the case for food as a climate solution.
“You’re not going to solve climate change unless you talk about meat,” he said. “And I know it’s hard to talk about meat because it feels very sensitive when you talk about meat.
“It’s a lot more emotional than talking about not drilling for oil,” Tetrick said, “but you’ve got to talk about [meat] because something has to be done about it.”
Eat Just, which is the only company in the world with regulatory approval to serve cultivated meat, hosted a special tasting of its Good Meat chicken at COP27 last November in Egypt. For people who weren’t completely aware of the connection between animal agriculture and sustainability, Tetrick said the tasting helped them to connect the dots and see both the problem and a potential solution.
Cultivated meat is grown and harvested without traditional animal agriculture. A life cycle analysis of the cultivated meat industry by CE Delft, which was commissioned by the Good Food Institute and European animal rights group GAIA, cultivated meat could cause up to 92% less global warming, 93% less air pollution, use up to 95% less land and 78% less water, compared to conventional beef production.
However, just because the connection between food and sustainability is becoming more familiar to the public, doesn’t mean the problems are close to being solved, said Sheila Voss, vice president of communications at the Good Food Institute, an international organization that promotes the alternative protein space. After all, she said, about a third of all emissions can be attributed to food and agriculture, according to a UN-backed study published in Nature-Food in 2021.
“There’s a far way to go in terms of translating that momentum into actual policies, investments, governments investing in food and ag and alt protein R&D, as well as organizations really prioritizing the solutions of how food and ag can contribute to some of the world’s biggest issues and challenges,” Voss said.
Connecting the dots
Dhanush Dinesh, founder of “think-and-do tank” Clim-Eat, which uses science and policy to bring about policy changes in the food system, is well known for his activism. But he worked in energy and forestry policy before moving into food system advocacy.
“Many times, the pressure on forests is because of land expansion as a result of agriculture expansion,” Dinesh said. “I saw that from the forestry side, and I thought, ‘OK, I need to understand the other side to connect the dots.’”
Dinesh, who attended COP27, said more education is needed to help people understand the complex role that food plays in sustainability. Where do you start making changes? Where do you need to stop? How can you implement solutions that work worldwide with different cultures, behaviors and economic systems?
“It’s a lot more emotional than talking about not drilling for oil, but you’ve got to talk about [meat] because something has to be done about it.”
CEO, Eat Just
Eat Just’s Tetrick said that even among more educated urban and affluent consumers, there is still a low level of awareness about the connection between animal agriculture and the environment. Many people would say that animal agriculture isn’t great for the environment, but they may not know the basics of why.
“That doesn’t mean that they’re going to switch to something else, unless that something else ultimately is better in really important ways for their lives,” Tetrick said. “...And they believe it to be better from a health perspective or a taste perspective or a cost perspective or all three of them.”
While organizations and companies, including Eat Just, have worked to raise awareness of the food and sustainability connection, a major world event a year ago sharpened that focus across the world: The war in Ukraine.
The severe reduction in wheat and sunflower ingredients usually exported from Ukraine led to high prices and shortages around the globe, which in turn led more people to think about how the food system can be more sustainable and resilient, said Helena Wright, policy director at the FAIRR Initiative, an investor network focused on environmental, social and governance risks in the food sector.
“Investors are trying to reduce the risks through their whole portfolio, including the companies that they invest in, and that’s a really effective lever of change in terms of them being the shareholders of companies,” Wright said. “And then in some cases, we do see companies in the private sector getting ahead of regulation. They’re trying to get ahead of where policy is, where regulation might change in future. And a lot of companies are also global, so if a regulation or policy comes in one place, it will affect the company’s whole supply chain globally as well.”
Getting on the menu
Making a difference at COP27 wasn’t one of Clim-Eat’s policy objectives when the organization started about a year ago, Dinesh said. As he has seen for years, the huge international bureaucratic process tends to move slowly and isn’t always effective.
Dinesh started Clim-Eat as a result of his disappointment in outcomes for food sustainability policy and awareness at COP26 in 2021. The result, according to a recap from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, was an agreement on the need for a transition to more sustainable food systems – without any roadmap.
The COP27 presidency asked Clim-Eat for advisory assistance on the topics of food and agriculture, Dinesh said. Several other food organizations sought out Clim-Eat to convene a Food Systems Pavilion. Suddenly COP27 became the first of the large-scale international policymaking climate conferences in which the sustainability of the food system had a place in the spotlight.
“It’s been a big leap forward, I would say, in terms of putting food out there,” Dinesh said. “It's interesting, because I keep going into COPs, and there are some people working on food and we all know each other, you know, but this is a time when other sectors, other people, were thinking about food, and looking at food, and thinking about it as a sector which is important.”
