Premixes are convenient and cost effective solutions for manufacturers who want to enhance their products and increase their functional values. However, their designs can be overwhelmingly complex and there are many factors to be considered in order to balance the ingredients and achieve positive results without any negative impact on elements, such as taste and appearance.
“A premix is a customised blend of micronutrients in powder or liquid form with uniform consistency that can be directly added to a finished product during manufacturing in one step, eliminating the need to measure and incorporate a variety of nutritional ingredients with varying consistencies and concentrations,” explained Jeremy Bartos, senior product innovation scientist of Glanbia Nutritionals (NA).
He dropped by at the company’s Singapore office recently during a trip to Southeast Asia to meet clients in the region. “For beverage applications, premix powders are formulated to be easily water soluble and compatible with factors such as pH, temperature and flavour. For ingredients that are typically difficult to incorporate, such as vitamin E oils and highly concentrated B vitamins, techniques such as spray drying and trituration are used.”
Going The Nutritional Path
Headquartered in Kilkenny, Ireland, the company started out as a dairy product manufacturer before venturing into the nutritional food market after discovering that the by-products from their cheese manufacturing facilities can be used to produce functional ingredients.
“They realised that they can do more with the whey than feed it back to the cows, due to its rich protein content,” he said. The company set up a nutritional division and has not looked back since. Currently, it has a global business network across the different continents, offering customised solutions for its clients.
Similarly, Mr Bartos was not a food scientist from the beginning. Being pharmaceutically trained, he spent the early part of his career doing drug research. He would bury himself in the laboratory running the tests that are necessary to attain sufficient data for a new drug to see daylight. As he found out later, the process is a long and tedious one that may take over a decade.
“For a drug featuring a new ingredient to be approved for sale in the market, it can take up to 10 to 20 years. However, a food product can get an approval in a much shorter time!”
That was what motivated him to make the jump to the food industry—the ability to benefit consumers with newly discovered ingredients in a relatively short time.
‘Rock Star’ Ingredients
He believes that a good premix is one that has a few ‘rock star’ ingredients—those with major health benefits—together with supplementary ones. What matter most is finding the right mix that can deliver all essential properties for specific applications, without any compromise that may affect product quality.
“Each mineral and vitamin can exist in different forms with different properties. It is important to identify which one is most suitable for the premix and the application,” he said. “For example, iron (II) oxide is water soluble, but has a metallic taste and is unstable. Iron (III) oxide, on the other hand, is stable, but not soluble.”
With the growing public concern over nutritional labelling, he commented that a responsible premix supplier is one that should avoid ‘pixie dusting’—a process where by an ingredient is added just to qualify the product for labelling, but has little health significance.
In order for the functional role of the product to be fulfilled, it has to contain the ingredient in clinically relevant amount, which is typically much higher than the quantity stated in labelling requirements.
This is one major challenge for developing countries like Indonesia as an increase in ingredient use translates directly to additional cost, which will be offset by an increment in price. As a result, there may a risk of pricing the people who need it most—the poor demographic—out.
He used a recent engagement as an example to illustrate this point. A company had asked him for recommendations on value adding an instant noodle product in Indonesia, which is a staple for the people there. Although he knew that DHA will be a good functional ingredient for this application, it was too costly. In the end he proposed adding vitamin C instead.
The next challenge was to ensure that the vitamin C added was of clinical significance. After all, the main consideration here was price. Since the food was a staple of the people, he came up with a solution.
“Instead of factoring in the per servicing level, we take the daily intake level to counter balance the price,” he said. They came up with the average consumption of the product per day and ensure that the ingredient intake per day was of a relevant level.
In terms of global terms, Mr Bartos has observed high demands for products that address weight management, energy, heart health, cognitive health, bone and joint health, beauty, digestive health and recovery.
Having worked in the Asia Pacific region for considerable amount of time, Dominic Mills, technical manager of the company’s Singapore office, was able to share some insights on the regional markets.
“Cost is an important consideration for some, but many are willing to pay for functional products, especially parents who want the best for their children,” he said. According to him, there are growing demands for antioxidant, anti-aging and infant nutrition products in the region.
Currently, the company is represented in Asia with offices in locations, such as China, Malaysia, Singapore and India. Expansion place in Indonesia has been officially announced. Mr Mills said the country is a key market segment for the company.
Regardless of the location, the premix supplier is able to replicate the same premix formula anywhere in the world. “Our harmonised global network enables information sharing and allow us to produce exact same formula anywhere in the globe,” he explained. “This cut down time and shipping costs.”