Cereal bars are seen a healthy snack alternative, but they often contain large amounts of sugar (up to 40%). Granola bars are subject to this trend. While consumers are still attracted by indulgence, a decisive factor in the purchase of granola and energy cereal bars in the United States is
no/low/reduced sugar . And in addition, if sugar is present, the consumers accept this only if the sugar is natural origin. One of our clients, an international ingredient manufacturer/supplier, was approached by a customer who wanted to develop granola cereal bars with significantly lower sugar content.
From a technical standpoint, sugar reduction in cereal bars is a major challenge. Sugar does not only provide sweetness and flavor, but it also provides e.g., a binder function, which holds together the various pieces of nuts, grains and fruits.
Creax was asked to identify and select clean label binder solutions with little or no sugar concentrates or isolates for this client.
While intuitively perceived as a simple question, the research strategy requires a diverging and efficient approach to discover solutions that fulfill the diverse needs associated to the product (good binding of cereals, taste, nutritious value, etc.), compliance with existing production processes (e.g., pumpability), and commercial parameters, such as commercial availability, scalability, cost, technology readiness level, etc.
One must remark that "clean label" is still an elusive concept, with "simple" formulations and "natural" ingredients having different meanings for different people. Our client specifically was interested in ingredients that come from
natural sources. But most important, binding solutions that are perceived by consumers as ‘known’ and ‘all-natural’ are targeted.
Following a top-down research strategy, we performed text-mining analysis on
10.000+ documents (patents, publications, ingredient databases). By smart combination of functionalities and criteria, we finally identified more than 20 binding systems coming from 5 types of natural sources, that fulfill all functional requirements. For each solution, a good understanding of its working principle and functionality was provided to argument the selection of the best candidate. For our client it was equally interesting to know whether the identified ingredients were already used in cereal bars and in extension in other food products. This opens perspectives to partner with the companies behind or either focus on alternative products.
The project lead to the joint selection of the five most promising solutions. Shortly after, they were already evaluated in laboratory tests and this resulted in three new SKUs. Very recently our client successfully launched the final product globally.
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Adding functionalities to food leads to immediate gains, for consumers and for companies. Companies therefore want to know what to focus on to build a product portfolio. A complete mapping of technologies, ingredients and producers, supported by scientific evidence, practically leads to immediate alignment with consumer needs.
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