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Innovation in Organic Ingredients, Production
Last modified: 2010-03-16 19:51:49

If economic uncertainty steers the direction of product development, will it lead to a one-dimensional goal of producing the cheapest possible product? If so, one may wonder where that would that leave organic products, which most often have an unavoidable price premium.

However, marketers could seize the moment in this frugal economy to dust off any lingering misperception of organic as an elite trend, emphasizing dedication to the highest quality. For many consumers, organic is part of the vanguard of a new direction for food production. There is an opportunity to forge a fresh message-the organic industry is in it for the long haul, and there's room for much more growth and innovation.

Protecting people, water, land and air from applied toxins is at the crux of organic agriculture. This motivation is the opposite of elitism; it is support of public trust. Of course, it is in the ancillary benefits of organics-good tasting foods, embracing a culture of sustainability-where packaged product manufacturers take the stage.

Organic manufacturers have enjoyed marketplace success stemming from consumer motivations beyond just price (e.g., quality, perceptions of greater health benefits); but, even the organic consumer is now scrutinizing price and, moreover, value. Manufacturers are weighing the costs of organic and striving for a competitive edge, as consumers navigate the sea of marketing and nutrition messages in choosing products.

There are new food movements arising out of new consumer questions, making it the right time to assert what organic means to your company. If that message sounds slightly mercenary, consider that even internal green-directives have potent marketing possibilities, so further delving into the sustainability of organics can be part of a wise strategy.

Give consumers the tools to drive this next wave of the organic message by continuing to make your best product in an organic version, and to look for fresh ways to communicate your dedication to the product and to organic, even if that dedication has been bottom-line driven.

Consumers have been watching. Some have been watching very closely. There is a convergence of food-related movements (e.g., farmers markets, "locavores") and media (e.g., the show Unwrapped, celebrity Alton Brown) leading consumers to devour information on food-production systems and demand more information and ultimate transparency.

This quest for food-information has been a long time in the making, but now it has reached hyper-speed. While some consumers are equipping themselves with increasingly thoughtful and sophisticated questions about food, playing only to that market-base can be polarizing to the families who have taken on second jobs in order to meet the mortgage.

The organic and natural industries are still breaking new ground, which brings new market opportunities to the manufacturer. Innovations from manufacturers are taking place and helping keep the market vital. However, innovation in the organic world is very different than innovation in the non-organic world, since many ingredients are not allowed for use in organic production. Product developers must find new ways of using allowable ingredients, or develop new processes and technologies.

Just within the last few months, healthy motivations have impassioned people to work on worthwhile, innovative projects. For example, hexane, produced by the petrochemical industry, is a common solvent in seed-oil and legume-oil production; however, there are some concerns about chronic toxicity. While hexane is relied on heavily for the production of soy protein, hexanated soy protein and oil cannot be certified organic, meaning organic producers have had to turn to other technologies. One new domestic soy protein supplier developed a patent-pending water-process technology to produce non-GMO and organic proteins without the use of hexane or the expeller.

In addition to offering this organic option, the company can produce soy protein levels in the mid- to upper-80s, generally higher than the industry standard, along with unique functional properties attributed to the water-processing. Manufacturers may be able to break new ground, producing meat analogues with better set due to the protein's unique gelling properties or protein-containing beverages with better solubility. With new organic and non-GMO soy proteins, we may see innovation in not only food and wellness products, but this may open the door for industrial-use tinkering.

Another example is the innovation afoot in the citrus arena. Many producers look for ways to maximize their raw materials, avoiding any possible waste of edible, wholesome compounds that could be salvaged. Citrus peel and pulp (often called citrus pomace or fiber), byproducts of the juicing industry, are full of fiber, antioxidants (bioflavonoids) and crude protein and are replete with food-product applications.

There are two U.S. manufacturers introducing pomace products-using different patents-pending and approaches-that unlock the benefits of the peel. Generally, the peel is de-oiled, the pulp de-seeded, pith included, then dried and milled often to a beige and predominantly odorless flour or other screen size. One of these companies already has its petition in place for use in organic products. Both manufacturers process the peel mechanically, without the use of hexane.

In addition to the antioxidant properties, the pomace can act as a BHA/BHT replacer, has possible uses in replacing some mixed tocopherols, and can be used as an allergen-free carrier for flavors. As with the soy protein, the applications can be broader than expected once they are handy on product developers' benches.

Constant innovation required by organic suppliers and manufacturers to stay ahead of an ever-complex food system is a worthy message to reinforce to consumers.

Camille Nava is director of North American sales for Marroquin Organic, a Santa Cruz, CA-based organic and non-GMO ingredient firm specializing in technical organic ingredients. She can be reached at (831) 423-3442, ext. 2, or camille@marroquin-organics.com.

2/11/2009 10:14:50 AM by Camille Nava


Keywords: organic, innovation, new products, options, motivations, projects
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