A Nutritional Outlook exclusive interview with Fabienne Saadane-Oaks, head of Danisco’s BioActives division.
Danisco is showing the global food industry the way forward, from embracing sustainability throughout its portfolio and processes to applying faster technologies for identifying new probiotic strains and developing sweeteners and enablers that meet the call for fat, sugar, and sodium reduction.
Fabienne Saadane-Oaks, president of Danisco’s BioActives Group overseeing cultures, sweeteners, and health and nutrition spoke exclusively with Nutritional Outlook on the trends that will take the health and nutrition industry into the future.
SustainabilityWhy are bio-based and sustainable initiatives so important, particularly in the areas of nutrition and health? How will they become increasingly important to these industries in years to come?
I think there are two aspects to your question. The first is general sustainability and bio-based ingredients. That’s a generic customer need, a consumer requirement that goes beyond food. There are a lot of other areas in which sustainability and the replacement of chemicals is seeing strong demand from the consumers.
Food is no different. And actually, food can be considered at an even higher level because there’s a definite understanding by the consumer that health and food are very, very strongly connected. The way that consumers select food is directly linked to the benefits they can derive and how they can make a difference in the world-both on a general level, but also personally. So we see the sustainability push and demand very strongly in food, as well as in the push for health, food protection and food safety, and the need to understand and feel comfortable and reinforce the trust between the food industry and the consumer.
It’s a holistic approach. It’s about sustainable ingredients, traceability of those ingredients, and it’s about foods that restore trust between the industry and the consumer.
How crucial is it for food companies to move in the direction of sustainability?
I think it’s a very strong industry trend. And I think it goes beyond Danisco alone-although I think that Danisco’s well positioned to respond to this. But certainly in my understanding, this is a consumer request, so all companies that want to do business in food should probably take a serious look at how they are doing this and make sure they respond to that need. Otherwise, I think they’ll be left out at some point in time. And we’re seeing this requirement expressed loud and clear by the consumers, the retailers, and by our customers, the food processors themselves. So that’s actually moving quite quickly now.
What are Danisco’s goals in terms of applying sustainability to all aspects of its business, and how far along are you in meeting those goals?
This is all completely part of our strategy. So, we have made a good start, but we’re certainly not right there yet. I think it’s something we need to develop and reinforce. It’s going to be part of our competitive and differentiating positioning, but it’s something that we need to continuously work on.
And I think Danisco was among the first, probably, to realize that sustainability is more than just looking at our own footprint, but really trying to consider our customers’ sustainability by the products we offer them. We try to take a very comprehensive approach to sustainability by saying, “Okay, we need to focus on the environmental impact of our own production sites, but just as importantly as that, how can we help our own customers develop sustainable solutions for their own customers?”
Whether we look at enzymes for detergents or food ingredients, how can we develop products that either, in the way they are processed or by their reduction of energy and water, help our own customers themselves achieve a lower environmental footprint in their own production sites and also respond to that sustainability requests for the finished products. So we see our bio-based ingredients as key enablers for the customers themselves to deliver finished products with an enhanced sustainability profile to the end customer.
Does Danisco have a target date in mind for its current sustainability initiatives?
[We’re looking at] the horizon of 2020.
We have developed three sustainability strategies across our value chain (because we understand that we have both impacts and opportunities from field to the forks of the consumer). The strategies have resulted in the development of targets moving toward 2020 and to address the megatrends.
We are developing targets for sustainable sourcing, including our commitment to source 100% sustainable palm-based emulsifiers in 2015. The targets are in the development stage at the moment and are centered around our supplier risk-assessment process.
We have developed 2020 targets for our direct operations, using 2009/2010 as the baseline, which are the following:
We are investigating targets for sustainable product offerings at the moment. This initiative has been initiated in three dimensions. First, we are building sustainability screening into our product-development stage gate process (GPS). Second, we are conducting conceptual LCAs to assess the impact reduction of our products in the consumer applications. Third, we are embarking on sustainability partnerships with our customers to deliver more sustainable solutions to the market.
Nutrition and HealthIn terms of Danisco’s health and nutrition portfolio, what are the areas in which you’re seeing the greatest growth-and the greatest potential?
