Clean-label has remained top-of-mind for shoppers and snack and bakery product manufacturers for the last several years, with formulation strategies growing more detailed and nuanced along the way. The drive toward ingredient simplicity isn’t going anywhere.
And even though compliance with the foodservice menu labeling was recently delayed (see the FDA “Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements” page for complete details), it’s only a matter of time before operators begin required disclosure of ingredients for menu items. When that other shoe drops, we can expect a renewed push for clean-label in foodservice.
The Schwan Food Co., which operates in both retail and foodservice markets, recently launched a “simplicity initiative” directly tied to ingredients. In order to learn more about this project, I reached out to Stacey Fowler, senior vice president of product innovation and development for the company.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: What does the “simplicity initiative” launched by The Schwan Food Co. last year entail?
Stacey Fowler: The ingredient simplicity initiative is a continuation of our focus on providing food that meets a variety of consumer needs. We have made tremendous progress around our commitment to eliminate four ingredient groups from our broad portfolio to make foods with more familiar ingredients, and we’re on track to meet those commitments.
- Partially hydrogenated oils and artificial trans fats. The company eliminated trans fats from the vast majority of foods leading up to 2007. Partially hydrogenated oils, a source of trans fats, were completely eliminated from all Schwan products at the end of 2015.
- Artificial (certified) dyes. The company removed artificial dyes from all foods at the close of 2015.
- High-fructose corn syrup. The company is on track to eliminate high-fructose corn syrup by the end of 2016.
- Artificial flavors. The company is on track to eliminate artificial flavors by the end of 2017.
DJP: Does this initiative encompass both retail and foodservice products?
SF: We are updating our entire portfolio to ensure that we can delight our consumers and consumers with all of our Schwan’s brands.
DJP: How and why did the company decide on the specific ingredients it is choosing to eliminate?
SF: We first listened to our consumers about what they wanted in the foods they purchase. Consumers generally prefer manufacturers use ingredients that are familiar; like those they would find in their pantry. But this type of evolution does not happen overnight considering we need to ensure that the consumer experience is unchanged or improved upon from a quality perspective. Additionally, we needed to ensure we had available technical solutions to deliver the high quality and great taste that our consumers and customers expect from us. We also considered the functional role of the ingredients we prioritized for elimination and their specific organoleptic properties and shelf life versus their replacements.
DJP: What is the role of Schwan’s Chef Collective?
SF: Our goal for the Schwan’s Chef Collective is to engage a select group of innovative culinary experts who share our passion for creating and celebrating great food and positively impact the way people eat. By doing this, we hope to establish and showcase credibility in food and demonstrate our culinary commitment to excellence. The newly formed group is helping us think differently about our approach to frozen food. During our sessions with them, we had thought provoking conversations about our current portfolio and future innovation. Throughout the year, we will be sharing more on our work together.
DJP: How will The Schwan Food Company’s simplicity initiative impact the R&D and innovation work done by Schwan’s Chef Collective? Does this new move pose any unique challenges?
SF: For the pilot year, the Schwan’s Chef Collective was not involved with product design, but more focused on ideation around our innovation and renovation needs. They also brought a fresh eye to the usage and application of products we currently have in the market or will be launching in the near future. You will see this activation come through differently in each of our business units. Sometimes their work will be behind-the-scenes where they will work with our internal team to strengthen our innovation pipeline and sometimes their work will be more consumer-facing through culinary tips and tricks, ingredient highlights and recipes.
Regardless of the brand, business unit or Schwan’s Chef Collective event, the Simplicity Initiative will be the foundation of our innovation and renovation plans moving forward. We are excited to be able to continue to meet our consumers expectations by making these additional commitments that they are asking for now.
As any culinary expert will tell you, the foundation of great food is the quality of the ingredients and we are committed to ensure we are always leading in this area.
DJP: How will the company get the details of the simplicity initiative in front of retail and foodservice customers? Will any aspects of packaging change to highlight this new clean-label approach?
SF: In the K-12 segment, Schwan’s Food Service has a 40-year legacy of working with chefs, registered dietitians, child nutrition experts and school foodservice professionals, to continuously improve the nutrition of school food and while creating wholesome, great-tasting food for students. Our foods reflect children’s taste preferences and culinary trends, and incorporate the latest recommendations from experts in the science of child nutrition. As an example, our more than 100 K-12 school foods are free from PHOs and certified artificial dyes, and have 0 grams trans fats per serving. Speaking of trans fats, we have lead the way in terms of removal of artificial trans fats. We started this work many years ago.
In retail, here are some of the recent actions we’ve taken to meet consumers’ nutritional, health and wellness expectations:
- Freschetta Frozen Pizzas.Freschetta frozen pizzas are made with all-natural 100 percent real cheeses, premium meats and crunchy vegetables. Freschetta Naturally Rising Crust Pizza is made with no chemical leaveners, which means the dough rises using real yeast. Both Freschetta Naturally Rising and Brick Oven crusts are preservative free. Freschetta Gluten Free is Celiac Support Association (CSA) Certified.
- Mrs. Smith’s Original Flaky Crust Fruit Pies.Mrs. Smith’s is the only nationally distributed frozen pie made with real butter for the flakiest crust. Just like homemade, Mrs. Smith’s Original Flaky Crust Pies offer a shorter ingredient statement and do not contain: Artificial flavors, sweeteners or food dyes; trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils; high-fructose corn syrup.
DJP: How can going clean-label potentially help drive sales of frozen foods like pizza?
SF: Consumers are demanding more transparency in their food and asking for products that fit their wellness goals. If a brand is able to meet those needs, they will be successful in their respective category.
At the end of the day, we must pay attention to evolving consumer tastes and expectations in order to stay relevant. There is no food type that will not be affected by the health and wellness movement and rapidly changing culinary expectations. Our simplicity initiative and chefs collective are foundational parts of our evolution and commitment to being the best in class.