How does food product reformulation increase environmental, brand, & profit sustainability?
What does food product reformulation have in common with healthier consumers, higher long-term profits, and increased environmental sustainability?
The answer might surprise you.
Now more than ever, food companies realize that their survival and future success depend on their ability to reformulate food products so that ingredients are healthier for the planet, the customer, and the bottom line.
So, what do food and beverage companies need to know about food reformulation to experience its benefits?
What challenges do they need to be aware of?
And how can reformulating foods lead to sustained profits, a positive public image, and even healthier customers?
We explore the answers to these questions and more in the paragraphs below.
Let’s get into it.
What is food reformulation?
“Food reformulation” or “food product reformulation” involves changing how food products are processed. Reformulating food products can also involve altering the composition of food or beverages.
In many cases, reformulation involves substituting one ingredient for another or overhauling a recipe completely. Either way, reformulating looks different from product to product.
So, why would a food or beverage company reformulate their products? And what makes it worth the hassle?
Seven benefits of reformulating food products
Benefit #1: Improving the safety of food products & beverages
For starters, food and beverage producers often reformulate food products to limit unhealthy ingredients that can cause health concerns.
For example, a producer that makes cupcakes might want to reduce salt and saturated fat levels in their products because these ingredients can elevate adverse health outcomes, especially for at-risk individuals.
A better example of improving food safety through reformulation involves the cupcake frosting.
While the cupcake producer might appreciate the eye-catching nature of the bright red sprinkles in their frosting, they might want to swap out the Red Dye 40 for a healthier, natural option.
In this case, they might replace Red Dye 40—an unhealthy compound known to cause hyperactivity, irritability, depression, hives, and asthma—with a natural red dye derived from beet-root.
Besides improving the overall safety of the cupcake, beetroot comes with another benefit—it improves the nutritional level of the product itself.
Benefit #2: Improving nutrition levels
Yes, reformulating food and beverages can also improve their overall nutritiousness.
For instance, the beetroot powder used to replace the Red Dye 40 in the above example also adds antioxidants to the cupcake frosting.
Unlike Red Dye 40, naturally derived beetroot powder contains high levels of betalains—an antioxidant that studies show plays a crucial role in lowering the risk of liver and kidney damage, cardiovascular disease, and certain forms of cancer.
Benefit #3: Encouraging healthier patterns of consumption
Believe it or not, food reformulation can also help shift customers toward more sustainable, healthy consumption patterns.
So, why would that be worthwhile for a food and beverage producer?
According to the National Institutes of Health, over 30% of consumers are overweight, which puts them at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses such as cancer and dementia.
According to Our World in Data, we know that inactivity and diets high in processed foods play a leading role in causing these diseases, resulting in 4.7 million yearly premature deaths worldwide.
Processed foods contribute to these adverse health outcomes because they contain unhealthy amounts of sodium, artificial preservatives and dyes, sugars, and unhealthy fats.
These sugars and other ultra-processed inputs, such as white flour, lead to sudden spikes in blood glucose levels. Conversely, fat causes plaque to build up in arteries, leading to heart disease and other health complications. What’s worse is that these ingredients increase craving and heighten the likelihood of overconsumption.
It sounds like doom and gloom for food producers and consumers alike, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
If, for example, a company reformulates its products to contain less refined wheat and sugar, salt, and fat—which cause cravings and unhealthy consumption levels—it can help customers consume in ways that lead to less overconsumption and more positive health outcomes.
We’ll admit that getting your customers to eat less of your food doesn’t sound like a great way to increase profits.
However, if your customers live longer because they consume healthier amounts of your products, they’ll likely be your customers for longer. That means sustained profits over a longer time horizon.
But greater profits and healthier customers aren’t the only benefits of reformulating food. Healthier food can also lead to a healthier brand reputation.
Benefit #4: Improve brand & public image
Want to cultivate a healthy public image? Healthy food can help.
Statista Consumer Insights reports that 50% of Americans report trying to eat a healthy diet.
And according to McKinsey & Company, 70% of those surveyed across the US, UK, France, and Germany stated they want to be healthier.
McKinsey found that 50% of consumers across age groups reported listing healthy eating as a top priority and essential to achieving their health goals.
All that is to say, a growing portion of customers want to eat healthy and will seek out foods that help them do that. Consumers will seek foods that help them achieve their health goals while avoiding foods perceived to detract from them.
So, by reformulating products to exclude unhealthy ingredients and include more nutrients, food and beverage brands can improve their image among health-conscious customers.
While you’re unlikely to appeal to everyone (since many customers avoid processed food altogether), reformulating a few key ingredients could be enough to nudge some customers toward your products who might otherwise be sitting on the fence.
For instance, if you’re a health-conscious consumer looking for a quick pre or post-workout snack, you’re more likely to choose an energy bar made with “real” fruit, seeds, and nuts— ingredients that producers can easily incorporate into processed foods at a reasonable cost (PubMed Central).
As a food producer, there’s no need to go overboard with reformulating either. Adding a few key ingredients and then playing them up can go a long way to convince customers that they’re making a healthy choice with your product.
Benefit #5: Increased environmental sustainability
With climate change and global population growth increasing, environmental sustainability continues to grow in importance for both producers and consumers.
