In the two years since Welch’s first entered the ingredients realm, its strong brand recognition has proven to be both an asset and, at times, a challenge.
With nearly 150 years in business, Welch’s is known the world over as a leading brand of juices and jellies made from its signature Concord grapes. But in the ingredients realm, the grapes giant is still a relatively new player.
It’s now been about two years since the creation of Welch’s Global Ingredients Group, a division of Welch’s Food that offers Concord-grape powders, purees, concentrates, juices, and fruit bites for manufacturers to use in baked goods, confections, nutrition bars, dairy products, and other applications. But with a finished-product brand name as recognizable as “Welch’s,” has it been challenging opening up shop as an ingredients supplier?
“It has its advantages and its disadvantages,” said Wayne D. Lutomski, vice president of international and global ingredients for Welch’s, at the SupplySide West trade show. “The primary advantage, of course, is everybody knows who Welch’s is and most people have tried our product at one point or another on the juice side, so they have an awareness of it. What they don’t know are the health benefits, and they’re surprised to see us as an ingredient player.”
Interest in Welch’s Global Ingredients Group has been high, Lutomski added, although he says potential customers sometimes ask why Welch’s is now supplying its ingredients to other firms, rather than just using them in its own branded products. It all comes down to finding additional markets for the grapes Welch’s growers make.
Lutomski said he tells manufacturers, “you’re going to sell a lot more of it than we are with your application. So let us get it to you and let you go out there and sell it.” The message seems to be resounding, as several finished products featuring grape ingredients from Welch’s Global Ingredients Group are currently in development, including nutrition bars and confection products, with the first launches expected to arrive in the spring of 2017.
Welch’s is also working to build a research profile around the health benefits of its grape ingredients, though the products currently in development are mostly focused on using the taste of Welch’s grape ingredients as a way to eliminate the need for added sugars. However, Lutomski explained, the messaging behind Welch’s grape ingredients will increasingly focus on promising health areas as the research develops.
Welch’s Concord grape juice has been studied for positive effects on cardiovascular health, blood sugar, and cognitive function, with much of those benefits attributed to its grape polyphenols. With that in mind, Welch’s is now looking to study the ingredients it will be supplying to manufacturers, such as its FruitWorx Concord grape juice powder, to quantify the amount of those same polyphenols in each particular ingredient, explained Casey Lewis, health and nutrition lead for Welch’s.
In addition to the pleasant taste and potential health message of Welch’s grape ingredients, they may also have potential as colorants for food and beverage applications, Lutomski said. Welch’s is currently evaluating partners to possibly develop color-oriented offerings. Lutomski added that grape-based sweeteners may be another possible avenue in the works for Welch’s. In short, the famous grape-juice brand is considering all sorts of new markets for its ingredients.
“This is a revolutionary change for Welch’s,” Lutomski said. “We’re almost 150 years old. We’ve been in the bottle for 147 years. We’re taking a big step outside of our comfort zone and our technology, and it’s an exciting time for us.”
Nutritional Outlook Magazine