Food ingredients

Changes in food formulations: nightmare or opportunity?

Reduced time for shopping, little loyalty to brands, preference for natural products, high quality, pleasant taste and no additives addition.

This is the modern consumer’s profile and the summary this consumer looks for in his/her purchase’s choices.

The current challenge of food industries is to adapt their products and processes in a way to please a public increasingly connected and eager for detailed information about everything he/she eats.

This means that ingredients that were considered adaptable need to be reduced or completely removed from formulations inside companies.

Furthermore, the cost reduction usually goes to the R&D formulator, who is caught in a real dilemma when the replacement of essential ingredients to obtain the desired characteristics of a certain product are required.

How to deal with formulation replacements? Is it always viable to replace key-ingredients? What is the modern consumer looking for and how does this affect product’s formulation? These, among other questions, will be addressed in this post from this point on.

Who are we producing for: what is the modern consumer looking for?

The consumer has changed. And a lot.

This change has a direct impact on the organic food market growth that in 2017 resulted in a profit of US$150 million with exports to Brazil. The organic products are a fit to a public that associates this category to a high trust, transparency and traceability.

Another market on the rise is the one of vegetarian and vegan products.

According to Ibope, the number of Brazilians who declare themselves vegetarians jumped from 8 to 14% between 2012 and 2018. Projections estimate that the vegan market with have reached the mark of US$ 5.2 billion worldwide by 2020.

Following this trend, new vegetarian and vegan products have taken shelves in Europe and The United States, with big brands investing in launching nuggets, breaded chicken leg, steak, hamburger and even ice creams. All of it without animal origin ingredients.

Even highly traditional products started to have vegan versions.

This is the case with Hellmann’s classic mayonnaise, whose egg-free version had this ingredient replaced by a corn starch basis.

Therefore, there is a valorization from consumers (vegan or not) for high quality fresh foods, conveniently allocated and, in some cases, pre-prepared as in already cut and peeled fruits.

These products are allocated in more attractive ways in supermarkets to capture the attention of an increasingly disloyal public, who opts for buying the products in a wide variety of stores and online channels, instead of focusing the shopping in one single place.


Snacks: Fast food, but not less healthy


The intense life people have also makes them go for snacks as an alternative to traditional meals.

However, no chips, canned or fast food.

Today’s consumer seeks for healthier snacks that are tasty and have natural ingredients that will positively contribute to health.

The rise of this more aware public is due to a higher access to information.

The companies’ R&D sector has a big challenge for the next years that is to develop formulations that allow the reduction or removal of these modernity “villains”. All of it linking pleasant taste to functionality, healthiness, practicality and sustainable development.

Formulation changes: Beneficial replacements for your company and the consumer

The food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) had already been a big ally of the food industry’s formulator to develop products such as canned soups, instant noodles, salad dressings, among others.

MSG is a derivative of glutamic acid which is found in natural sources such as seaweed and tomato, and is used to give the umami, known as the fifth taste, to various products.

A soft and lasting taste, the umami can do a big difference in a formulation, considering its capability to enhance food flavors.

This is why MSG, capable of providing this characteristic, is a widely used additive in the food industry.

However, not everything is a bed of roses when the subject is MSG.

Even though it is recognized by the FDA as a GRAS, there are issues reported on the excessive use of it, even causing headaches, nausea, dizziness, increased heart rate, among other symptoms.

According to USDA, the consumption of MSG must not exceed 3 grams, taking into account up to 5 fried rice portions or half a kilogram of meat.

This recommendation is based on studies conducted in newborn mice and flies, in which the high quantity intake of glutamate allows the compound to travel from the blood to the brain. It caused brain damage and death in some animals.

These negative evidences related to MSG, together with the constant consumer search for sodium reduced and no additives addition foods, has been leading R&D departments to look for alternative ingredients that keep glutamate’s flavor and functionality.

The MSG had already been successfully replaced in the Ranch dressing by an ingredient with low sodium produced from plant extracts and sea salt, called umami Mediterranean.

The umami Mediterranean was able to keep the characteristic flavor of Ranch while it promoted a 30% sodium reduction.

Another successful example of MSG replacement is in natural chicken and pork flavours. Besides not having MSG, there are market solutions free of any additive and 100% clean label.

The risks in changing food formulations

It’s undeniable that the R&D professional from a food industry should guide the sector’s innovations in the market trends. However, caution when innovating is an indispensable ally.

When the traditional formula of Smirnoff Ice was changed to add a fermented apple product, a substantial number of its consumers rejected it, significantly impacting the manufacturer, Diageo.

To make up lost ground, the company had to change the production process again to put the old formula back to the market.

Nestlé decided to meet the public’s expectations that ask for reduced sugar products and decreased the amount of this component on the classic formulation of the chocolate Kit Kat. For that, milk and cocoa amounts were increased.

According to the company, the biggest worry of consumers was regarding the change in the chocolate’s classic flavor. But according to them, it remained unchanged.

These examples show that changing formulation, mainly in consolidated products in the market, is always a risk. Caution is necessary to ensure that the investment does not fall through and cause the need to revert to the original formula.

What must be asked before a change in formulation

The R&D professional knows that not always the formulations must be changed only because the consumer is requesting.

In most cases, this request comes from the executive high-level of companies and is related to a very common thing for all of us: cost reduction.

Before reaching R&D, other company sectors must be analyzed in order to check whether or not there is a money leak.

Production processes with problems, raw material waste, out-of-standard product, returns. Many times, adjustments in these issues and increasing productivity already promote a considerable reduction in costs.

Further, it is important to be aware of the real need of cost reduction. Sometimes, a quality improvement of the product can make it more competitive, thus increasing revenue.

Still on this topic, looking for high quality suppliers of ingredients is essential.

Also, it’s important to negotiate the best conditions with these suppliers, mainly regarding factors that affect in any way the cost, such as the number of deliveries in a period and long term contracts.

In case cuts in R&D are really necessary, it’s important to carefully analyze its formulation and question somethings such as:

•  Do I have 2 or more additives that have the same function and would work the same way separately?
•  Do I really need such an extensive ingredients list? Are all of those inputs really essential to my product?
•  My competitor’s product is cheaper than mine with the same quality level. What is the formulation difference? Which are the ingredients used by them?


Whether it is to meet the needs of the modern consumer or to improve the financial health of companies, reinventing products is essential these days.

However, change usually invites rejection, especially in traditional formulations. The fact is that innovation must be carried out step by step, allowing consumers to become used to it over time.

To understand your public, study and make replacements better with no losses of quality and to choose the best approach are the first steps for a successful change!

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