We’re really looking at digestive and immune health and weight management as the key areas where there’s huge demand and where Danisco is well positioned to help develop solutions.
We have a strong basis in probiotics and fibers, and these are the two legs that we will continue to grow. And beyond that, we’re looking at adding new products to the portfolio, to mostly address those health platforms mentioned above.
Danisco has two basic, simultaneous axis of development. One is really, I would call it, ‘active health’ based on health claims, particularly digestive health and weight management and immune health.
But you also have the whole area of pure nutrition-reduction in sugar, reduction in salt, reduction in fat, etc. And it’s actually the whole Danisco portfolio in sweeteners and enablers that help formulate food in a way that our customers can, again, reduce sugar levels, fat levels, salt levels, etc. You need ingredients to help do that and still have products that taste and feel good at the end of the day.
So the way we work on health and nutrition is both on the formulation of tasting-good food that provides this reduction in the “bads,” as well as enriching the food with more fiber, probiotics, etc. We work on both aspects, and that’s what’s unique to Danisco.
ProbioticsHow is Danisco seeing its probiotics business grow?
We have high hopes. This is a very successful business for us, both in the dietary supplements and the food side. We are devoting a lot of R&D investment to developing new offerings-again, both for existing platforms but also [going further] to really enrich and substantiate the health claims that our customers want to be able to use.
We see probiotics as a winner in the future because of the strong science behind the whole category. Of course, right now, there’s [there is industry contention over EFSA’s health-claims process], but I’m convinced that we’ll see reason prevail in this area. Probiotics is one of the best-documented product categories in the area of active health. And I certainly hope that the regulation evolution in Europe will not kill that product category because the results would certainly be [detrimental]-research moving outside of Europe and innovation for the consumer being reduced quite significantly.
But providing that happens, or providing that the regulatory evolution comes to a more-reasonable level of requirements than what we are experiencing right now, I think probiotics will continue to grow very significantly-double-digit growth-and certainly we at Danisco are continuing to invest more and more to grow that product category.
Again, it’s well documented. The areas in which probiotics can deliver an active health benefit are well known in digestive and immune health, but there’s much more to it-in UTI, oral care, and skin care, not to mention combinations of probiotics with other prebiotic products. So there’s a lot still to be gained.
And the science is helping. Whether you seek better understanding of the deliverables of probiotics or whether you seek to really understand the correlation between a strain and what it’s able to deliver in the human body and making that link between the two, it is definitely linked to scientific analytical tools, the characterization tools, that are improving day by day.
For example, the fact that we are now able to get the genetic footprint of a strain in a matter of days, as opposed to in the past when it would have taken months to do, is really helping to develop new strains much more rapidly than in the past. This is all-natural screening that we’re talking about. The ability to do the fingerprinting of the strains enables all producers to be able to really come out with new offerings in their probiotic portfolios much faster than before.
As far as consumer acceptance of probiotics, is there a population that you’re targeting?
Not really, because [probiotic benefits apply] to all kinds of populations. Of course, you may not have the same marketing target when you speak to, say, immune health. Some products are more targeted to prevention of cold and flu in children, for example. Or you can look at the elderly population. But then in weight management, you’re targeting the large adult population.
And that’s really the beauty of probiotics. It’s a question of really looking at the various populations and how you want to segment them with their specific nutrition and health challenges. You can also look at various needs across the globe. Digestive health is pretty much prevailing all across the globe, and so is weight management. Immune health is probably much more developed in the Western world. So although you have pretty basic, large requirements around gut health and weight management, when it comes to more-specific immune health, then you’re looking to regional specificities and age-group specificities. And basically, in order to really substantiate what you’re claiming, you must develop your science, particularly your clinical studies, to be very much targeted at a specific benefit for a specific population.
SweetenersHow is Danisco seeing its sweeteners business grow? What are the strongest performers?
The sweeteners business as you know went through difficult times, particularly in 2008 and 2009. However, I’m glad to say that we’re on the road to recovery. We see the sweeteners offerings as an increasing part of our health and nutrition offerings, particularly targeted at weight management, and again, digestive health and oral care.
