As CPG needs shift, Ingredion accelerates change within

Totino's, General Mills

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified in 2020, food scientists and the culinary team at Ingredion were presented with a challenge: innovating the beloved french fry.

Restaurants had largely shuttered their doors, and they were depending on carryout for the lion’s share of sales. While there had long been a desire to create a french fry that stays golden crisp and gives way to a soft, welcoming interior longer — the sudden change in how and where food was consumed and purchased necessitated a more immediate look at how to do that.

“With COVID, it became a necessity, we can’t get it to the consumer in a few minutes when it comes to delivery at home,” Greg Aloi, vice president of Ingredion’s customer co-creation and innovation, said.

Ingredion had already amassed considerable knowledge about the shelf life of french fries that allowed them to move quickly. It knew, for example, that a potato’s high level of amylose starch creates a protective layer that, at least initially, slowed the onset of sogginess.

But Ingredion needed to gather more information quickly, so it asked its customers a series of questions: How is the french fry going to be produced and manufactured? Is a coating going to be applied? What type of fry is it — shoestring, crinkle cut or curly?

It took about three months to make meaningful progress (fast in the ingredient development space). Ingredion was able to broaden the shelf life of a tasty fry to between 15 and 25 minutes, up from just five minutes, by altering the crispy coating that allowed moisture to escape from the interior of the french fry as it cooled, preventing sogginess.

From this initial success, Ingredion developed more customized solutions depending on the type and moisture content of the potato being used, as well as the size and shape.  Additionally, the temperature of the french fry, time to delivery and where the product was being sold, such as in Florida or Minnesota, were taken into account.

From specialty supplier to a bigger portfolio

Once positioned largely as a specialty starch supplier, Ingredion has aggressively broadened its portfolio under CEO James Zallie to include more than 1,300 ingredients. The company has turned to M&A and a series of partnerships to add more texturizers, plant-based proteins, clean and simple ingredients, sugar reduction and specialty sweeteners that better reflect the demands of CPGs and consumers who buy its products.

The diversified portfolio has paid dividends for Ingredion in today’s unpredictable business environment as many CPGs who use its ingredients are facing supply chain disruptions, elevated costs and an ever-growing number of demands from shoppers.

Mike DiMarcello, global director of strategic marketing at Ingredion, said customers often look for an ingredient to address multiple needs at the same time: it’s not enough for it to be plant based, but they may also want it to be grown sustainably. At the same time, buyers want quantifiable evidence that it’s worth paying more for a premium item.

Totino's, General Mills

Optional Caption

Courtesy of General Mills

Convincing CPGs to select premium ingredients has been complicated as companies, already dealing with higher input and supply chain costs, look for ways to reduce expenses and boost margins. To make its offerings more attractive, Ingredion touts the ability of its ingredients toolbox to meet multiple needs.

“We have to prove the value that we’re creating,” DiMarcello noted. “In today’s inflationary environment, we really want customers to have consumer-preferred products, but also to manage their costs. It’s a balance.”

Ingredion recently took a big step in outlining the sustainability of its ingredients. 

It partnered last October with technology company HowGood to measure the sustainability of 50 ingredients on Ingredion’s strategic growth platform. The scorecard, which assesses metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, soil health, land use and labor risk, provides transparency for the company’s customers while helping Ingredion meet its own sustainability goals.

Expertise beyond the ingredients

For Ingredion, a big part of its business today is responding to the immediate needs of a customer, similar to what happened with its french fry innovation. Ingredion has teams around the globe with experience in specific food categories that can be quickly deployed.

In recent years, Ingredion has prioritized adding to its ranks people with specific real-world skills, such as chefs who can say if an idea is practical, as well as how a certain food should be prepared — including attributes like the ideal texture, sweetness, moisture content or crispiness level.

“It’s having that foresight of what’s coming, even before the customer realizes, by picking up those signals … and placing bets on what we think is going to be” the future.

Hazel Fromm Tatosian

Director of global applications, Ingredion

The company also has hired employees who have a considerable amount of expertise in trendy areas ranging from gluten-free baked goods and snacks to sugar reduction and alternative dairy and meat.

In many cases, Ingredion has teams of food scientists and culinary chefs devoted to one food segment. Its snacking team, for example, has culinary, marketing and bakery scientists, while its sweeteners applications team has considerable expertise in beverage and confections.

Ingredion’s own business units are working closer together than ever before, too.

Ingredion has 32 Idea Labs located in 24 countries around the world to solve challenges that arise in product development. At one of the company’s facilities in Bridgewater, New Jersey — about 45 miles southwest of New York City — employees working across three buildings handle nearly every facet of ingredient development.


Optional Caption

Christopher Doering/Food Dive

A large part of the work tackled by Ingredion’s more than 500 scientists has extended beyond the development of new products into consumer items already on the market. Recently, supply chain disruptions have forced manufacturers to find alternative ingredients they can substitute into their products.

General Mills’ Totino’s pizza rolls faced shortages starting last winter for some of the nearly two-dozen ingredients that go into the tiny snacks. The food giant reached out to Ingredion and other suppliers looking for ways to substitute ingredients, while maintaining the same taste and texture, as well as nutritional and regulatory requirements.

“We needed four recipes in parallel. And we need to go back and forth with them almost fluidly,” Aloi recalled. While “it’s a simple product, and it’s not an expensive price, it’s quite a complex product.”   

Aloi said even though food manufacturers will likely continue searching for ingredients they can substitute “for a while,” it is hard to predict whether it is the beginning of a longer-term trend, or if it would abate as shortages and supply chain unpredictability improve.

Predicting the future

While some trends, such as those that unfolded during COVID-19 are clearer, Ingredion and other companies have pivoted to co-create with customers and help them solve their current problems and plan for the future.

Some challenges can be met in a few weeks, such as fortifying a baked snack with a higher level of protein. In other cases, such as replacing titanium dioxide — a common artificial additive in food that helps colors appear brighter but has been suspected of causing health problems in those who consume it — the process can take up to two years.

Hazel Fromm Tatosian, the director of global applications at Ingredion, said the company keeps a close watch on local and regional markets around the world to uncover trends that are in their infancy or more established ones that may be evolving. 

“It’s having that foresight of what’s coming, even before the customer realizes, by picking up those signals … and placing bets on what we think is going to be” the future, Fromm Tatosian said. 

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About the Author

Jervie David Montejar
A food lover who wants to try every delicious dishes around him and spread the news to everyone to try it as well. Finding the latest trends about food and restaurants around Cebu and the rest of the world :) "Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." -Ernestine Ulmer
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