Tackling a tragedy

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sugar

Beneo boss Matthias Moser is on a mission
Beneo boss Matthias Moser is on a mission
New Beneo boss insists good nutrition starts from birth, reports Gary Scattergood

Even for someone producing functional ingredients, new Beneo chief executive Dr Matthias Moser is particularly forthright when assessing the state of public health in the west.

It is, he says, nothing less than a "tragedy"​ that obesity has become an "epidemic".

"When you look into some of the facts and the figures, they are almost unbelievable,"​ he states, before reeling off a list of statistics.

"Obesity has today reached the dimension of an epidemic with more than 1.6bn people being overweight – and this is only going to continue.

"By 2015, 2.3bn humans are expected to be in this category. By 2030 it is forecast that 60% of the world's population will be overweight or obese,"​ he continues.

What's more, in his opinion, the industry has not done enough to enable consumers to make the right nutritional choices.

"This is a tragedy. I can only repeat that because, despite a basic understanding of what you eat and drink​ [being important] and the long-term implications it can have on health, it is still very difficult for consumers to make the right choices with regard to nutrition,"​ he maintains.

Moser, who worked for Beneo's parent company Sudzucker for the past 13 years before becoming chief executive in March, says it is his mission to improve public nutrition and health by "allowing producers to modify, adapt and improve their products in a more balanced way"​ with Beneo's range of chicory and rice derivatives and sugar replacers.

And the best time to start, he says, is from birth.

Beneo has had considerable success in recent years, by both filling the fibre gap – something Moser says is now recognised as being one of the major health concerns in the western diet today – and managing levels of blood glucose.

The firm produces inulin and oligofructose from chicory roots, which are used to boost fibre levels and improve digestive health in everything from dairy products to bakery goods.

"The fantastic story for us though,"​ adds Moser, "is its use in baby formulas and foods.

"This enables the baby's gut, the microbiota, to turn into a very similar composition to that of breast-fed babies,"​ he says.

"Also, when we think of the other end of the lifespan, at that young stage you can make a very big difference. It is very well known that the first month of providing nutrition of babies really has a massive impact on their lifestyle and eating style for the rest of their lives."

Fibre driver

For other stages of life, it would appear that consumers are increasingly aware of the need for more fibre. A study commissioned by the company last summer among 4,000 people in the UK, Germany, Poland and Spain showed that fibre intake was considered key by 62% of respondents, higher than the 56% who felt that calorie reduction was important.

"This understanding is still growing and we are ideally positioned for this with our products,"​ Moser adds.

When it comes to managing levels of blood glucose, Moser takes a robust approach to what he believes are the food industry's shortcomings.

"One area we have identified as crucial and one where we think the industry has to do more – and in fact has a duty to improve – is in​ [blood glucose management],"​ he insists.

Again, he says, improvements in this area need to be available from birth, pointing to Beneo's novel low glycaemic index carbohydrate Palatinose, which is derived from sucrose and occurs in natural sources like honey.

"Baby and infant products frequently contain ingredients that are sources of glucose, which very quickly challenge your insulin system. Blood glucose levels really peak and the body has to react to get it back down to normal. This can happen four or five times today, it really is a blood glucose rollercoaster,"​ he says.

Palatinose, on the other hand he says, releases glucose very slowly in a balanced way, providing the type of steady supply likely to play a crucial role in preventing diseases such as Type-2 diabetes.

While the infant market is a key area for Beneo – and one that Moser is clearly passionate about – he states the success of the company depends on continuing to think in terms of a healthy, whole lifespan.

That's why the company has been heavily targeting the snacking and confectionery sectors – both with inulin to increase fibre and sugar replacer Isomalt.

In Moser's opinion, if you can't stop people snacking, you've got to help them snack more healthily.

"This is very important to us because we are convinced that it makes no sense to educate the consumer to behave completely differently than he does today. People will always snack and snacking is very enjoyable. For some people, life without sweets or savoury snacks is unimaginable,"​ he says.

Inulin fibres not only improve digestive health, he adds, but also have either a neutral or sweet taste.

"We believe that with the right choice of ingredients you can still do a lot to create more balanced snacks and avoid the disadvantages or negative impacts normally associated with more heavy snacking,"​ he adds.

Positive opinion

For candy, Isomalt is the only sugar replacer made from pure beet sugar, enabling manufacturers to replace large amounts of sucrose.

In addition to having a low glycaemic index, it also has a positive European Food Safety Authority opinion for being tooth friendly.

"That was a major driver for us, but Isomalt is also a great example of how we are convinced that physiological improvements from ingredients should also be linked to technological benefits for producers,"​ adds Moser.

"Isomalt is a very good sugar replacer, but its chemical properties are better than sucrose from a technical perspective."

The twin approach of improving a product's functional profile while also enhancing the technical properties is testament to the "heavy investment"​ Beneo ploughs into research and development (R&D), believes Moser.

"We think that we spend around 10 times more than the food and beverage industry average in this field – we are very R&D driven. This allows us to understand very early the nutritional and physiological connections and to develop the right solutions.

"We have about 130 people​ [out of a global workforce of 900] working in R&D, which is really extraordinary. At the end of the day, the big companies claim to drive innovation – and sometimes that is true – but very often when it comes to the end consumer products, the innovative properties come from people like us."

While Beneo still sees Europe and North America as key markets for these products, Moser will be increasingly turning his attention to Latin America and the Asia Pacific region over the next 12 months.

The firm is already trading in these areas, but he believes there will be increasing demand for Beneo's products –prompting him to set up a satellite office of the company's technology centre in Singapore.

"We profit a lot from strong growths in the baby food market and more processed foods coming on to the Latin American and Asia Pacific region,"​ he said.

"Food products are very different in these regions, though, and we are working very hard to understand how our products can play their beneficial roles.

"We want to be the principle partner of the global food industry and to make those who don't work with us realise that they are missing out on something,"​ he says.

Related topics: Health and nutritional ingredients

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