Whether you speak of xylitol for oral care, which has been one product for which EFSA has recognized the benefits for tooth-care in children, as well as when you mention our fibers-the Litesse brand-we see significant potential to continue to grow. Again, this is becoming a very sound business.
Are there any sustainability initiatives in this category right now?
I’m sure you’re familiar with the introduction of Xivia, which is the sustainable xylitol from Danisco. We’ve conducted a very thorough life-cycle analysis for the wood-based xylitol that Danisco produces, and we’ve been able to demonstrate that this is superior in terms of sustainability [compared] to corn-based production routes. So, Xivia cumulates both the health benefits that are generic to xylitol, in a way, but in a very sustainable way in the way that Danisco produces it. And the difference between this wood-based root versus the corn-based root is mind-boggling.
EnablersWhat does Danisco see as the potential for growth in this area?
I think the enablers business continues to grow very significantly, both the emulsifiers and the hydrocolloids. In health and nutrition more particularly, enablers in the large sense are very fundamental to all the efforts of formulation we are working around-for instance, sugar-free or sugar reduction, salt reduction. We see salt reduction, for example, as a very large potential for enabler systems and products. It’s not the only area, however. Fat substitution is our daily work for our enabler solutions.
So we definitely see the nutrition demand is a very strong pillar of the enablers business growth, focusing on where we see the largest growth opportunities around salt reduction; fat reduction; sugar, we’re already there; and continuing to develop solutions, not so much single products, but more importantly systems. And actually, we don’t limit that to enablers; it’s partly a combination of all the Danisco products. For example, the fiber line for which we won an award recently at Health Ingredients Europe. It was a combination of several Danisco products. The ability to play with the whole portfolio, from enzymes and enablers to probiotics and fibers, etc., is also quite a unique proposition from Danisco.
What are some goals that the health and nutrition industry will have to address going forward in order to continue to grow and be successful?
To me, it’s really the science behind the proposition. I think the consumer, rightfully, and regulatory bodies are asking for substantiation of the proposition, and I think it’s a move that Danisco welcomes. I think this is what the industry probably needs to continue to focus on, which is really making sure that all the value propositions around health and nutrition are supported by strong science.
As far as the active-health market, what does the future of functional foods look like regarding consumer demand and the evolution of more ingredients to address this market?
I think right now we’re seeing the border between functional food and food pretty much disappear. I think food in general is now moving towards food for health. One can say, “Is that’s true of the whole world?,” but I think it is. If you look at population growth, you look also at the fact that the world population is aging. You look at the fact that obesity is becoming really epidemic worldwide. So when we speak of food and the need to feed the population in general, I think we cannot isolate health and nutrition from this global need for better food, nutrition, and health, connected. Health and nutrition is a major axis for development for the whole food industry.
I see also the borders between dietary supplements, pharma, and food, in a way, also vanishing somewhat. It’s still a little different from one region of the world to another. It’s probably much more obvious in countries like Japan or the United States than it is, for example, in Europe, but we are seeing this trend that there are different ways to reach the health and nutrition target for consumers, playing on food and playing on dietary supplements as well, so I think we need to take that into consideration for what it means for our customers and for the way we position our ingredients towards these industries.
I think clearly, we were all wondering, when we had the crisis hit the economy in general in 2009, what the impact on health and nutrition would be. There were some people and articles saying there would be a stronger focus on cost and that health and nutrition as a high-added value would probably disappear, and we’ve not seen that at all. We’ve have actually seen the health and nutrition demand reinforced.
How might an acquisition by DuPont be beneficial for Danisco?
We see DuPont as a very science-driven company, and therefore we feel, based on their external communications and the way they position their understanding of the markets-dealing with the mega trends around global populations, needs for energy growth and replacement of fossil fuel bases-we see them very much mirroring the way we look at the world. So if you look at a company that understands the world the same way you do, a company that’s very scientifically based and that’s putting a lot of emphasis on developing scientific substantiation for what they do, cumulated with what they’ve been able to deliver in terms of process efficiencies and the ability to grow their business in a very profitable way, any company would benefit from that, including Danisco. It’s a combination of the performance that DuPont seems to be able to deliver, combined with the fact that they look at the world the same way we do.