As mentioned earlier, McKinsey reports that half of today’s consumers in developed countries identify eating healthy as a top priority. But it’s worth noting that one-third of those consumers prioritize sustainable diets also.
This finding from McKinsey indicates that a growing number of customers are thinking about the planet's health in addition to their own health. And this segment of conscious consumers continues to grow.
In fact, a 2021 Consumer Intel Report titled “The Cautious Return to a New World” puts the number of customers willing to pay more for sustainable products at a whopping 45%.
In other words, increasingly more consumers are willing to support products and brands committed to sustainability. Companies looking to appeal to this growing segment can do so through the reformulation of food products.
So, how do you reformulate products to make them more sustainable?
Here’s the good news—you have plenty of options.
- Choose ingredients with smaller (or negative) carbon footprints: Basic cash crops like corn, soy, and wheat typically require significant inputs of petrochemicals and water. However, non-soy legumes—especially lentils—require much less growing inputs, reducing their carbon footprints. Going a step further, a new variety of perennial wheat called Kernza can even sequester carbon while providing an excellent alternative to conventional wheat.
- Incorporate ingredients grown through regenerative farming: Plants grown using regenerative techniques such as cover cropping and no-till agriculture allow farmers to produce healthier plants using less water and chemicals. These techniques also maintain and build healthy soils through carbon sequestration and a build-up of organic matter.
- Utilize “waste” products as ingredients: To improve sustainability through reformulation, food producers can use waste materials—such as bean hulls and vegetable leaves or stems— as ingredients in their products. Doing so keeps these materials out of landfills where they would decay and release potent greenhouse gasses such as nitrous oxide and methane.
Beyond reformulating your products with these less impactful ingredients, marketing and branding can help communicate the sustainable aspects of your products to consumers. And in many cases, this increased sustainability can help differentiate your products in a sea of similar goods, giving you a competitive edge.
And while environmental sustainability benefits producers, reformulating food and beverages with more sustainable ingredients can create another beneficial byproduct—increased financial sustainability.
Benefit #6: Increased financial sustainability
The environment and your brand image aren’t the only beneficiaries of reformulating products to make them more sustainable.
Environmental sustainability can lead to financial sustainability as well.
- Repurposing waste products: In addition to curtailing potent greenhouse gasses, reformulating food with otherwise wasted parts of ingredients—such as bean hulls—can help companies cut back on waste, save money, and make products healthier for people and the planet. For example, scientists in Mexico are fermenting corn waste to create a healthier sweetener called xylitol.
- Extending shelf life: In many instances, reformulating food can increase shelf life, which leads to fewer spoiled ingredients and lower costs. For example, adding rosemary extract to cooking oils can prevent the deterioration of the oil while improving its health profile.
- Less supply chain volatility: Imagine being unable to produce your product because a crop failed due to extreme heat on the other side of the planet. More sustainable forms of agriculture that build soil and increase the resilience of plants can increase the likelihood of successful harvests, stabilize supply chains, and help ensure consistent prices for key ingredients used in your products.
Benefit #7: Boost your health-food offerings
Healthy foods aren’t just for hippies these days. As mentioned earlier, 50% of Americans claim to prioritize a healthy diet, and that number is likely to increase.
So, why not reformulate your products to capture more of that business and give your customers more options for eating healthy?
By reformulating food, you can move existing products into the “health foods” category by simply swapping out a few less healthy ingredients for more healthy ingredients.
For instance, adding vegetable puree or extract to sliced bread can increase levels of vitamins, fiber, and healthy phytochemicals. Adding bean hulls—which would otherwise go to waste—to bread can also provide fiber, phytochemicals, and protein.
Adding beetroot to burgers and mayo, for instance, can give foods a boost in antioxidants while improving shelf life.
You get the point—adding or substituting a few ingredients can turn many of your everyday food and beverage products into health-foods. That’s a win-win for both your product portfolio and your increasingly health-conscious customers.
Challenges of food reformulation
While reformulating products offers several benefits, it also comes with a few challenges.
To successfully reformulate your products, here are some of the challenges you want to be aware of:
While it’s exciting to think of adding a few ingredients to make your food healthier and more shelf-stable, it’s another thing to find out how to achieve that from a technological standpoint. New ingredients and recipes might require new technological processes and equipment to successfully implement.
And, of course, purchasing new equipment or implementing new ways of processing ingredients comes with certain financial costs. When deciding how to reformulate food, producers must also consider the cost of processing or obtaining new ingredients.
Reformulating recipes to include new ingredients might look good on paper, but how will it work in reality?
Will beetroot or bean hulls lessen flavor even as they improve antioxidant content and shelf life? Will the vegetable puree produce a more or less desirable consistency and appearance? How much rosemary should we add to the cooking oil before it becomes too much?
To fully answer those questions, you need to rely on quality food and beverage testing. That’s where Medallion Labs can help.
Quick, accurate, dependable testing for food products
Our testing options help you maximize your testing budget and receive results quickly so that you can get your products on the shelves and out to customers.
To discover how we can help you successfully reformulate and test your food and beverage products, contact us online or call us at 1-800-245-5615.