The taste of clean label at SupplySide West

December 3, 2018

Clean label has been trending for some time, but some of the latest clean-label efforts are coming from flavor manufacturers offering solutions for dietary supplement, food, and beverage manufacturers. Flavor companies discussed their new capabilities at November’s SupplySide West show.

Synergy Flavors (Wauconda, IL), for example, has started promoting its TRU Stories line of natural, clean-label flavor solutions to give food and beverage manufacturers a go-to destination for clean-label flavors.

“This is our solution to the clean-label phenomenon that all of our customers and their consumers are asking for,” said Lindsey Oostema, business development, Synergy Flavors. “TRU Stories [stands for]: Transparent, Responsible, Unblemished. Transparency is about having open discussions with our customers; we need to be involved in the insights and innovation piece throughout the lifecycle of the project so we can actually get them what they want on their end label for their consumer. Being Responsible [means] ethically sourcing ingredients and going through third-party certification for organic flavors. And Unblemished is really about delivering an authentic taste experience, so these are the products that are closest to nature that an ingredient company can provide.”

Synergy Pure Essences and Extracts, which are part of the firm’s TRU Stories line, offer consumers not only flavors from natural ingredients, but also an authentic flavor experience. Drinking coffee, for example, is very much a multisensory experience involving both taste and aroma. Synergy tries to replicate this with its essences and extracts. “You put coffee and water into our propriety system, you draw off the aroma (which is the essence), what comes out the bottom is the extract, and then you put them together. It’s really just coffee and water, but they are fabulous ingredients that you can use as building blocks in ready-to-drink or in sports nutrition products or cakes—anything,” Oostema explained.

A Complex Proposition

Creating an authentic, clean-label flavor experience is a complex endeavor but important. One must also take into account the fact that consumers may not fully understand what a label phrase like “with other natural flavors" really means.

“There is a lot of confusion, and it doesn’t help that there isn’t a definition for ‘natural’ as given by the FDA,” said Oostema at Synergy Flavors’ SupplySide West booth, where the company offered a maple ice cream for visitors to taste. “This maple flavor here is ‘maple flavor with other natural flavors.’ What that means is that the components that we put together come from maple, but to give it this full, rounded flavor, we add other natural components that come from oak. Or there might be a note that gives it a caramel flavor profile. They are all natural components; we just put them together. They don’t all come from maple; they just give you this rounded profile that people expect of a maple syrup. There is a knowledge piece that needs to continue being built.”

Masking and Customization at Its Best

If a product tastes good and feels authentic, customers will keep coming back. Some flavors are especially challenging to make appealing—particularly plant-based protein flavors or off notes from alternative sweeteners. Pea and soy protein are popular plant-based protein sources that provide great protein content, but need help in the taste department. That is why flavor masking and customization are such big parts of developing flavor solutions.

This is also when flavor companies prefer to be intimately involved in helping devise solutions. “A lot of times when customers come to us and want a masking agent for one of their products, we prefer them to give us their ingredients so we can build the masker around the product,” explained Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager for Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY). “We have a couple different type of maskers—for example, FMPs (flavors with modifying properties). [So with] a vanilla or chocolate flavor, built into the flavor is the masking component. We can provide the flavor and mask something in the product you don’t like: bitterness, chalkiness, any type of off note.”

“In terms of masking, we can do sensory testing in house, which would be a pretty expensive thing for customers to have to go out and do on their own,” said Ryan Davis, account manager at Sensient Technologies Corporation (Milwaukee, WI).

“We do our own panels, and we do our own modulation testing, so we do the work for the customers,” added Rajesh Salem, marketing, global bionutrients, for Sensient Technologies. “It saves them time, and it’s a pretty big investment from our side.”

Reducing Sugar

The demand for lower sugar content among consumers also poses a challenge for manufacturers, especially in beverages, and drives innovation among flavor suppliers.

“The trends in flavors are [partly] driven by the search for the holy grail that substitutes the carbonated soft drink market that has been declining. What is going to be the [next big] product in that space that’s not water?” said Renata Ibarra, RD&A, senior director, Taste, for Kerry (Beloit, WI).

People love the flavor of carbonated soft drinks, but hate the health consequences, so what can manufacturers do to develop a healthier analog? This creates opportunities for products that offer great taste and functional benefits, as well as products that aren’t functional but offer a better nutrition panel.

“What we’re trying to figure out is how [a product] can be more nutritious, how to have a value-added like less sugar, cleaner ingredients, and organic flavors,” Ibarra added.

The thing about flavoring is that when you remove something, you have to compensate for that. When you remove sugar, it affects more than just taste. For instance, adding stevia sweeteners can sometimes bring along an off taste. Kerry’s Taste Sense products can help address qualities such as sweet linger, Ibarra said. To demonstrate this, at SupplySide West the company sampled a tasty clear protein drink comprising a blend of pea and rice proteins. “We have Taste Sense there to provide masking. It all depends on where it is needed,” she said. “We also have Taste Sense Mouth Feel to compensate for that mouthfeel you lose when you replace sugar with [another] ingredient.”

While consumers may be moving away from overly sweet products, they still desire traditionally sweet flavor profiles and good flavor. Flavor firms are bringing trending, complementary flavors to the table.

“Emerging citrus is definitely a platform we’re seeing a lot of traction in,” said Shannon Coco, strategic marketing manager, Taste, for Kerry North America. “More exotic profiles that take a familiar citrus consumers love—it’s a leading profile across alcohol and refreshing beverage. Bringing in that touch of exoticism—in particular, meyer lemon, yuzu, and calamansi lime are some things we’re seeing traction for in the market and continued interest in from consumers and customers.” Some of these flavors—especially tart flavors—need to be balanced with sweetness.

And, looking ahead, according to Synergy Flavors’ recent “Flavors of the Future” white paper, some of the most popular and established flavors for sports nutrition products are sweet flavor profiles, such as birthday cake, s’mores, and cookie dough. Sports marketers have an opportunity to be creative, and these flavors can carry added value. “What we found with our research is that these sweet profiles work beautifully to cover up those off notes and the green notes of plant-based proteins,” said Oostema.