Dawn Faulkner is Innovations Manager at Essential Cuisine, helping the north west manufacturer of class-leading stocks and sauces hone and develop its range of chef- favourite products.
Here, she discusses how consumer trends affect and shape the R&D process, and why, when it comes to creating products for professional kitchens, less is definitely more.
“Clean deck. It’s one of the many buzz phrases to have rung through the food manufacturing world for the past few years, but what does it really mean? Typically, a clean deck or clean label product is one that is minimally processed or ‘natural’; it can be free from a certain allergen or allergens, or from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. Whatever a product claims to contain, or not contain, transparency is key.
“While it’s universally accepted that consumer preference favours fewer ingredients and products that purport to be more natural. For chefs, a base product such as a stock, with as few ingredients as possible, can offer a blank but no less flavoursome canvas from which to apply their craft, or help them meet any number of dietary requirements in a simple and timely manner.
“As an example, very recently we took the decision to remove the gluten content from our entire range of products, recognising both the marked growth in coeliac diners and those actively choosing a gluten-free lifestyle.
“It’s a subject that working kitchens take incredibly seriously too. In a recent survey by the Change Group^, almost nine out of 10 chefs (89%) said they were taking food intolerances into account when planning menus and at 94%, gluten was the allergen given the most consideration.
“Kitchens are time pressured places, which is why many of them turn to high quality pre-made stocks in the first place. Put simply, it’s one less thing for them to worry over.
“With this in mind, we have in recent months also sought to remove all added palm oil from lines such as our Bechamel and Crème Anglaise, Although it’s not an allergen, palm oil’s continued use was something we considered extremely carefully as a company before deciding to introduce alternative natural fat sources into our products, ensuring they retained both their taste and performance qualities.
“The palm oil debate is undoubtedly polarising, with the environmental effects of its farming stoking widespread controversy in recent years. Key players like Selfridges and Iceland have been swift in removing all product lines that contain palm oil, with many others following suit. A 2017 study by Cone Communications uncovered that the ‘vast majority of consumers’ (88%) are more loyal to companies that support social or environmental issues. Chefs are no different, of course, and knowing this meant we could show leadership on the issue.
“As an SME within the foodservice industry – boasting an in-house team of development chefs, food experts and product designers – we can often be more dextrous than most when it comes to product tweaks, reformulations or bespoke lines. Working in the Foodservice sector we are constantly on the lookout for new ingredients, tracking trends, or pieces of insight that can help keep you ahead of the game.”
Proactively searching out new ideas can be streamlined and agile, whereas for larger, multinational companies to initialise changes based on research can be a lengthy complicated process. Not so with us; product changes based on solid feedback from chefs, on simple ethics or dietary trends, can be made in weeks as opposed to months and result in a more ‘natural’ end result with absolutely no quality compromise.