Tim Avila is general manager of Zero Worries Foods Inc. and creator of ZSweet, a natural no-cal sweetener based on erythritol. With more than 20 years in the industry, here are his predictions for the future of sweet nothings, including what's on the horizon for healthy aging education at Nutracon 2011.
Fi: When consumers buy white sugar it pretty much tastes the same. But the stevias vary so widely. Do you think consumers will taste one stevia, maybe not like it, and give up on the category?
TA: The brands that have invested a lot of money to get trial purchase are starting to see the benefit in producing a material that tastes a little bit different than "old stevia" or conventional stevia. That's a function of various blends and formulations.
That's what I spent the last six or seven years doing: believing in the blend, looking for the right type of bulking sweeteners. We ended up using erythritol, as most people know, which is now part of our brand and product but has been popularized by brands like Truvia as well. The blends – which are where we put a stake in the ground first in 2005 – are what continue to deliver good taste performance for the consumer. Those blends are getting a little bit more advanced in terms of the taste modification technology.
Fi: Several ingredient companies have leapfrogged the value chain and gone directly to consumers with the finished goods. How do you interpret this business decision and would you recommend it?
TA: I definitely agree that we've seen a lot of it, so I think it's on the increase. It's a business decision of necessity because of investment and return on investment issues. There's maybe an overabundance or a build up of ingredients and materials, and maybe a disconnect or a log jam at the consumer packaged goods company. Producers have a window where they need to get a return on investment, so I think they have to look at all avenues of getting that material out of the factory.
Fi: Wouldn't suppliers' customers not want their suppliers to compete with them?
TA: It doesn't mean that the consumer packaged-goods companies won't be irritated by it. But at the end of the day, where there's that bottleneck, any producer or raw-materials supplier has a mandate to get a return on investment, so they may be forced into going that route because it's a viable alternative to get that return. There will be some categories like weight loss, which would be highly contentious, and I think that might not go over so well.
Fi: You're the coach of the healthy aging track at NutraCon. What trends and new developments do you anticipate seeing in March 2011?
TA: I think we're going to be looking at the rise of very interesting polyphenols, or phenolic-type ingredients. Resveratrol has made a big noise in the marketplace. And other next generation polyphenols – pterostilbene would be one. Same thing for other key carotenoid or flavenoid ingredients. What are some ingredients that could have an impact for the Baby Boomers as they start inching closer to 70? We'll continue to look at that, whether it's expressing itself as vision benefits, cognitive benefits or cardiovascular and metabolic syndrome benefits.
Fi: Now let's talk about what really matters. Are the Lakers going to repeat as world champions?
TA: Yes, they are. I have no doubt.
Interview by Suzanne Shelton