What You Need to Know about the 2019 Food Processing R&D Survey

What You Need to Know about the 2019 Food Processing R&D Survey

If you want to know what’s new in the world of food and beverage research and development, look no further than the annual R&D survey from Food Processing, the online magazine that serves as the leading information source for food and beverage producers. Now in its 48th year, the R&D survey offers valuable insight into the latest industry innovations and developments and shows how food and beverage manufacturers are responding to consumer trends. Read on for a look at five of the most important takeaways from the 2019 survey.

“Clean label” is having a big impact.

The clean label movement is one of the most important trends in today’s food industry, so it’s hardly surprising to learn that it’s having a huge impact on food and beverage product development. According to the 2019 R&D survey, one of the top development priorities for manufacturers is to “clean up current products”—16% of survey respondents cited this as a pressing issue, behind “really new product development” at 37% and “existing product improvement” at 20%.

Interestingly, “cleaning up” now seems to be a kind of industry shorthand for “removing undesirable ingredients.” When survey respondents were asked about the specific types of ingredients they expected to work with the most this year, the top four ingredients were things they wished to remove from products. Added sugars headed the list with mentions from 27% of respondents, GMO ingredients were next at 21%, and sodium and synthetic colors were tied at 19% each.

By contrast, types of ingredients that manufacturers are working to add to products ranked much lower: fruits and vegetables came in at only 16%, followed by fiber at 10%, and vitamins at 9%. These findings underscore the current understanding that the majority of clean label-oriented consumers are looking for “free-from” products.

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The Nutrition Facts label update isn’t a significant motivator.

On January 1, 2020, it will be mandatory for food and beverage manufacturers to use the new Nutrition Facts label. This update marks the first time that changes have been made to the label in nearly 25 years. Among other changes, the new label requires that manufacturers list the amount of added sugars, both in grams and as a percent Daily Value, that the product contains.

It might seem easy to make the link between the new added sugars labelling requirement and the fact that added sugars topped the list of ingredients that survey respondents are working to remove. However, the survey shows that the updated Nutrition Facts label isn’t a significant motivator for most manufacturers. Only 25% of survey respondents said they were working to remove added sugars due to the label update, while 70% said they weren’t making any changes on that basis. Some respondents went on to say that although they were planning to remove added sugars and other ingredients, the decision wasn’t specifically because of the label update, but simply in order to better satisfy consumer preferences and expectations.

Producers are dealing with GMOs in a variety of ways.

The formulation landscape is expected to change quite dramatically in 2022. At this time, foods that use genetically modified or bioengineered ingredients will be required to say so on their labels. It therefore makes sense that nearly half of all survey respondents (49%) said that pursuing non-GMO certification is a goal for their companies. Other survey respondents said that they would either use the USDA’s bioengineered label or put their GMO information online using the Grocery Manufacturers Association SmartLabel program. Some respondents confirmed that their products already bear a label declaring that they contain GMO ingredients.

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Time is of the essence.

Whether R&D departments are working to develop brand-new products, improve existing products, or clean up labels, survey respondents revealed that the pressure for R&D to achieve these goals quickly is high. A total of 43% of survey respondents reported “steadily increasing pressure” at their companies and a further 8% reported “very intense pressure, and it’s worsening.” In an industry that has historically been slow to introduce new products, a great deal of this pressure is due to the competition in innovation coming from smaller, niche firms and specialized private label offerings.

R&D departments feel undervalued.

According to author and consumer industry consultant Eddie Yoon, no one in food and beverage production fully understands how important R&D is to the industry. Many disruptive technologies, Yoon says, are rejected precisely because they are disruptive, and departments outside R&D don’t want to upset the core business. It’s therefore not surprising to find that food R&D tends to be underfunded: previous research by PwC has shown that the biggest food companies spend less than 1.5% of their revenues on research. Part of the challenge could be that one-third of survey respondents said that they don’t really have a formal product development team, which can make it difficult for food company managers to think of R&D as an equal partner in the business.