16 November 2010 – The popularity of the gluten-free diet has garnered increased media interest in recent months. Be they supermarkets or restaurants, food outlets are jumping on the bandwagon by offering a larger assortment of products and menu choices without gluten. Even some celebrities are publicly stating that they prefer to eat gluten-free foods as a wellness option.
For many consumers, though, eating gluten-free foods is a necessity, not a choice. They are gluten-intolerant due to a medical or health condition such as celiac disease, gluten/wheat intolerance or sensitivity, ADHD, autism and other conditions. And while many people know they have these conditions, there are also those who are undiagnosed. Both segments are benefiting from the improved awareness of gluten-intolerance and the growing number of products serving this sector.
To cater to the increased demand, food manufacturers are developing new gluten-free products or reformulating existing ones. Currently, non-gluten flours and starches - derived from varying sources such as rice, potato, tapioca, brown rice, millet, teff, and quinoa - are being used in food formulations. However, food manufacturers are confronted with the problem of making sure that their products taste good without the protein composite. The industry challenge is to produce these foods without losing the taste and quality properties associated with gluten.
“PenTechGF is a revolutionary product due to the fact that this technology gives product developers an opportunity to customize their gluten-free formulations without compromising quality. With the PenTechGF system, gluten-free foods can have a structure and mouth-feel equal or better than gluten-containing foods”, argued Randall.
With its long history of providing food starches and dextrins to a national and global market, Penford Food Ingredients of Centennial, Colorado, believes it is well-placed to take on this challenge.
“Since gluten makes up the structure in most baked and coated products, food quality can deteriorate when gluten is removed. The biggest challenge in formulating gluten-free foods is to create food products that have the texture and taste which are equal to or better than gluten-containing foods”, said Penford Food Ingredients’ President, John Randall, in an interview with FLEXNEWS.
Randall noted that his company’s food scientists and R & D staff have been working hard to address the issue. And, as a consequence, Penford has been enjoying significant growth in the past quarters.
In the last financial quarter, Penford Food Ingredients reported record sales of USD 19.9 million, a 20% increase over last year. Operating income, meanwhile, grew 49% to USD 5 million.
Part of the growth in the last quarter was driven by the commercial success of its PenTechGF gluten-free technology launched in April for both baking applications, and coatings applications. On the baking side, it is described as a “partial and/or full system to make gluten-free baked goods, tortillas and snacks.” Penford Food Ingredients claims that PenTechGF provides developers with the ability to create products that are equal or better in texture and taste compared to the gluten-containing versions.
President and General Manager
Penford Food Ingredients
Randall explained that food manufacturers have another advantage with PenTechGF. Indeed, as its technology is a partial and/or complete system, it can be manufactured at several Penford plants and be supplied in an efficient manner. And, the Penford Food Ingredients’ President also stated that his company’s manufacturing plants currently have sufficient capacity to supply the very noticeable growing customer demand.
Randall did admit though that there have been some advances in creating good tasting gluten-free products by using other ingredient systems. However, he argued that these food products still lack edible quality.
Gluten-free technologies were very much a central theme of discussion at this year’s widely-attended IFT show in Chicago. Penford Food Ingredients was able to attract existing and potential customers’ interest by demonstrating the benefits of its PenTechGF system.
While gluten-free food may be in the media spotlight, Penford Food Ingredients is also aiming to provide its customers with other textural solutions for sodium and/or sugar reduction and fiber-enhancing opportunities. According to Randall, it is important to note that Penford’s ingredient technologies improve texture of products when salt and sugar are removed or replaced. Their ingredients do not replace sodium.
Indeed, at last month’s International Baking Industry Expo (IBIE) in Las Vegas, also attended by Randall’s company, there was a lot of dialogue from industry players seeking fiber and whole grain options to improve their bakery products’ nutritional profiles.
“Our current R&D activity is focused on health and wellness opportunities such as gluten-free technologies and fiber enhancement solutions. We are also taking a systems-approach in creating unique starch technologies and carbohydrate blends to enhance functionality and reduce cost”, commented Randall.
Last year, Penford Corporation, the parent company which includes Penford Food Ingredients, invested USD 4.3 million in R&D. The R & D staff accounts for approximately 9% of the corporation’s 320-person workforce.
“Penford Food Ingredients can offer the marketplace several health and wellness solutions including fat replacement ingredient technologies for dairy, ice cream and meat products and fiber for bakery, snacks and bars. Penford actively looks for new ingredient solutions that improve product functionality and/or address health and wellness needs”, Randall went on to say.
In addition to the developments in gluten-free, sodium and/or sugar replacement textural solutions and fiber enhancement, Penford Food Ingredients’ record sales in the last quarter were also driven by an increase in sales in potato coating technology for French fries and in pet chews.
“We introduced a new clear coating technology for sweet potato fries which increases the fry’s crispness and enhances the tender texture”, illustrated Randall.
“In addition to the coating and bakery success, we remained strong in the pet chew segment. By using our customized starch-based product formulations, injection molding, extrusion and nutrition technology, we enabled several customers to successfully launch novel pet chews into the marketplace”.