Voss said the Good Food Institute also observed COP26 in 2021 and wondered why food did not play a more central role in the discussions or potential solutions. GFI joined the coalition of organizations co-hosting the food pavilion last year.
At COP27 and other global climate conferences, the consensus has been that countries around the world need to cut emissions in half by 2030. Voss said that there are some realities about the food system that seemed to resonate among conference delegates, such as choosing plant-based alternatives to animal food products could help reach those emissions targets within seven years.
COP27’s Food Systems Pavilion was located next to pavilions devoted to nature and water, Voss said. All three worked together to show how they were interconnected. For example, GFI partnered the Nature Conservancy and the World Resources Institute on panel discussions to show how they can work together to become a better sustainability solution. After all, Voss said, those traditional conservation groups are using the same statistics and have the same end goal as GFI.
“Investors are trying to reduce the risks through their whole portfolio, including the companies that they invest in, and that’s a really effective lever of change in terms of them being the shareholders of companies.”
Policy director, FAIRR Initiative
Besides Eat Just’s meat tasting, the Food Systems Pavilion also featured other companies demonstrating how the food system connects with sustainability. Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, co-founder and chief technical officer of cultivated wagyu beef company Orbillion Bio, participated in a panel discussion to talk about cultivated meat with Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia.
Levesque-Tremblay said that many people at COP27 seemed to know basic information about cultivated meat, such as what it is and the way it was created. “I was surprised how little they needed education on that. They knew,” he said. “What they wanted to know [was] what the relation is between food and climate. That was unclear for some.”
In Levesque-Tremblay’s panel, a lot of the questions came from people asking whether cultivated meat is targeting traditional farming. On the video, they appear somewhat hostile toward cultivated meat.
But Levesque-Tremblay said he didn’t take away any negativity about wagyu beef. Orbillion Bio positions itself as a more sustainable option to high-end beef, not an entity that will put the cattle industry out of business.
“I felt like people have so much curiosity towards it,” Levesque-Tremblay said. “And at the end of the day, food is a choice, right? You will always be able to eat whatever you want on the market if it's available.”
A personal politics ‘hot potato’
Jan Dutkiewicz, a policy fellow at Harvard Law School, said the scholarly research on the connections between food and sustainability in the last decade have made it impossible to keep this discussion off the table.
On a policy level, Dutkiewicz said, people have historically been reticent to engage with food. “People treat it as a bit of a hot potato,” he said. “You can acknowledge that it’s a problem, but then you want to pass it on, rather than dwell on it because it’s a politically unpopular thing to deal with.”
Dutkiewicz said it’s easy to point a finger at faceless entities that are seen as sustainability issues — oil companies, fracking operations, car companies — and say they are problematic. It’s also easy to look at Big Food and say companies are making choices that are detrimental.
“Drill down into the fact that we need major production level changes, that we may need dietary changes, or changes to what’s available on supermarket shelves or the choice architecture within institutional food settings, and so on and so forth,” Dutkiewicz said. “Once it gets personal, I think it starts being politically tricky.”
That makes it difficult to discuss, Dutkiewicz said. People essentially cast their vote for different ranges of food products three times a day. Food isn’t just about what people prefer; it comes with questions around health, the way it is produced and access.
“The more you’re talking about what people might perceive as personal sacrifice, the more difficult it gets — which is why, be it meat, or sugar or fat are so difficult to talk about, or legislate, or whatnot,” Dutkiewicz said.
Eat Just’s Tetrick said the company, which makes plant-based Just Egg, the top-selling egg substitute in the U.S., has done policy work behind the scenes for years to get around personal politics. The company, he said, welcomes leaders — governors, senators, department and ministry heads — to show not just what Eat Just can do in terms of food, but what the company can do for governments.
“I want a senator from X state to understand what making meat and eggs is, without requiring an animal,” he said. “How that actually can mean thousands, tens of thousands of jobs in their particular state.
“I want a minister or a prime minister of a country to understand that investing lots of energy in building a new meat infrastructure is good for food security,” Tetrick continued. “It’s really important to build that kind of resiliency. It’s a way to develop their economy.”
“The more you’re talking about what people might perceive as personal sacrifice, the more difficult it gets — which is why, be it meat, or sugar or fat are so difficult to talk about, or legislate, or whatnot.”
Policy fellow, Harvard Law School
Too often plant-based food is polarized in the political discussion as a radical leftist idea. But Just Egg is made in a factory in Appleton, Minnesota, located in a Republican district with residents who voted for Donald Trump for president.
