Where slimmers fear to tread

By Michelle Knott

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fat content, Nutrition, Sugar

Where slimmers fear to tread
Most people want to lose weight, reports Michelle Knott, but they refuse to compromise on taste when buying treats such as bakery products

Around a third of British adults are trying to slim at any one time, according to research by Mintel. And almost seven out of 10 people say concern about their health is the most pressing reason for shedding a few pounds. Even so, most consumers still want a treat so this paradox continues to drive the trend towards healthier products in areas where dieters may previously have feared to tread. And this includes the bakery and confectionery markets.

"People are working long hours so they want to treat themselves with something indulgent," says Denis Sweeney, bakery solutions general manager for ingredients supplier MacPhie. "They're looking hard at labels for things that can improve their health, but they also want a treat."

According to Sweeney, more than 70% of product development briefs he is working on for clients aim to make products healthier. He said: "We have 10% of our staff working in development and we're doing a lot. We have a couple of products currently going through the trademark registration process in the low-fat area that you wouldn't believe were low fat. We're also looking at products to aid digestive health and to help with long-term weight management." But, he adds, the overriding consideration must be quality. "We want to have our cake and eat it," he says. "People are not willing to compromise."

It's all about high quality products

Maggie Dagostino, marketing director at Dawn Foods, believes that clean-label initiatives are being driven, to a large extent, by retailers, rather than consumers. The removal of hydrogenated fats is a good example. "We've removed hydrogenated fats but it's not really a consumer issue yet. They're buying bakery products to indulge themselves. People don't need to eat them, so they're less concerned at that point about health," she says.

"The real growth is not in very low-fat products but in making standard products healthier without compromising on quality," says Adrian Short, director at Ulrick & Short. "They'll choose a healthy option once but they won't buy it again if it means they have to compromise on taste or quality. If they have to compromise they won't buy anything."

Ulrick & Short specialises in clean-label ingredients. The company's tapioca-based Delyte 5 fat replacer is used in baked goods such as muffins. A year after its launch, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco are stocking cakes that contain it. "Our product has around 10% of the calories of the equivalent fat and we can reduce the fat content of cakes and muffins by up to 50% without people being able to tell," says Short.

Now the company is trialling the complementary, Delyte 6, which can replace butter in fillings such as buttercream and ganache. "We were getting the fat content down in the cakes but we wanted to get it down in the fillings as well," says Short. As well as reducing the fat content, Delyte 6 can deliver cost savings of around £1,000 for every tonne of butter it replaces. "In a large plant bakery this can easily add up to £200,000 a year," he says. In the area of sugar reduction, fibre-based inulin and oligofructose have been the success story of the decade, partly because they offer great labelling opportunities and partly because they can perform some of the bulk ingredient functions that intensive artificial sweeteners can't. "We've seen double digit growth for several consecutive years," says Tim van der Schraelen, global communications manager for Belgian company Orafti, which makes inulin and oligofructose-based ingredients derived from chicory roots.

Critical sugar content

The latest product in the range is Beneo LGI - an inulin that contains just 3% free sugars. Although most of the sugars in inulin are locked up in chains anywhere between two and 60 units long, the standard product still contains between eight and 10% free sugar. "The LGI product is interesting for applications that are critical in terms of sugar content. It may make the difference between being able to make a low-sugar claim or not," says van der Schraelen.

Both inulin and oligofructose are made from chains of glucose and fructose, with oligofructose much shorter and sweeter tasting than inulin. For this reason inulin, in particular, is often used together with sweeteners, such as polyols. Clinical studies have shown that the ingredients add dietary fibre, act as probiotics, and even help with calcium absorption.

According to van der Shraelen, over the past 10 years there has been a shift in the way food companies are approaching fibre-based products: "In the beginning, the field of application was mainly technical. Manufacturers wanted to replace sugar and fat and the visibility of inulin for consumers was not high. Now the science has been increasing and manufacturers can use inulin to make more and more nutrient claims."

While sugar and fat replacement may be an obvious lure in the hunt for health conscious consumers, Alleggra Foods is seeking to replace the use of liquid egg in baked goods with its range of soya-based functional alternatives. Its latest development is a "super-concentrate" premix, which was tested with key customers towards the end of last year and which has now been on the market for around four months.

The cake and muffin premix contains everything for the recipe, apart from the bulk ingredients (sugar, flour, water and oil). This enables bakers to source their own bulk ingredients in a more cost-effective way. "The main reasons for using Alleggra are cost control and reduction and nutritional benefits," says general sales manager Richard Burrell. "Taking liquid egg handling out of the bakery is also a huge benefit from the point of view of health and hygiene."

Calories - and costs - reduced

Alleggra contains around 17% fewer calories, 24-25% less total fat and 65% less saturated fat than egg. Cost savings range between 10 and 20% for the overall cake batter.

As a company, Alleggra Foods originally sprang from a project at Unilever. In 2004 the management team bought the technology and now operates as a separate company which has the backing of Unilever and Tate & Lyle. Alleggra-based products are already on sale in Asda, Tesco, Somerfield and Aldi.

Grantham-based Fenside Cottage Bakeries has been an enthusiastic early adopter of the new premix version and uses the super-concentrate in its egg-based cakes, muffins, snacks and tray-bakes. Fenside supplies most of its products to customers such as hospitals, residential homes and schools. "All the lines have been highly successful," says Chris Pack, director at Fenside. "Plus, we have been able to make significant cost savings by buying in the remaining ingredients for make-up at commodities prices."

Burrell admits that Alleggra is unlikely to help reduce the number of ingredients in most recipes, but claims this minor Achilles heel is outweighed by its benefits. He says: "In most cases using it would add one or two ingredients to the list, but there are no weird chemicals. Most of Alleggra's component parts, such as vegetable oil or whey protein, are usually present elsewhere in the recipe."

Egg is probably the most unexpected ingredient in some versions of Alleggra. "In certain functions, such as cake batters, the formulation includes egg white to help the product foam. So it's a functional alternative to egg but not egg-free," he says.

Partners in the development process

Overcoming the technical problems posed by demands for clean-label products is a big challenge and bakers are turning increasingly to premixes and ready-to-bake products for help. "It's a huge challenge meeting these demands and keeping quality up. But, as an industry, we need to do that," says Sweeney.

Premix manufacturers see themselves as partners in the development process. "We work with bakers to develop bespoke solutions that help them meet retailers' brand standards," says Ivor McKane, business unit director for artisan at Bakemark.

Suppliers such as Bakemark, MacPhie and Dawn Foods are working to reduce unwanted ingredients - all three companies have eliminated hydrogenated fats from their UK ranges and are working hard to reduce sodium.

According to McKane, the rise in premixes is also a response to the wider trend towards de-skilling. "People are working to take out the complexity from the process."

"De-skilling is happening right across the industry, regardless of the size of the company," agrees Dagostino. "We are trying to make our products as tolerant and easy to use as possible in order to achieve greater consistency." FM

Key Contacts

  • Alleggra Foods 0845 458268
  • Bakemark 0151 343 1600
  • Dawn Foods 01386 41241
  • MacPhie of Glenbervie 0800 085 9800
  • Orafti 00 32 16 801 301
  • Ulrick & Short 01977 620011

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