• Hemp is on the rise as an ingredient.
    Hemp is on the rise as an ingredient.

New ingredients give brands a competitive edge. Impact Innovation Group managing director Brian Ruddle looks at the key motivators driving ingredient innovation and inclusion. This article first appeared in the August 2021 issue of Food and Drink Business.

The reasons for developing new ingredients are many, ranging from improved nutritional value for the consumer to providing a novelty factor for the marketing, but four common motivators are solving a problem, consumer trends, sustainable resource management, and differentiation. 

I’ve chosen three very different examples to highlight how such drivers influence what ingredients go into food trends, like alternative protein options. The first is a technology that enhances nutrient delivery; the second is a product and process combination for enhancing taste; and the third is an emerging crop.  

I also identify some common barriers to market entry that delay ingredients or technologies being able to capitalise on trends and what food innovators can do to overcome them.  

Progel: the platform tech inside PERKii

As knowledge grows about the role of gut health in managing well-being, so does consumer demand for probiotic-enriched foods, especially non-dairy options. It’s quite a challenge, however, to fortify foods without diminishing nutritional efficacy, taste or texture.  

PERKii, a non-dairy beverage now available in supermarkets and fuel stops around Australia, delivers probiotics directly to the digestive system via food-grade microgels — tiny natural beads encapsulating the friendly living bacteria in probiotics. 

Progel is the problem-solving platform technology developed at The University of Queensland that makes this protection possible. It enables the alternative delivery of a range of ingredients that improve the effectiveness of ingredient benefits to the consumer, such as masking bitterness and controlling intestinal release.

I worked with the researchers to commercialise the Progel method and explore other functional food opportunities. One was encapsulating omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to increase protein synthesis.

Fermented fats for favourite flavours

Precision fermentation is gaining momentum.
Precision fermentation is gaining momentum.

By backing Canberra-based startup Nourish Ingredients, CSIRO’s venture fund Main Sequence has accelerated the development of another platform technology, one that claims to ‘bypass biology’. The company is producing animal-free lipids to sustainably manufacture plant-based products without compromising flavour or feel – a common issue with meat and dairy alternatives.

Fermenting biomass deploys microorganisms to rapidly and efficiently produce protein in large quantities. 

Precision fermentation can produce specific functional ingredients traditionally found in animal products, such as fatswhich, according to Nourish Ingredients, are what make alternative proteins tastelike the original meat-based product. 

Mainstream consumer acceptance of plant-based diets for health and animal rights reasons is motivating the market. The Good Food Institute claims that fermentation as an enabling technology is commanding an increasing share of all alternative protein investments, attracting more than US$435 million in 2020.

Hemp high in yield and healthy nutrients

Hemp is on the rise as a commodity crop because it can produce high yields and be manufactured into a wide range of food and fibre products with sustainable practices.  

Both the stalk and the seed can be turned into new products – the fibrous stalk for industrial uses like building and industrial products, and the seed for a range of food products. As an ingredient, hemp is a popular option for food brands targeting a waste-woke, environmentally conscientious market.

Also driving demand for hemp-based ingredients are increasing consumer health consciousness and growing awareness about the potential nutraceutical benefits of hemp seed, such as properties that boost immunity, enhance metabolism, and reduce inflammation, insomnia and chronic pain.

Getting ingredients into the value chain

Finding the funds to develop a new ingredient such as microgels (Progel), animal-free lipids (Nourish Ingredients) and hemp can be a significant barrier, especially if you’re not familiar with the food manufacturing supply chain or the range of private and public investment options and incentives available in Australia and overseas. 

Technology is allowing foods to maintain nutritional benefits all the way to the gut.
Technology is allowing foods to maintain nutritional benefits all the way to the gut.

Support from experienced commercialisation practitioners helped Progel and Nourish Ingredients secure the right financial partners. 

Collaboration with research organisations can triple business productivity growth, and greater government support for such collaborations, especially with SMEs, is opening up new funding opportunities. The hemp industry is working with researchers (and together) on a number of production and processing initiatives to help grow the industry.

To attract investment or be eligible for grants requires innovators to present a clear business model – how the product will make money, connect with customers, join a supply chain, and cover costs. 

Often, the financial input andeffort focussed on technical tweaking comes at the expense of commercial development, slowing the journey to market. These need to be parallel processes.

The complexity of commercialisation is another reason commercial aspects of a new ingredient’s development are neglected. 

From technical requirements to legal and food safety aspects, which may not yet be defined, it’s a minefield for both new and seasoned players. 

But there are tools to navigate the potential obstacles. 

Strategyzer’s business model canvas is popular. We also use the business modelling method developed at the University of St Gallen (Switzerland), the Commercial Readiness Assessment (CRA) and the Commercialisation Navigator (CNav) for objective, evidence-based benchmarking and action planning. 

These tools help de-risk a new food concept before seeking furtherfinancial resources because they address assumptions about its impact on the existing market. 

While technical testing considers factors like cooking properties and mouth feel, business modelling turns assumptions into truths by investigating, “How will this fit in with current supply chains and what’s the continuity of supply likely to be?” and, “Can it be manufactured at scale now or will new equipment/tech be required?” 

Ideas for new ingredients crop up all the time, but very few will make it to market. To improve its chances the next time one flows into your innovation pipeline, ask questions before assembling the marketing machine, such as: 

  • What’s the awesome improvement?
  • What existing challenge does it address?
  • Who will use it and why?
  • What are the barriers and how could they be overcome?
  • What tools will find the gaps in the thinking and reveal the unknowns?
  • And who can help us turn this innovative idea into a commercially valuable ingredient?

Brian Ruddle is managing director of Impact Innovation Group. He is also chair of the AgriFutures Australia Emerging Industries Panel and the Innovation Management Standards Committee (MB-279) for Standards Australia.

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