They “don't really care about whether it’s a vegan egg or not,” Tetrick said. “They care [about] are we providing jobs? Are we providing equity or are we providing insurance? Are we bringing energy to the town? …If more and more alternative proteins from plant-based to cultivated can show those kinds of results, I think that really does help to activate policymakers, sometimes more than then than these other things.”
Taking the next step
While many participants at COP27 discussed the food system, Dutkiewicz said that food being “on the agenda” by itself doesn’t mean much. There were no sweeping policies or commitments that came out of the conference to make a big change.
“It’s more just that a lot of ideas got in front of people,” Dutkiewicz said. “And what’s done with that is unclear.”
The new spotlight on sustainability issues in food and beverage on its own can only do so much. The annual Coller FAIRR’s Protein Producer Index, released last month, showed the food system has a long way to go in terms of responding to sustainability issues.
Only 14% of the largest protein companies in the world are disclosing all of their emissions — from both animal and feed farming — and companies are unprepared to adapt to biodiversity targets. More than half of all companies — 55% — are ranked “high risk” in the index.
While these results are not necessarily promising, Wright said they have been getting better during the last five years FAIRR has produced the index report. She expects the results will continue to improve this year based on the larger focus on sustainability and several nations starting to call for emissions disclosures.
Israel’s government declared food tech with an emphasis on alternative proteins as one of its five national priorities. In the U.S., where government policy generally has stayed away from endorsing alternative proteins, President Biden signed an executive order last year making biotechnology a national priority in a variety of fields, including food.
“I think it’s also clear that it’s an all-hands-on-deck [issue],” Voss said. “It’s not going to be solved by one magic sector. It’s not gonna be solved by government, or just by private sector or just by the civil society. It has to be all those.”
Too often, Voss said, new technology and alternative proteins have been pitted against the incumbent industry. Instead the policy approach should be similar to how energy transition policy has been approached. Those who work in traditional food could become incentivized to become more sustainable in their practices — changing the crops they grow, learning more about technology to make protein production better for the environment, working toward creating more sustainable jobs in food production.
“That’s how GFI is trying to engage and trying to convene and trying to get policies that actually really help this transition in a really smart way,” Voss said.
Non-governmental policy groups, scientists, researchers and companies big and small that participate in the space also can help drive change. Dinesh said that is why there were more than 200 organizations at the Food Systems Pavilion at COP27: They all had potential solutions to parts of the larger problem.
"It’s an all-hands-on-deck [issue]. It’s not going to be solved by one magic sector. It’s not gonna be solved by government, or just by private sector or just by the civil society. It has to be all those.”
Vice president of communications, Good Food Institute
“That’s kind of showing that things can be done differently. We’re doing it,” Dinesh said. “From an advocacy perspective, it kind of changes your narrative, because if you just keep saying, ‘This is important,’ for the last 10 years, at some point, someone's asking, ‘But so what?’”
Last year, the Good Food Institute published a report looking at the state of national policies dealing with alternative proteins across the globe. The organization produced the report for information’s sake but also to stoke some competition, Voss said. If countries can see what others have done in a clear and concise report, it may spur them to do more in the name of global competitiveness and food security.
The international developments toward more alternative-protein-friendly policies and continued exposure for food and agriculture give Voss reason to be optimistic.
“I definitely think that the seeds that were planted — pun intended — in 2022, and even in the years leading up to that,” she said, “I think 2023 will absolutely see many of those seeds start to germinate and break through the surface.”
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Eat Just
Consumers want specific health and wellness benefits in their products in 2023, study finds
By: Megan Poinski• Published Dec. 5, 2022
Through its sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithm, Tastewise can capture a unique pulse of what consumers are interested in right now.
Instead of looking at data from the past, such as sales or surveys, the company takes insights from more than 22.5 billion social media interactions, more than 5 million online recipes and more than 4.5 million restaurant and delivery menus.
The trend of consumers looking for detailed functions in their food and beverages has been on Tastewise’s radar since earlier this year. According to the report, it’s no longer enough for products to be “healthy” or “functional.” Nearly one in five Americans (18%) name specific health benefits they want in their products.
Tastewise sees specific opportunities for companies to not only specialize in functionality added to food and drink, but to play up different functions consumed at various times of the day.
For example, shoppers are looking for options that give them energy in the morning and help them sleep after dinner time, the report says. Condiments and seasonings also are being looked at for their functional benefits, including the antioxidants in datil peppers and vetiver.
Even in energy drinks — a category defined by its function — Tastewise found consumers are looking for more specific health dimensions. Protein and brain function-boosting claims have grown by about a third in the last year, and claims of nootropic ingredients and nostalgic experiences are emerging, according to the study.
