Innovation is an evolution—and stewarding a food system while navigating myriad changes requires attention and ongoing dialogue. Indeed, innovation is alive and well in the sustainable foods industry and, in its many forms, will be on display at Natural Products Expo West.
Here, New Hope Network’s Director of Market Integrity Shelley Sapsin shares how New Hope is specifically addressing food technology, one of the innovations effecting change in the food industry, and what you can expect to see in Anaheim. For more on food technology and other innovations we expect to see more of in 2022 click here.
There’s been rapid innovation in “food tech” during the last couple years. Will we see products at Natural Products Expo using these new technologies?
Shelley Sapsin: Expect to see an amazing number of new and innovative products. Covid may have kept us off the show floor, but it didn’t slow down innovation at all. And yes, some of these innovative products use food technology.
What kind of technologies would this include?
SS: Food technology, broadly, is the application of food science to preservation, processing, packaging and food safety. But today, food tech is shorthand for a variety of processes like precision fermentation (where genetically altered micro-organisms produce specific functional molecules like proteins) and cell cultured production (where animal cells are grown outside their natural environment) to produce products we traditionally expect to come only from animals.
At Expo, expect to see some new applications of precision fermentation in products like milk, ice cream, and cake. Also look for new (and long-established) plant-based meat analogs produced with fermented mycoprotein. Fermentation has become extremely popular, and understanding the different forms is important. You’ll see traditional fermentation used in products like kombucha, miso and yogurt, and biomass fermentation in fungi-based meats. These distinctions are significant – the products have different allergen and nutritional profiles and only some can be certified non-GMO.
Is this the first time you’ve had exhibitor applications from food tech businesses?
SS: No. One thing that’s important to understand is that many of the technologies underlying these new products have been around for a very long time. Precision fermentation, for example, was first used to make synthetic insulin in 1978 from E.coli bacteria. Twelve years later, cheese makers began using microorganisms to produce rennet and today, over 80% of the rennet used in cheese comes from fermentation-produced chymosin (FPC) instead of animal rennet. Cheeses made this way have been on the show floor for years. And it’s not just cheese; many vitamins and enzymes are also produced using precision fermentation.
Don’t you agree though, that even if some of the technology is the same, milk without cows feels different?
SS: Yes. Whenever something is out of sync with our expectations—milk without a cow, for example—it does feel different; exciting to some but concerning to others. That’s why we prioritize transparency and standards and encourage everyone to understand how products are made.
Does that mean New Hope’s taken a position on food tech?
SS: We do have a position but it’s not for, or against, food tech. It’s about transparency. Products like these are in the food system now, marketed as solutions for planetary problems. We all want solutions to some of the significant challenges we face: food access, climate change, fresh-water depletion, nutrient-deficient foods, food waste and more. This industry is a beautiful combination of traditionalists, preservationists and innovative disruptors. What better group of people to create informed solutions, so long as polarization doesn’t get in the way?
At our best, we are idealists, pursuing missions that elevate health and sustainability. At New Hope, we want to cultivate a prosperous, high-integrity CPG and retail ecosystem, an economically strong industry capable of creating health, joy and justice for all people and regenerating the planet. That’s our mission, and it depends on our providing a place where voices can be heard. We strive to create transparency and integrity in our marketplace and provide tools to discern among competing ideas and the resulting products. At Expo next week, we’ll be doing just that.
What does New Hope do to promote transparency and discernment?
SS: We bring together diverse thought; we conduct research and use it to write probing content. Every brand that exhibits for the first time at Expo passes through our Standards Department, and we review them again on the show floor. Long before the event, we see the ideas and innovations rolling in, and we work with brands to ensure they meet our requirements. Our Standards process is a very important part of who we are and what we represent. We maintain ingredient standards, we have labeling and marketing requirements, and most important, we have specific requirements about when a product can and can’t be labeled natural. Products made with synthetic biology, for example, may not be labeled natural.
Do you have specific standards for food tech?
SS: Our Expo Exhibitor Standards don’t address food technology separately from other products, but they do address how they can be labeled. Our Standards allow products produced with or sourced from genetically modified organisms or bioengineered ingredients, but these products may not be labeled or promoted with any “natural,” “all natural” or “100% natural” claims. We also recommend that these products include a statement of source for transparency. The Expo Ingredients Standards and Guidelines recommend that manufacturers use non-GMO sources for sweeteners, colors, flavors and flavor enhancers, preservatives, gums/thickeners/emulsifiers, bread ingredients and dough conditioners. We also verify all third-party trademarked logos, including certified non-GMO.
Non-GMO can be tricky though because some proteins, for example, produced through precision fermentation are not considered bio-engineered ingredients, even though they are produced from a genetically modified organism, correct?
SS: That’s true. That’s one of the reasons we’re developing definitions, with the assistance of a well-balanced industry panel, to accompany our Exhibitor Standards. When we’re presented with products that rely on food technology and make plant-based, vegan, non-GMO or natural claims, we can respond with consistency and promote transparency, which protects those terms for the individuals that rely on them in their purchasing decisions.
What kind of products can we expect to see on the show floor?
SS: Expect to see a real variety. You’ll see products that have been produced with food tech for years, like cheese, Vitamin C and resveratrol. Also look for collagen products, animal-free dairy ice cream and algae-based fish. You will also find many hundreds of certified organic products at Expo West, as well as many that are made with whole food ingredients. There will be a lot of exciting products on the floor that meet different needs
As we’re walking the floors next week, what should we be asking? How do we find food tech products if we’re looking for them, or avoid them if we’re not?
SS: Start with the ingredients, of course, but don’t stop there. Ask about the source of an ingredient, and always ask how the product is made. Consider its environmental and human impact, and whether there are studies that validate those assertions. Look at the identity statement on the product, the allergen declaration and use claims like animal-free, vegan and plant-based as cues to ask more questions. And best of all, because we’ll be back in person, you’ll also be able to taste these products.
What do you say to those people who have strong feelings about food tech, one way or the other?
SS: Come to Expo! Be a part of the dialogue. Be heard. Be a part of the solution.