Additives – friend or foe?

  |   ., Food Technology

Nasties, artificial ingredients, unnaturals, the devil’s powders. As a Food Technologist I often hear these terms for food additives. Well, not so much the last one, but it does represent the sheer fear and mistrust many producers have when it comes to additives.

So are they friend or foe?

The short answer is that if you are very clear about what your issue is and why you might need to look in to adding additives to your product formulation, the how, when and where is really quite straightforward. It is the Who part that is usually fostering the fears.

Let’s use a general example of the kind of queries we get:

You blend fruit and vegetable powders and some functional ingredients to make a smoothie booster. You sell online. You have a respected brand and a growing customer base. You want to purchase your input ingredients in bulk to reduce your costs. The trouble is that because you producing in bigger batch sizes, you have more units for sale that sit in your warehouse for longer before dispatch. Your customers have noticed some clumping. While this does not affect the safety standard or the flavour or function of your product, it makes your customers a little suspicious and they find it less convenient to use.

If you go back to smaller batches your costs are going to go up.

Should you use additives to achieve consistent product quality even though your brand values include “all natural” ingredients?

I say yes and here’s why:

What: the quality of your product is compromised by extrinsic and intrinsic factors
Because you are still blending and packing in a rented kitchen that you share with two steam ovens you are not in control of the production environment. This will change one day, but not until you can hit more sales and more revenue.
Your key ingredient is naturally thirsty (hygroscopic). After it has had its fill, it goes lumpy.

Why: Although are now managing your costs, you are not managing your customers’ expectations and that could damage your brand.


The solution options

How – applying a very small amount of specialist anti caking agent to mop up the moisture or coat the particles so they cannot take on any moisture. Rice powder won’t work because it does not disperse in the smoothie at the same rate as the other ingredients.

When – with your formulation, we will work out the lowest effective application rate, weigh it out very carefully and add it to your ingredients at the blending stage.

Where – will we get it from? Most food additives are supplied by the biggest and best established specialist ingredient manufacturers. They all have a Clean Label policy. That is because these days they industry demands clean label products and also, and this is an open secret so don’t tell anyone, there is no scientific, global, official definition of Clean Label, but that is another story.

This does not mean the big guys are not to be trusted, it means that they have seen a demand in their customer base, that they trust their customers to get best practice advice on which product to use and they will sell it at a competitive price.

So you can treat food additives like any input ingredient, choose the right type for your business and always use an approved supplier.

Now comes the part that only you can decide

– who is in charge of your choice to use food additives to solve your problem?

Is it you as the brand owner who has consulted an expert for a practical solution to a roadblock in your commercial strategy?
Is it your consumers who may bad mouth you all over social media if you cannot solve the quality issue they are beginning to complain about.

My answer would be YOU because you do not have to be a hostage to the unquantified preferences of your consumers.
and here’s why:

You can keep your market share and most likely increase it if

  • you solve your quality issues
  • you keep your costs down
  • your product can continue to deliver on its promise to your target customer base and
  • that base aligns with your major brand values they will accept a slight change in ingredients. (“no nasties” is far further down their top ten list than you imagine).

To sum up, in my profession we respect the work additives can do when handled properly. Under the right conditions we think they are forces for good. Permissions around the use of all food additives are set out in the International Guidelines for Food Safety (the Codex Alimentarius). They are rigorously researched and controlled and constantly updated. There are different maximum input application rates for different categories of product that must be precisely calculated based on the outcome required.

We can’t just pick up a bag of white powder form a bloke in a carpark and throw that in your product until things look about right. We take this very seriously indeed and we will always have your best outcomes in mind, within the regulatory standards, of course.