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Product blueprints help with sugar reduction

Kathy Groves, Head of Microscopy at Leatherhead Food Research, describes how creating a product blueprint can assist with reformulation for sugar reduction.

Food manufacturers and retailers are constantly innovating to set or respond to trends, such as the current requirement to reduce or replace sugar in key product categories. Creating a product blueprint can take the guess-work out of innovation, ensuring none of the process is left to chance.

A blueprint of a product is a map showing the ingredients, the state of the ingredients, how they are distributed throughout the product and which ingredients are responsible for the product properties. Armed with this knowledge, the manufacturer can set baselines for innovation and carry out a number of important activities with confidence, including:

• Reformulating to respond to trends such as ‘natural’, ‘clean label’, ‘reduced sugar’ and the demand for healthier foods

• Producing a consistently high quality product anywhere in the world by understanding the impact of production

• Responding to new developments in manufacturing processes, packaging or preservation methods

• Conforming to different regulatory requirements

How to create a blueprint

A number of techniques are used to develop a blueprint for a product. Microscopy, rheology and sensory profiling are key. These should be combined with chemical information and shelf life studies to create the complete blueprint. This can then act as a baseline for your innovation, helping you make product changes with confidence.

To explain how Leatherhead builds a blueprint, take the example of a biscuit. The crumb of a biscuit is key to the texture; this can be clearly seen using simple light microscopy. More information on the nature of the ingredients and their distribution can be obtained by cutting thin slices through the biscuit and using polarised light or staining to show the location and state of the ingredients. The images below show a standard biscuit made with sugar contrasted with one using a bulk sweetener.

Scanning electron microscopy can be used to show the three-dimensional crumb matrix in more detail and obtain information on the location of ingredients, such as fat and salt. The microstructure reflects the result of the formulation and the manufacturing process and as such is key to delivering the blueprint of the product.

Additionally, instrumental texture analysis provides quantitative information on properties, such as the hardness, brittleness and elasticity of products. This technique is ideally combined with sensory profiling to give a descriptive map of the important sensory attributes to which the microstructure is related.

As the images show, a simple exchange of sugar for sweetener altered the colour, structure and texture of the biscuit, as well as the distribution of fat, starch and protein. These changes can be mitigated to some extent; however, to produce a sugar-free product, which has the same texture and properties as the standard biscuit, requires an understanding of why changes to the product’s properties have occurred.

Blueprints in action

In the next few years, we expect companies that use the blueprint as a development tool to have a significant advantage over those that do not. An increased understanding of product behaviour builds rapidly as does the ability to make very specific improvements to products and anticipate the consequence of formulation changes.

 

If you have a reformulation challenge in your business and want to understand how blueprinting can help, then please contact us at help@leatherheadfood.com. Remember, the scientific method of creating product blueprints takes the guesswork out of reformulation.

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