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Cracking the Code of Naturalness
Consumers are increasingly demanding natural foods that consist of sustainably cultivated and gently processed ingredients. This is especially the case for products that the food industry produces, says Heinrich Schaper, Symrise Executive Board member responsible for the Flavor segment. In the following interview, he explains why the company has developed a “code of nature®” and how it is using this platform to deliver against consumer expectations and market shifts.
Mr. Schaper, everyone is talking about naturalness when it comes to food. From your point of view, what impact does this have on the food industry?
The trend is actually toward more naturalness in all areas. This is a comprehensive movement touching on topics such as transparency, sustainability and traceability.
That’s why Symrise develops natural taste solutions for the food industry: We have carried out comprehensive research programs to analyze nature and the flavoring substances it offers – “cracking their code,” if you will, and making them available for food and beverages in a way that conserves resources.
Transparency and traceability are particularly important to us. Thanks to our vertically integrated value chain, we know exactly which ingredients come from where and in which products they are used. This enables us to positively influence the quality of our products starting at the source – for example, when we discuss with our onion farmers which varieties are to be cultivated and which resource-conserving agricultural methods are used, in order to maximize good taste. Our customers in the food and beverage industry can rest assured that Symrise products not only deliver great taste experiences, but also that they do so in a traceable, transparent way, in harmony with nature.
“code of nature®” is thus our all-encompassing promise for authentic taste, with traceable, natural ingredients that are processed in the gentlest way to satisfy our customers and their consumers.
Given the many applications in the food industry, this sounds quite complex.
Our products are used in thousands of foods and beverages, for example, in vanilla yogurts, orange sodas, chips or soups and sauces. Meeting consumer tastes for so many different product groups – while using a wide range of natural raw materials and following relevant legislation – is our daily work. And we can’t forget that we are always dealing with nature: With so many raw materials, it is difficult to always get the same quality at the right time. Harvests depend on the weather, soil conditions, and the cultivation methods used. Thanks to our deep understanding of nature and its raw materials, as well as the appropriate preparation methods, we can guarantee consistent quality despite all these differences. The consumer can count on their favorite ice cream with natural vanilla always having the same delicious taste.
Does naturalness actually have the same definition worldwide?
Many people surely imagine something similar when they think of it: For example, a purchase at the weekly market where you buy many fresh products that you then cook yourself. Or a food producer who collects their harvest in the field next to their shop. To better understand these approaches, we have developed a strategic platform that we call “code of nature®”. We offer natural products on this platform – which is increasingly becoming the standard for us. But we also go much further: With this platform, we are cracking the code of the conditions, as it were, under which we can produce natural, transparent and honest products for the food industry.
How do you make that happen?
We constantly combine the results of our worldwide market surveys with the latest findings from our own scientific research. We can thus combine our understanding of consumers with the most suitable manufacturing method for each raw material to develop natural taste solutions that meet consumer needs in the most modern, sustainable way. We have developed four guiding principles for the “code of nature®” that are valid worldwide. Their respective weighting may sometimes vary according to region and product category, but our comprehensive commitment to naturalness remains the same.
Can you briefly describe the four pillars?
“Best Naturals” – the best natural raw materials – summarizes our respectful purchasing and the use of rich natural ingredients, which we obtain from partners with whom we have been working in trusting partnerships for many years. “Applied Science” means that we process raw materials as mildly and naturally as possible, in constantly improving, gentle manufacturing processes. “Transparency” describes our approach to being a leader in advising and supporting our clients with tailored solutions that often go beyond current market standards. And, last but not least, we are “Consumer Driven.” Because all our efforts begin with consumers and understanding their expectations, we can create value for our customers and make products that truly delight their consumers.
How do you imagine that happening?
No matter in which region of the world our customers and their consumers are found, we are able to meet the most diverse requirements thanks to our teams of experts. We do this, for example, by meeting certain religious requirements or nutritional preferences. Take vanilla, for example: Alcohol is typically used in vanilla extraction. However, it is prohibited in the manufacture of halal products for Muslim consumers. We have thus developed an alternative manufacturing process that extracts the same rich vanilla flavor without the use of alcohol. We also obtain this vanilla from our sustainable cultivation cooperation in Madagascar, which in turn benefits local farmers.
So it’s always about covering all of the pillars?
The best raw materials, gentle manufacturing processes, transparency and consumer benefit play a big role in all our activities. This also applies, for example, to the topic of “proteins” – more and more people want to reduce their meat consumption. Our researchers, flavorists, food technicians and chefs are developing natural taste solutions for products based on plant proteins. The starting materials from peas, soy or rice often have taste deficiencies that our experts can correct, by giving meat-free or low-meat foods a taste, consistency and appearance that meet consumers’ preferences. The ingredients used in this process are natural and traceable. We make use of nature’s rich repertoire and employ the most suitable, gentle manufacturing process for each raw material.
The four pillars of naturalness serve as the foundation for taste solutions
You mentioned global diversity: How much do laws and regulations affect your work?
The number of legal regulations around the world is constantly growing. Strict rules apply to natural flavors. For all declarations, illustrations of ingredients on packaging or the labeling of individual food ingredients, we have to find tailor-made solutions depending on the product category and country. Because of this complexity, our customers value the understanding of food law and the advice on it that Symrise has to offer them. To ensure this for all our companies worldwide, we have set up our regulatory department on a global scale. But we also provide this service directly to our customers, many of whom are uncertain as to what they may use in products and how they must label what.
So, you operate at the intersection of politics, society, consumer demands and research?
Yes, exactly. These different aspects must be combined and taken into account, for example, within the framework of legislation aimed at the well-being of consumers. That’s why Symrise Flavor is a member of a committee to reduce sugar, salt and fat, for example.
In Germany, an agreement was only recently reached to reduce the sugar content in drinks and in children’s breakfast cereals as well as the salt content in frozen pizzas. In order to achieve the same taste as before, it is now up to us to reformulate the recipes. We can draw on our many years of expertise in the area of optimizing taste. For example, without adding sweeteners, we can balance taste profiles so that the products still taste sweet. Our flavors can balance 30 to 40% of the reduced sugar taste. These substances come from natural sources – making them, too, part of our “code of nature®”.