More consumers are specifically interested in food and drink to improve female health, with 37% more women looking to food and drink for health needs in 2022 than a year earlier, the study found. Much of this interest comes from women seeking menopause support, which saw interest surge 97% from a year ago. Flaxseed, which is considered especially beneficial to women’s health, was among the biggest beneficiaries, Tastewise found.
While many brands are looking to push sustainability, especially in the plant-based segment, Tastewise found personal health trumps planetary health.
According to the study, consumers talked about health 12 times more than sustainability when eating plant-based foods, and choose plant-based options for health reasons 16 times more often than the environment. However, Tastewise found interest is building in sustainable ingredients produced using practices such as regenerative farming.
If they position themselves as being better for health, that could spur more enthusiasm from consumers — something especially needed now since prices for plant-based products are still at a premium and inflation is causing consumers to be more cost-conscious. Beyond Meat is taking this path, recently partnering with the American Cancer Society on cancer prevention research.
Article top image credit: vgajic via Getty Images
US honey consumption soars to all-time high amid better-for-you trend
By: Christopher Doering• Published Aug. 18, 2022
U.S. honey consumption reached a new record of 618 million pounds in 2021, up 8% from the previous year and topping the previous high of 596 million pounds four years earlier, according to the USDA.
At the same time, U.S. honey production last year totaled 126 million pounds, down 14% from 2020 and the lowest since 1991, mostly due to lower yield per colony, the government found.
The surge in honey demand comes as the sweetener has benefited from its association as a natural ingredient, along with its perception as a healthier sugar substitute rich in antioxidants that also may help lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
As consumers keep a closer watch on what they eat and drink, it stands to reason that ingredients like honey with a better-for-you halo are going to see demand swell.
Honey consumption as recently as 2010 was just above 1.25 pounds per capita, but since then it has trended upward — posting solid growth in 2020 and 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic provided an impetus for healthier eating for more people. Last year, the average person consumed more than 1.75 pounds of the sweetener, the USDA report showed.
With demand skyrocketing, the U.S. has had to look elsewhere for honey. The gap has been bridged through imports that accounted for nearly three-quarters of total U.S. honey supplies in 2021, up from 27% in 1991.
Due to its rising popularity, some food companies have been looking for ways to incorporate it into more of their products.
Bees have been disappearing at an alarming rate due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Other environmental factors such as climate change and the application of pesticides, meant for other, less helpful insects, have also impacted the pollinators.
If honey consumption continues to rise as expected while supply struggles to keep pace, it could provide additional momentum for making the product in more sustainable ways without bees.
MeliBio, which raised $5.7 million last year to fund its growth, is among the upstarts looking to make honey in the lab. The California-based food tech company uses plant science and precision fermentation — a process using nature and natural organisms, like yeast, as factories for growing ingredients — to produce its honey.
Article top image credit: Sean Gallup via Getty Images
Biden administration releases strategy to end hunger and increase dietary and physical health by 2030
By: Megan Poinski• Published Sept. 27, 2022
While food security, nutritional quality, clear labeling and access to healthy food is of central importance to the well-being of each individual, initiatives about food often get lost when it comes to setting policy. Biden is the first president since Richard Nixon to convene this type of gathering of leaders from government, science, consumer advocacy, the private sector and philanthropy to discuss the issues at hand.
There are many policy solutions in Biden’s proposal that are about access to healthy food, including increasing access to free school meals, making changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and working with government departments to improve physical access to grocery stores.
But there are also several that could directly impact CPG companies. These include creating a front-of-pack labeling system that can help consumers quickly see the nutritional standards of a product. This type of system, which has been implemented in other countries and has been proposed for years by consumer advocacy groups, goes beyond nutritional data information and could include traffic lights or stars to show consumers a product’s health quality. Studies have shown this kind of labeling is the most effective in communicating nutritional information.
A similar planned initiative would make nutritional information more available to consumers when they shop for groceries online. The strategy calls for a request for information to gather information on what is done now and where the challenges are.
The administration’s proposal is also targeting two ingredients that can be problematic: salt and sugar. It calls for taking another look at the voluntary salt reduction guidelines that were issued last year, and consider potentially instituting similar sugar reduction guidelines. While the revamped Nutrition Facts label places more attention on the amount of sugar in a product — especially added sugars — voluntary guidelines may further reduce how much sugar is added to products. The strategy suggests a future public meeting for stakeholders to discuss the issue.
A lot of the plans listed in the strategy, ranging from new labeling guidelines to increasing access to nutrition-related healthcare, are not quick fixes. Administration officials said on a background telephone call that the strategy does not have a timeline to complete these initiatives, but they want to work on them soon.
