As we reported recently, both the Senate and the House voted to pass a federal GMO labeling bill that requires mandatory disclosures on food labels, and would pre-empt and nullify all state-led GMO labeling laws including the one that has just come into effect in Vermont.
Jim Zallie, EVP Global Specialties and President Americas, sat down with FoodNavigator-USA at the recent IFT Expo in Chicago, and told us that the labeling is only going to help clarify and create choices for consumers. “We’re pleased the labeling has brought clarity.”
The company’s non-GMO portfolio in the US is “not an insignificant portion and growing”, he said.
“The overall non-GMO issue caught much of the industry by surprise, and only goes to show you the power of the consumer,” said Zallie. “We saw it coming two to three years ago and didn’t want to ignore it. Our strategy for pulse-based ingredients and natural sweeteners has played out well for us.”
The company has moved strategically to diversify its ingredient portfolio, with bolt-on acquisitions bringing much of the diversity: In recent years the company has acquired Penford (for $340 million) and Kerr Concentrates (for $100 million), and Ingredion remains on the lookout for more acquisitions that are in the $300 million to $500 million range. “Ideally they are bolt on acquisitions that would fit with our focus on texture, clean label, wholesome, and health and wellness,” said Zallie.
The Kerr acquisition, which closed in August 2015, is seen as an ideal example of this. The company offers simple food ingredients, and is described by Zallie as a, “sound, well-managed company. The business is doing really well and we’re learning a lot.”
All this allows the company to move away from ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, which continues to be a smaller and smaller part of the overall portfolio, said Zallie. “HFCS will be below 10% to beverages this year,” he said. The company sold its Canadian HFCS facility to Jungbunzlauer allowing them to reduce HFCS from the network.
“The rest of the specialty and core business continues to grow,” he said. “The company has a focus on sweeteners and positioning the sweeteners networks to produce non-GMO glucose syrup, dextrose and maltodextrin.”
Stevia is also an important ingredient for the company. The Enliten-branded ingredient - a Reb A product – was introduced several years ago and work is currently underway on the next generation stevia products. “There’s more to come on that,” said Zallie.
“We’re aggressively investing in the specialties business,” he added, and noted that 30% of revenue by 2019 will come from its specialties, excluding M&A.
A changing industry
Anyone watching the food industry will see the challenges large CPG companies are facing from smaller, more flexible companies, said Zallie: The focus is on simple, clean label products.
“We’re adjusting our go-to-market model to improve connectivity with those diverse entrepreneurial networks and also working with larger CPG companies looking to remake themselves. You’ve already heard from General Mills say it intends to be the ‘best big small food company in the industry’. We’re very sensitive to these changes and we’re redeploying resources internally to meet those changes.
“The small and medium sizes companies have shown that they can adjust to consumer demands very quickly. These companies are not going away. Large companies will figure out how to become more nimble and flexible,” he said.
Zallie also discussed the private label sector, noting that this has flat-lined. This sector boomed because of the value proposition they offered during the recession, he said, but branded food companies have consolidated and the price points have come down and now they’re competing on price with the private labels.
“It’s all about affordable formulating, and companies are coming to Ingredion for this. We have savings calculators and ingredient interchanges to support them with their efforts,” he said.
And to finish, what about gut health? The company has a number of ingredients that are prebiotic, like short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), as well as resistant starch.
“We’re very interested in the role of the microbiome in health and wellness in the future,” said Zallie. “When it comes to carbohydrates for digestive health we want to position ourselves as the leader in that area.
“We already have FOS and GOS, and we’re the leader in resistant starch, and we will be adding more tools to the toolbox. We aim to advance the thinking on formulating with carbohydrates for gut health because it’s an important area for health and wellness.”