When it comes to going “green” and growing “green,” various bakery and snack manufacturers are changing the game. Here’s a peek at some of the latest sustainable ingredient developments and technologies that are designed to keep the industry thriving in the future.

When it comes to going “green” and growing “green,” various bakery, snack and food-related companies are changing the game. However, improving the sustainability of products and ingredients just may start with farming and crop production.

Representing U.S. farmers, the United Soybean Board (USB), St. Louis, a farmer-led organization consisting of 68 farmer/directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of U.S. soybean farmers, seeks to boost agricultural productivity to help feed the world, improve human health through good nutrition, be stewards of the environment and improve social and economic well-being of agriculture communities.  

Soybean farmers are using science-based mechanisms to help assess sustainability in the soy value chain. Production systems are increasingly environmentally sustainable and organic. Biotech varieties account for the vast majority of U.S. soybean acres. Biotech crops are able to produce more food than conventional agriculture with less environmental impact. In 2010, the USB commissioned a quantitative study to measure Americans’ perceptions and awareness of sustainable farming, and it proved to be a somewhat unfamiliar term, with more than 63% of the participants reporting that they “didn’t know” what the term sustainable farming meant. However, once a definition was provided and participants were asked how they perceived U.S. soybean farming practices, 72% agreed that U.S. soybean farming is sustainable.

The study further indicates that 70% of Americans consider sustainability when choosing food products at the grocery store. And, when consumers think about sustainable farming, they most often refer to a way of raising food that’s healthy for consumers and animals without harming the environment. U.S. farmers rank as the global leader in sustainable farming, the USB study states.

Palm oil progress
Cargill, Inc., Minneapolis, and its joint venture, Horizon Milling, LLC, enacted several sustainable programs, such as boosting the sustainable stakes in palm oil, with a move that all palm oil products (excluding palm kernel oil products) that Cargill supplies to the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand will be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and/or originated from small-holder growers by 2015.

This commitment will then be extended to cover all of the company’s palm oil products and customers worldwide, including China and India, by 2020, says vice chairman Paul Conway.

Cargill is also working to develop other solutions that can aid in developing more sustainable food production, states Jennifer McLenighan, food ingredients marketing manager at Cargill. The company sets five-year environmental goals for improving energy efficiency, greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity, renewable energy and freshwater efficiency. Its current set of environmental goals extends through May 2015.

“Eleven percent of our energy comes from renewables with the goal of increasing use of renewables to 12.5% of the energy portfolio by 2015,” reports Pete Stoddard, director of corporate affairs at Cargill. “In 2010, we expanded the Behavior-Based Energy Management (BBEM) program, which engages employees to reduce energy consumption.”

A new business with a carbon or energy reduction focus called Cargill Process Optimizers (CPO) offers services that work with food manufacturers to reduce energy and water consumption, optimize yields and enhance capacity. CPO also helps food manufacturers grow leaner through operational and sustainability efficiencies, thus improving the bottom line. “Whether a bakery needs to squeeze more capacity from existing assets or tackle sustainability goals, CPO delivers pragmatic, actionable solutions with a quick return on investment, usually within two years,” says Dave Ward, general manager, Cargill Process Optimizers.

EcoFlourfrom Horizon Milling, Minneapolis, uses technology combining satellite imagery and soil samples.EcoFlour growers apply nutrients to crops only where they’re needed, resulting in more efficient fertilizer and energy use, fewer emissions and higher yields per acre. The customizable program links precision agriculture technology through the supply chain from the farmer to the bakery. Partnering with Horizon Milling allows customers to develop new products that reach a “green” audience, make improvements in reducing their carbon footprint and source responsibly to protect their reputation, according to Jim Jarman, marketing manager at Horizon Milling.

However, Cargill does face challenges with regard to sustainability, McLenighan says. “It’s important to understand where each customer is with regards to executing initiatives around sustainability. Sustainability is still an emerging area, and the food industry is working to identify products with meaningful value to the consumer. In many cases, sustainability is a driver in a consumer’s purchasing behavior, but not likely the only driver,” she adds.  

Extending shelf life
Guohua Feng, manager of bakery ingredients IC at Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kan., sees two trends: “Ingredients that promote ‘all natural’ and minimally processed products and those that extend the shelf life, which in turn reduces waste and increases production and distribution efficiencies.”

“We dedicate a significant amount of time finding ways to help customers reduce waste and keep product on the shelves longer,” Feng says. “Our enzyme technology helps ensure freshness and extended shelf life of bakery products and reduces waste of the products being returned as ‘stales’ from the display shelf. The technology also allows for greater flexibility throughout the supply chain.”

Enzymes in baked goods also allow for a cleaner label, Feng explains, because the enzyme technology takes over the roles traditionally filled by chemical-sounding ingredients. “OurTrancendim products can stabilize liquid oils without palm or hydrogenation on the label,” Feng adds.

Caravan’s newPristine500, an addition in thePristine line of clean-label bases and functional ingredients, is a natural dough strengthener and conditioner designed to remove undesirable additives while still maintaining dough strength, explains Feng. “The line allows bakeries to produce products from all-natural or minimally processed ingredients.”

The company’sInvisible GoodnessNatural Base offers many health and wellness benefits by invisibly adding better-for-you ingredients such as whole grains, vitamins and fiber without compromising on taste, Feng says. “Consumers can enjoy bakery products in a new experience, and manufacturers can produce, distribute and sell this type of product more efficiently.”