One that was specifically listed in the strategy could happen soon: ensuring the federal government’s definition of “healthy” matches with nutritional research and standards. The federal government has actively worked on this issue since 2016, collecting more than 1,100 comments on a Federal Register docket and holding a daylong public hearing in 2017 to hear from stakeholders. A notice published last week by the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs indicated the regulatory review on this matter was finished.
Article top image credit: Win McNamee via Getty Images
How Bonumose’s new tagatose facility moves better-for-you sweeteners forward
The Virginia plant producing the rare sugar officially opened this month, making a supply of the healthier stand-in for sucrose available for manufacturers.
By: Megan Poinski• Published March 9, 2023
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — There was no ribbon to cut, but Bonumose CEO Ed Rogers and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin officially opened the company’s new manufacturing and R&D facility with something sweet.
A barrel of the rare sugar tagatose, which Bonumose is now producing in large quantities, was at the front of a conference room, where the announcement was made, with a gigantic spoon next to it.
“We’ll take the first spoonful,” Rogers said, as he and Youngkin dipped into the barrel, scooped out the tagatose, and dropped it back in as the room of guests applauded.
The sweetener was white and crystalline, much like the sugar Bonumose is hoping to start replacing, both as an ingredient used by manufacturers and as a sweetener consumers use to improve the taste of their beverages and for home baking.
Bonumose is on its way to building up its supply of the rare sugar and getting it to manufacturers. Although the $27.7 million, 50,000 square foot facility had its official opening ceremony on March 2, Rogers said the plant has actually been in operation since December. It’s currently operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said, and production is ramping up to full capacity.
ASR Group, which is the world’s largest refiner and marketer of cane sugar, was a key investor in Bonumose and is currently selling its tagatose to manufacturers. James Kappas, ASR’s vice president of specialty ingredients, said interest in tagatose has so far been deep and widespread, coming from a variety of different types of product manufacturers.
Hershey was also a key investor to help Bonumose build out its plant. In 2021, the confectioner unveiled a detailed strategy to offer more better-for-you candy options and grow in the space. Part of this commitment was co-leading Bonumose’s funding round that allowed it to build out the new facility, which company leaders have written can advance its work with rare sugars.
With Bonumose’s manufacturing facility in operation and influential people in the food industry spreading the word about tagatose, Rogers said the future is bright for the sweetener.
“It works in everything, and it's got this great flavor to it,” Rogers said. “And then it's functional. One of the things that the sugar guys say is that it works more like sugar than any other alternatives.”
What is tagatose?
Tagatose is found in small quantities in nature, making it a natural — but rare — sweetener. It naturally occurs in some fruits, including apples and oranges, and in some dairy products.
Structurally, it’s a lot like sucrose. It can be used in a variety of applications, from baking to ice cream to confectionery to sweetening beverages. It’s also 90% as sweet as sugar, meaning a similar amount can be used in recipes.
Tagatose differs from sucrose in important ways. It has fewer calories — 1.5 calories per gram of tagatose, versus four calories per gram of sugar.
Bonumose uses enzymes to convert other more plentiful ingredients into tagatose. On the day of the opening, the company was using maltodextrin from cornstarch to make the sweetener, but Tal Elseth, Bonumose’s engineering manager who led tours of the manufacturing facility, said that they could also operate with pea or potato starch.
In remarks at the facility opening, Rogers said Bonumose can enable healthier and affordable food that tastes as good as products consumers love today. It’s a pressing need, he said. The global market value of the food system has been estimated at $9 trillion, while a decade-old estimate of the amount spent on diet-related diseases is $11 trillion. Rogers said the cost differential is astonishing; food is making people sick.
Because the Bonumose facility is close to Thomas Jefferson’s famed home of Monticello, Rogers borrowed from the third president and primary Declaration of Independence author’s famous writings, declaring truths the company holds to be self-evident. People will eat healthier food when it tastes as good as the items they love. Less spending on diet-related health care will lead to lower prices on everything across the globe. And people will be happier and more productive if they aren’t battling diet-related illnesses.
“This is our purpose,” he said. “This is what drives us forward, and in a time when there are wars and rumors of wars, and pandemics and panics, we hope this is good news.”
How the tagatose is made
A loud hum of machinery fills the air in the part of Bonumose’s facility where the tagatose is made. It’s full of massive tanks and machines that convert the maltodextrin into tagatose, then purify and crystalize the rare sugar into a form in which it can be used.
Shouting above the noises, Elseth said on a tour that the plant will make about three metric tons of tagatose each day — about 6,615 pounds — when it is running at full capacity.
From an equipment standpoint, Rogers said the facility is similar to that of a plant making high fructose corn syrup. The choice of this kind of equipment was deliberate.
