Ulrick & Short scores with sweet potato starch

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

The first functional clean-label starch from sweet potato will be available in commercial quantities later this year.

This will be cheaper than waxy maize starch and was also non genetically modified (GM) – a key factor for buyers in Europe, said Ulrick & Short, which is developing the product with partners in Brazil.

Speaking to Foodmanufacture.co.uk at the Foodex exhibition in Birmingham, Ulrick & Short director Adrian Short said: “If you are using maize starch, it is increasingly hard to secure non-GM product, so people are looking for alternative sources with the same or superior functionality. Sweet potato starch is very smooth, with lots of body, and really lends itself to added value soups, sauces and ready meals.”

The first crop of sweet potato for the starch would be harvested in Brazil this year, with the first products available by October, said Short. “The crop will be processed at source by our partner in the same facility that we use to process tapioca​.”

He added: “I’m not aware of anyone else doing this commercially, or certainly not clean-label functional sweet potato starch that is fully freeze/thaw stable​.” While it would be more expensive than standard potato starch, which was produced by firms such as Avebe, it had different properties, said Short. “It’s for added value products​.”

Asda goes back to modified starch on value lines

While the recession had dented some buyers’ enthusiasm for clean-label, with Asda switching back to modified starch in some value own-label recipes this year, the momentum behind cleaner labels and ‘store cupboard ingredients’ was unstoppable, said Short. “We’ve been growing at around 18% this year and that’s all from clean-label ingredients.”

There was also a hierarchy within clean labelling with some customers keen to avoid using the word ‘starch’ completely, and on the look-out for ingredients that would enable them to use the declaration ‘flour’ instead, he said.

Although priorities had changed during the recession as retailers focused more on value own-label ranges, their focus had returned to premium in recent months with several new launches in the pipeline, said Short.

Fat reduction was also a priority for many manufacturers and retailers, he added. However, firms were not necessarily looking to promote the products as ‘low fat’ or ‘reduced fat’, as these claims were not as popular with consumers as they were a couple of years ago. The motivation might instead be to improve the nutritional profiles of products in order to move from a red to amber light in front-of-pack labelling, he noted.

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