However, Feng says, “The benefit of increased sustainability can sometimes be hidden. Also, new technology often involves a new way of thinking and doing things. For example, increasing shelf life will change how customers and consumers view the shelf life and quality of bakery products and how those bakery products will be manufactured, transported, distributed, marketed and ultimately consumed. And often, new technology costs more, especially on the earlier stages of commercialization.”   

Color me green
Sensient Food Colors, LLC, St. Louis, Mo., provides new aseptic packaging capabilities that establish best practices for natural color production and minimize the carbon footprint. The company creates color for food applications, and is known for proprietary technologies, including Fusion Precise Natural Colors. The aseptic packaging offers customers preservative-free colors that deliver maximum shelf life and enhanced sustainability.

“Our customers want preservative-free, natural colors to align with wholesome, clean-label declarations,” explains Steve Morris, commercial director, U.S. Food Group. “Eliminating preservatives from natural color systems significantly reduces shelf life. Our new aseptic packaging system [allows us] to offer customers preservative-free natural colors with enhanced shelf life. Our aseptic packaging also aligns with our sustainability policy, as well as those of many of our customers. It reduces waste and is completely recyclable, minimizing the carbon footprint.”

Sensient’s new product line extension in microfines technology also uses “natural” ingredients that can be applied to powdered food and beverage applications, providing a visual appearance not achieved in the industry until now, according to the company. An evolution in “natural” colors for applications such as topical seasonings and powdered food applications, the microfine powders can enhance Sensient’s leading natural color portfolio, marked by an extensive color spectrum, consistency and superior product stability.

New operating procedures
Sustainability has become part of everyday life at Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Clinton, Wis. “Our program, called ‘Green With Briess’ started in 2005, when our application to the U.S. Department of Energy’s ‘Save Energy Now’ program was accepted,” says Gordon Lane, president and COO. “In 2009, we received an ‘Energy Saver’ award from the [U.S.] Department of Energy for acting on audit recommendations and reducing overall energy usage more than 7.5%.”

Briess’ sustainability efforts include reducing energy consumption and emissions, he says. “By reusing heat in our extraction plant, we reduced natural gas consumption by 20%. We realized similar savings in malting and roasting operations through a combination of new heat exchange systems and new operating procedures.”

New procedures or products undergo extensive reviews so that they’re produced in the most efficient manner possible and are constantly reviewed, Lane says. “We feel a great responsibility to operate in an environmentally conscious manner,” he says.

Natural food protection
Consumers don’t seem to focus on ingredients and food when it comes to sustainability, and look more at packaging, says Rebecca Bingman, marketing manager for Dansico USA, New Century, Kan. “You can see that reflected in the way most food companies incorporate the idea of ‘green’ in marketing-it’s most often about the packaging.”

“Consumers tend to not be aware of how important ingredients can be when it comes to lowering the carbon footprint of food,” she adds. “But the most significant means of lowering a food product’s environmental impact is extending its shelf life through ingredient solutions. Studies estimate that about 30% of all food is thrown away. When you extend its shelf life, you reduce impacts along its entire life cycle, reducing consumption of raw materials, water and energy in production and lowering waste and emissions from manufacturing, transportation and packaging.”

Danisco developed a solid line of solutions to help customers extend shelf life, such as theCare4Urange of natural food protection solutions, which includes MicroGARDfermentates, NovaGARD
antimicrobial blends, Nisaplin and Natamax natural antimicrobials,HOLDBAC protective cultures andGUARDIANnatural extracts. “We are coming out with the next generation of the Natamax B antimicrobial product, an effective mold inhibitor sprayed on the surface of bakery products (where mold would grow),” Bingman says.  

Natamax B was recognized among the “Best in Baking” at IBIE 2010 last September, promoting greater sustainability in the baking industry.

“With Xivia, Danisco’s sustainable xylitol product, we completely redesigned the manufacturing process to achieve dramatic improvements in environmental performance,” she says. “Our new xylitol process now uses the wastestream from a neighboring pulp and paper mill as a raw material source and has slashed the product’s carbon footprint by 90%.”

Danisco sees many challenges as opportunities to use sustainability as a driver of innovation, Bingman says. “Sustainability isn’t a destination; it’s a mindset and a way of life, about continually asking ourselves what we can do better and working to find the answer.”   

Shearer’s Foods, Inc., Brewster, Ohio, boasts the first Platinum LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) snack food production facility. Located in Massillon, Ohio, it was named Snack Food Plant of the Year bySnack Food & Wholesale Bakery in the February 2011 issue. “Company wide, sustainability is at the very core of Shearer’s values,” says Paul Smith, director of product solutions at Shearer’s. “We have many key initiatives, including a zero landfill program, resource conservation and scorecard tracking, recycling, health and wellness programs and many more.”

Smith sees organic and all-natural, minimally processed ingredients as big trends. “Our organic business has grown significantly over the last year,” he notes. “We have continued to grow our all-natural seasoning solutions and have many seasoning options that contain no artificial colors, preservatives or flavorings.”

Shearers’ wild riceworks product, launched in March, epitomizes the all-natural, minimally processed trend. “This great-tasting product features whole grain brown rice, wild rice, black sesame seeds and more in a delicious all-natural, gluten-free, vegan-friendly [form with] no preservatives or MSG, 0 mg. cholesterol and 0 g. trans fat,” Smith says. “We look across the product life cycle to find the best place to realize sustainable growth. We’ve achieved a lot, but continue to push ourselves to improve across the entire business.”

However, raw material costs sometimes present a challenge, Smith says. “Many traditional ingredient technologies may offer a lower up-front cost. At Shearer’s, we take a holistic, value-add approach to our costing. Sustainability is an important core value and thus is always considered at our company.”  

* Photo courtesy of Caravan Ingredients