“We think that will help us scale because it's not like we have to invent a whole supply chain,” Rogers said.
The facility had been a paper warehouse, which Bonumose gutted and rebuilt to accommodate its technology and meet food manufacturing requirements.
The action begins in massive mixing tanks, where the maltodextrin is combined with water. Elseth said it moves to other equipment, where it is pasteurized and spun in a centrifuge to remove impurities.
Next, the starch moves to the tanks where Bonumose’s technology converts it into tagatose. It goes into the top as a starchy solution, Elseth said, and it passes through beads imbued with Bonumose’s enzymes. By the time the solution works its way to the bottom, what comes out is a watery tagatose solution.
From there, the tagatose solution gets purified. It passes through a fine filter that catches any impurities. It goes through a tank that acts similar to a water softener, attracting any charged particles.
The next stop is an evaporator, where the extra water is removed. Elseth said that Bonumose captures the water that is evaporated out of the tagatose solution, and it’s reused at the beginning of the process, when water is added to maltodextrin.
Even more purification comes next. Any non-tagatose sugars that were made through the enzymatic process are removed, so the substance that remains is 100% tagatose. And then it’s heated, crystalized and dried, making a finished product that can be used in the same ways as sugar.
When the facility is running at capacity, Elseth said it will take about five days for maltodextrin to make the full journey through the equipment to come out as tagatose crystals at the end.
Things are getting sweeter
Hershey has been one of Bonumose’s big backers, co-leading the funding round that made the plant possible. Jordana Swank, director of technology development and futures R&D for Hershey, said that the company has been excited to partner with Bonumose.
“We've seen this investment as an opportunity to enable rare sugars to have both more accessibility and more affordability for consumers so they have better-for-you choices and snacks,” she said at the facility opening.
Hershey has not committed to making a tagatose-sweetened chocolate, but Swank said that the company is invested in its better-for-you platform, and will continue to focus there.
Kappas, who will be showcasing Bonumose’s tagatose offerings at Natural Products Expo West this week, said the interest level in the sweetener will likely climb as companies and investors in the trendy foods space have the chance to learn about the sweetener. ASR will be offering people at the convention samples of vegan cookies made with 50% tagatose and 50% sugar — similar to the 50-50 tagatose and sugar cookies given out at Bonumose’s facility opening — to demonstrate how well the sweetener works.
ASR plans to position tagatose as an alternative sweetener for all needs, Kappas said. It can be used with sugar or another sweetener, or it can be used on its own.
Rogers said that Bonumose also plans to make a consumer-facing tagatose brand — both in small packets for sweetening beverages in foodservice outlets and coffee stations, and available to consumers for home use in larger quantities. This brand will be 100% tagatose and is likely to enter the market later this year, Rogers said. He added it will play an important role in consumer acceptance.
“When they taste it in its pure form — just like the way we make it, not blended with anything —l they will, I think, draw the conclusion that, ‘Wow, this tastes a lot like regular sugar,’” Rogers said. “They can bake with it, use it in coffee, cereal, etc.
“And so we think that'll be a way for us to show we've got nothing to hide,” he continued. “You can be good with this, and we think that will make it more comfortable for consumers when they see it on an ingredients list.”
The biggest impediment to widespread adoption of tagatose at this point is the FDA’s ruling last year that it must be classified on ingredient labels as an “Added Sugar.” The rare sugar allulose, which has only 0.4 calories per gram, has been exempted from that designation, but tagatose has not because FDA has said its caloric load is significantly larger.
Rogers said Bonumose is working with the FDA to overturn that decision based on the many more positive qualities of tagatose. Swank said that Hershey will continue to work with FDA to encourage label exemptions for sweeteners, which could help consumers make better food choices.
Kappas said ASR is also advocating for FDA to take another look at the ruling, but it’s been a huge issue for potential tagatose customers. Some are confident the ruling will be overturned and are already reformulating products. Some want a final ruling from FDA before committing to use it. And others are moving forward, planning to play up other strengths of tagatose on labeling, like the fact that it is keto-friendly.
ASR is predicting that tagatose will be widely used, Kappas said. They are already planning to work with Bonumose on a second plant to make the sweetener, which Kappas said could be online late next year. Increasing the scale of tagatose — and also potentially adding a line that can use enzymes to convert starches into allulose, which Bonumose has also been working on — can decrease the price and have positive public health benefits down the road.
“One of the things that's a big appeal to us and to the market is that tagatose has broad appeal across all of those sectors,” Kappas said. “And a lot of that is because of, I’ll call it the functionality. The fact that it flows and handles and tastes like sugar.”
