Begun in 1921 in the UK as a sugar supplier, Tate & Lyle (T&L) has become an agriprocessing giant, producing food and industrial ingredients, including flavour enhancers, stabilisers and fibres, as well as its mainstay, sucralose (Splenda).
In recent years, the company has focused a good deal of attention on the health-and-wellness market, according to Jim Miller, director of product management, Americas. "It's a huge part of our strategy," he says, "and a great opportunity. We are uniquely situated to deliver value to our customers."
Among the ways the company does this, Miller says, is by helping its customers to position their product with fibre, particularly with regard to weight management and digestive health. "We have added a lot of resources — people on the research side, a new nutrition department (providing things such as nutritional studies and physiological benefits), people on the commercial side who work on health and wellness exclusively. We also have a new products-application group."
T&L's emphasis in this area is on two platforms, sweeteners and texturants, Miller says. In June 2007, the company introduced resistant starches, branded Promitor, which include a soluble corn fibre (also a sweetener platform). "Promitor is the umbrella, and there are more products and services under that. Many of our clients' products present problems [in repositioning] due to flavour issues or dissolution rates. We help them develop new offerings, and help their existing products become easier to formulate with.
"And we do a fair amount of consumer research, which we share with our customers." (See sidebar, below.)
Most of T&L's customers, Miller says, are looking for ways to develop products that fall into the 'better for you' category. "Our customers are developing products at moderate-reduction levels, not zero," he says. "It's a huge opportunity, but it must be the right technology. We have customers that remove 75 per cent of fats in a product. You can even approach 90 per cent fat replacement, depending on how the product is processed."
Sweetener optimisation is another example. "We can talk to our customers about how they can look at formulas and move products to one or more nutritionally beneficial spots, say to reduce sugar and/or cost. We can take a full-sugar product and reduce it moderately, which we demonstrated successfully last year at IFT."
Surprisingly, Miller says many customers decide that they don't want to promote a health benefit, but choose to simply improve the nutritional panel or reduce costs. "They often aren't seeking a health claim. They tout value in other ways —'new, more chocolaty flavour,' or 'more fruit flavour,' for instance. So we're trying to act as a consultant to them by providing consumer research, custom blends and the like. We have two outstanding departments to help with this: a technical-services group for day-to-day operations, and applications specialists for bakery and dairy and snacks."
T&L is moving in other ways to tap into the growing awareness of issues common to the health-and-wellness consumer, such as sustainability. It announced earlier this year that all of its 1kg retail packs of white, granulated cane sugar are now certified Fair Trade. Plans are to have all its UK retail range Fair Trade by the end of 2009.
Says Ferne Hudson, head of media and public relations, "We have a strong heritage in responsible business practice and a long-term commitment to our sugar cane-farming community, so Fair Trade certification was the logical next step for us. We see this as the beginning of the journey for our sugars range."