In the nearly three years that Welch’s Global Ingredients Group (Concord, MA) has been in operation, the company has introduced its FruitWorx fruit bites (in partnership with Taura Natural Ingredients; Winchester, VA), grape purees, and FruitWorx Concord grape juice powders, among other ingredients. At this week’s Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) trade show in Las Vegas, however, the company focused on raising awareness about new ways its Concord grape ingredients can be used.
Wayne D. Lutomski, vice president of international and global ingredients for Welch’s, told Nutritional Outlook that at this year’s show, the company was looking to open people's minds to the Concord grape’s potential in different applications. According to Lutomski, the central questions the company wants to answer are: “How can the Concord grape be used? You’ve seen it in FruitWorx, and now you can see how it goes in baked goods and confection. How about the rest of what we offer?”
Some of the new applications for Welch's Concord grape products the company showcased at IFT included peanut butter pancakes that featured Concord grape syrup, salami finger sandwiches with a Concord mustard spread, and a Concord BBQ sauce. According to Lutomski, customers already know that Concord grapes can be used in juices and jellies, but are often surprised to hear about the other ways that the Concord grape can be used. “We’ve been locked in a bottle for 150 years,” Lutomski explained. “We’ve got a great-tasting product, but it’s in the bottle. So how do you get it outside the bottle?” This, Lutomski said, has been the key challenge for the group since it entered the ingredients space.
“The biggest challenge that we have is just that people don’t think of us that way,” Lutomski said. “When [consumers] are thinking of fruit, they’re thinking of blueberry, because that’s what’s commonly available. So we’ve got to raise the awareness of how Concord can be used.”
Lutomski describes the Concord grape's flavor as "bold," but says it won't overpower other flavors in applications where the Concord grape might be used. "You definitely taste the grape," he said. "It doesn't overpower the other flavors. It actually helps create a nice balance of those other flavors, and I think it's a much more complex, rich taste...that tastes really good." Its sweet and tart flavor combination make the Concord grape ideal for use in a wide variety of applications, he said.
According to Lutomski, Welch's ingredients business has grown 36% since it started, but the company’s primary goal is to push the functional, value-added ingredients like its FruitWorx powder. “[The FruitWorx business has] grown about 15% since we started the program a couple years ago,” he explained. “We’re gaining a lot of traction, but we’d love to see more.” The Concord grape’s strength, the company says, is its ability to deliver great taste and health benefits at a lower cost than some other “premium-type” fruits. “As a product developer I’m looking at: does it taste good? What are some health benefits? How much does it cost? A lot of ingredients only have one or two of those—we have all three,” said Lutomski.
Those health benefits purportedly stem from the polyphenol content found in Concord grapes. The company has conducted a number of studies on the cognitive, cardiovascular, and blood sugar benefits of Welch’s Concord grape juice, and is continuing to build its research profile—especially in the cognitive function realm.
Millennials in particular are interested in food and beverage products that bring wellness and cognitive benefits like memory enhancement and short-term engagement, Lutomski said. They also love to snack. “Millennials snack, he explained. “Seventy-nine percent of Millennials say that cannot make it through the day without snacking. That’s a big number.” According to a recent research paper prepared by Welch’s, Millennials want the health benefits in addition to great taste. “That’s what we can deliver,” he said.
Casey Lewis, health and nutrition lead for Welch’s explained that FruitWorx also has “a linkage back to the source, which is where our family farmer story comes in—the fact that our Concord grapes are grown by family farmers located across America.” Taken together, she said, this consumer data shows promise for the Concord grape to be used in an increasingly wide range of products—especially in the snack area.