Article top image credit: Megan Poinski/Food Dive
Tea gets a wellness boost as Hain, Twinings aim to wake up the category
While sales in the segment have been largely flat to down in recent years, more consumers are turning to offerings with attributes like probiotics, relaxation, energy and immune support.
By: Christopher Doering• Published March 1, 2022
As executives at Hain Celestial traversed parts of the U.S. talking to shoppers about tea in 2018, they quickly realized their understanding of who was consuming the beverage needed to evolve.
Following a national tour spanning four different markets, the organic and natural products company observed that the drink had caught on with fresh-out-of-college, young adults who would have seemed more likely to settle down with a beer and plate of chicken wings in the evening than a hot cup of its calming Sleepytime tea.
Dubbed internally as the "Sleepytime bros," the discovery prompted Hain Celestial to expand its marketing of the brand to younger consumers while accelerating the expansion of a newer line of wellness teas to keep people in the category as they age. More than four in five consumers drink tea, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Among all age groups, millennials are the most likely to drink tea, with 87% consuming it.
"It was absolutely part of the inspiration [for the new teas] and it kind of made us believers in addressing this demographic with a benefit-forward platform," said Tim Collins, the general manager of Hain's Celestial Seasonings, the New York company's tea business. "We really started to see the opportunity ... that maybe we didn't realize prior."
Celestial Seasonings has been in the tea business for more than 50 years, carving out a powerful franchise with its Sleepytime brand built on herbs, teas, spices and botanicals, including chamomile, spearmint and lemongrass.
But as consumers started searching for teas with more health benefits, Celestial Seasonings launched its Tea Well line in 2019 before expanding it two years later by adding varieties such as Mood Tonic, Sleep with melatonin, and Gut Health, which features a blend of prebiotics, probiotics and fiber.
"The everyday black and green or matcha tea, they will be staples, they will be core. But the expansion is really coming from SKUs that have benefits to them, specifically to the unique need states that someone is looking for."
Wellness has provided a much-needed boost for a category in need of refreshment. Packaged tea sales have been flat or trending downward in recent years, with the exception of a sharp spike in 2020, according to NielsenIQ data, as more people stayed at home drinking tea and kept a closer watch on their health during the pandemic. U.S. packaged tea sales resumed their downward slide last year, dropping 4.8% in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 29, 2022.
As people curtail their intake of sugary sodas and juices while boosting consumption of more functional offerings, wellness teas with attributes like probiotics, relaxation, energy and immune support have grown in popularity. Celestial Seasonings, Twinings and other tea makers have taken notice.
Packaged teas with probiotics, for example, have risen each of the last four years to nearly $29 million for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 29, 2022. Those with immune health benefits have jumped for three consecutive years to just under $34 million during the same period, NielsenIQ data showed.
Executives poured over marketing data and conducted in-store shopping trips with customers. The company also used virtual reality to watch how people shopped, studying their movements and eye patterns: Did they spend time scanning shelves or did they grab a tea and leave because the selection was too overwhelming? And when they did buy a tea, were they content grabbing a standard variety or did they want something that provided them with a specific benefit?
Collins noted of the 100 best-selling SKUs in tea before the pandemic, fewer than five were launched in the prior eight years. The problem, he said, was that shelves were crowded with brands offering consumers many of the same attributes and flavors; there was little being done to differentiate one brand from another. Most people, unless they were diehard tea drinkers, would quickly grab a box and move on with their shopping.
The company quickly spotted an opportunity. By convincing retailers to reduce the number of the same tea flavor they carried on shelves, it could fill those slots with SKUs that attract new shoppers to the category or increase usage occasions among existing consumers — bringing growth to the broader tea segment as a whole.
"The everyday black and green or matcha tea, they will be staples, they will be core," said Chris Boever, Hain Celestial's chief commercial officer. "But the expansion is really coming from SKUs that have benefits to them, specifically to the unique need states that someone is looking for."
Tea manufacturers are optimistic these trends could provide a meaningful tailwind in growing the category.
The U.S. is a small consumer of tea per capita in the world compared to other countries. It not only trails global heavyweights like Turkey, Ireland and the United Kingdom, but Americans drink 50% less of it than people in Canada. With its inherent health halo and the rollout of more functional varieties, manufacturers hope that U.S. shoppers will naturally gravitate to tea.
Few brands have become as synonymous with tea as Twinings, the 316-year-old company known for its black, Earl Grey and English Breakfast varieties. As interest in functional teas increased, Twinings watched as consumers would buy one of its black teas, for example, and then turn to another brand for their wellbeing needs. Executives decided they had to find a way to keep the customer within the company's portfolio of brands, and they were confident Twinings could tap into its experience with teas and herbals to do it.
