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Cargill is a global leader in food and beverage solutions that capitalise on the latest trends. Kim Berry spoke with Cargill Starches Sweeteners and Texturisers ANZ national sales manager Brian Pert and sales manager Paddy Leahy about working with ANZ F&B manufacturers. This article was first published in Food & Drink Business September/October 2020.

Cargill has a longstanding name in the ingredients game. More than 155,000 employees in 70 countries/regions around the world working across myriad sectors from food, animal, nutritional to industrial applications and ocean freight.

In Australia it employs around 540 people in 40 locations. Two of those employees are ANZ national sales manager Brian Pert and sales manager Paddy Leahy in its Cargill Starches Sweeteners and Texturisers ANZ business.

Pert has worked with the company for more than a decade. He says the job is more than just communicating Cargill’s offerings to the market.

Pert told Food & Drink Business: “We work closely with customers to resolve their issues. Cargill has thousands of hours of research and insights we can draw upon to provide technical advice.

“I’ve worked in the sector for more than thirty years and it is the meaningful relationships we have with clients that sets Cargill apart. It is very satisfying seeing a business relationship move from one that is purely transactional to one of collaboration.”

He says changing consumer trends drive the company to help its clients improve their margins in a competitive marketplace.

Pea protein leader

Leahy says: “You’d have to be living under a rock to not see the animal-free/vegan trend, especially in meat and dairy alternatives. There has been a significant increase in interest, and Cargill has been an early mover with investment in pea proteins.

“After years of R&D, we recently launched a patented pea protein RADIPURE, which is a massive improvement in flavour and solubility on the existing offerings in the market.”

Pert says soy protein alternatives are difficult to find when specific conditions are required. “Customers want a nutritionally balanced protein that is relatively bland. It needs to be functionally stable and it also needs to be affordable.

“Finding that has been a struggle. If you look at almond or oat-based beverages, they have very low protein levels and to add protein to them can be expensive.

“The work Cargill’s done with its pea protein isolate ticks all those boxes. With consumers looking for alternatives, the hardest part is making sure the textures are in line with their expectations. That’s what we do in the texturising solutions division. We look at modified starches for mouthfeel, or dairy and stabiliser systems for texture. And we’re now working with companies exploring the functionality of pea protein in their existing products.”

Pert and Leahy are working with a customer looking to boost the protein in one of its nutritional non-dairy beverages. “Doing this with proteins other than soy is expensive and texturally, an issue,” says Pert.

“Together with our Singapore applications team we produced concepts and formulation advice, which has led to a rapid development of their end product. So far, the stability trials are very promising, and the end product price point meets the customer’s listing needs.”

While Leahy and Pert have a keen interest in the beverage market, Cargill works across the whole spectrum of the food and beverage sector.

Pert says while domestic sales are important, there is major export potential into Asia, particularly for major dairy companies looking to export a non-dairy beverage into Asia.

The rise in vegetarian/vegan popularity as well as plant-based meat alternatives is wrapped in an overall health trend and allergen awareness mindset, Pert says. At a B2B level, he is seeing greater interest in plant proteins, clean label starches and sugar alternatives.

“There is much greater emphasis on documentation and traceability today. Being a major brand with lots of equity in our name ensures we are on top of our product security and legal requirements.

“Price is never the only criteria to buy an ingredient. Our culture is embedded in quality and safety, more than anywhere else I’ve worked. The production rate of product failure at Cargill is low, but when there is an issue it is fixed fast. You can tell a quality organisation by how fast they fix issues.

“Combined with our sustainability programs and environmental policies, it makes us a compelling supplier to deal with.”

Clean credentials

Cargill has also been investing in its starch business, following the big trend for clean label starches. It has recently been involved with the stability of a vegetarian yoghurt product in which the customer found it hard to stabilise the water and still retain a creamy texture. Using Simpure 99400 provided improvements in water stability in the yoghurt, while retaining a clean label and providing excellent mouthfeel.

Leahy says: “We offer a range of functional clean label starches as the market moves towards higher quality products with simplified ingredient lists. Consumers want natural ingredients with names they can pronounce.

“Cargill is continually working hard to stay ahead in the clean label field, with new functional clean label starches, vegetable proteins, clean label texturising ingredients, and sugar reduction with the next generation of Steviol Glycoside high intensity sweeteners, all the while strengthening our sustainability credentials to maintain a global leadership role in driving increasingly sustainable food systems.”

A challenge for Cargill is countering some of the more problematic characteristics of a booming trend. Leahy says by trying to capitalise on an ingredient trend too fast, companies sometimes launch products that compromise the eating experience, which may result in a lower acceptance for that ingredient in the future.

“Our goal is to capture the innovation arena and offer products backed by research and testing, which provide our customers with a much longer and successful product life cycle,” he says.

In addition to consumer trends, 2020 has also delivered COVID-19. Pert says the pandemic is pushing supply security to the top of customers’ priorities, with customers slowing down R&D and increasing core product production to meet consumer demand for products they know and trust.

He says: “Growth in new products hitting the market has stagnated but I believe it will pick up in food. While R&D promotion is flat, we are also seeing supply lines under strain, especially as some countries have lockdowns and there are longer lead times for imports.”

For Leahy, a global company like Cargill offers a level of flexibility and scale to meet those challenges and ensure it stands as a dependable supplier to its customers.

“For us, having the whole package – a diverse portfolio of modified and clean label starches, stabiliser systems, plant proteins and functional ingredients, R&D and centres of expertise – is very rewarding,” Pert says.

“We can help develop the perfect solution for a customer while developing a close relationship with them. That balance is what sets us apart.”

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