Admittedly late to the game, Twinings debuted its own line of wellness teas in 2018 that Mike Currie, vice president of marketing for the company in North America, conceded it wasn't unique or different enough from other offerings already available. The new teas, marketed under the Twinings banner, did little to establish it as a formidable player in the better-for-you space.
"We're not going to succeed unless we go all-in on this," he said. "We learned we can't just come out with something that's a 'me too.' "
This time around, Twinings not only touted the basic function of the teas but included "boosts" like vitamins, adaptogens and flavorings to differentiate the brand from the organic and natural manufacturers who are reluctant to include anything in their products unless it came from plants, Currie said. So far, the Superblends appear to be resonating with consumers. The brand has been growing on average 31.2% month-over-month since September and is on track to reach internal sales targets, according to the company.
"We really need to bring something new to the category just to get people to try it," Currie said. "That's going to be where we win in the future, just being able to combine the best of nature and Mother Earth and the best of what man can deliver in terms of flavors and functional benefits."
Article top image credit: Permission granted by Hain Celestial
Impossible Foods launches a healthier version of its signature plant-based beef
By: Megan Poinski• Published March 9, 2023
Impossible Foods is launching a leaner version of its signature plant-based beef. Impossible Beef Lite has less fat — 75% less saturated fat and 45% less total fat than 90/10 lean beef from cows — as well as 21 grams of protein and 33% less sodium than a competitor’s product.
The company says the new product isn’t a reformulation. It was designed specifically as its own product, using many of the same ingredients and processes as the main Impossible Beef product, but in a leaner form. It’s currently available in the fresh meat aisle of some retailers and will be sold nationwide in coming weeks.
This is the latest product offering for Impossible Foods, which has worked to get its products to be at least as healthy as the meat it is intended to replace. The last major reformulation, which made its plant-based ground beef have a nutritional value closer to — or better than — animal-derived 80/20 beef, came last August.
Plant-based meat carries a bright health halo. In a 2021 study from the International Food Information Council, 39% of consumers said healthfulness was their top reason for wanting to eat plant-based products. And even though a recent research review found that plant-based products truly are healthier for consumers, it’s still a rather challenging mix when confronted with options. Plant-based meat can still have a lot of fat and sodium, which health conscious consumers may be trying to avoid.
Impossible’s new product tries to cut through the confusion by presenting an option that clearly has less of the unfavorable nutrients. Compared to the main version of its beef, Impossible Beef Lite has fewer calories, less fat and sodium and more protein. A four-ounce serving of Impossible Beef Lite has 180 calories, six grams of total fats, and 21 grams of protein. The same serving of 90/10 ground beef has 199 calories, 11 grams of total fats, and 23 grams of protein. Impossible still has more sodium — 260 milligrams versus 75 milligrams in beef — but that’s still less than the 370 milligrams of sodium in the main version of Impossible Beef.
Just as leaner ground beef is more expensive, Impossible Beef Lite will cost more than its main version. The recommended price for a 12-ounce package of Impossible’s new product is $8.99, the company said.
While the new product represents a significant nutritional improvement, an Impossible Foods spokesperson said it was designed to supplement the company’s product line. Just as ground beef with different fat contents is available for consumers who are looking for different nutritional and functional aspects, Impossible is doing the same with its plant-based meat.
The company says that Impossible Beef Lite still looks, cooks and tastes like its main products, but it’s unknown whether consumers will agree. The dry texture of some plant-based meats has been a stumbling block for consumers, and it will be interesting to see if Impossible Foods has been able to both reduce its fats and keep its product juicy. Some ingredients in plant-based meats also carry strong tastes of their own, which is a reason many products have higher sodium contents. Consumers may not react well if less sodium means more of a bitter or protein-tinged taste in Impossible Beef Lite.
The new launch is a significant step forward for Impossible Foods, and it could be a very welcome one as sales in plant-based meat as a whole stagnate. Its rival Beyond Meat is also working to position itself as a healthier alternative to boost sales. Impossible Foods does not have to report sales figures as a private company, but the company says it had more than 50% retail dollar sales growth last year. Still, products that both have the halo of plant-based meat and Nutrition Facts panels to back it up can lead to more growth.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Impossible Foods
Inside the latest "better-for-you" food trends
Few trends in the food and beverage category have shown to have the staying power as the consumption of better-for-you offerings. Large food and beverage CPG companies have taken notice and responded by rolling out new products or reformulating existing items to make them more attractive to consumers who have a bevy of choices available to them.
included in this trendline
‘Healthy’ gets a new definition from FDA
Will 2023 be the year food plays a role in sustainability policy?
Impossible Foods launches a healthier version of its signature plant-based beef
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.