While the days of mindlessly grabbing a snack at the vending machine or purchasing the cheapest loaf of bread on the shelf have not disappeared, people are now focusing on their foods’ backstory before they buy it.
Unsatisfied with a list of ingredients, consumers want to take a deep dive into a food’s origins. How was it created? Is it non-G.M.O.? Was it ethically sourced? These questions are becoming more common and put pressure on bakers and snack makers to not only verify the source of their ingredients but also create a narrative in hopes of remaining transparent with consumers.
Starting the process of ingredient verification can be overwhelming. Many programs and suppliers are available to help businesses navigate the field of claims. When making declarations, a certification scheme is typically available to validate a statement of organic, non-G.M.O. or gluten-free. Organizations with this authority establish standards for compliance and typically require businesses to be audited on an annual basis by independent third parties, said Marie Lavialle-Piot, sustainability program manager, Cargill.
According to Nielsen, sales of non-G.M.O. foods have gone from $12.9 billion in 2012 to $21.1 billion in 2016. Research revealing the safety of G.M.O.s has not stopped consumers from purchasing products labeled as non-G.M.O. The power of this label has encouraged many to work with ingredient manufacturers that supply non-G.M.O. ingredients.
Ingredion’s Truetrace program allows the company to track the origins of its non-G.M.O. corn back to the farmer who grew it and the seed varieties and lots used to produce it. The program requires farmers to submit to audits and follow a series of requirements to ensure their crops are not grown with G.M.O. seeds and that their workers are properly trained to handle the ingredients.
Cargill also has a number of initiatives and programs it uses to monitor the non-G.M.O. ingredients it offers, such as corn, soy and high-oleic canola. Its KnownOrigins program allows for traceability back to the producers and adheres to strict testing and verification of non-G.M.O. ingredients.
For product developers unsure about the status of an ingredient, the Non-GMO Project offers a database through its website that tracks all ingredients it has validated. To receive the organization’s seal of approval, food companies must go through a 5-step process that lasts three to six months depending on the ingredient being evaluated. During the process, suppliers are subject to a product evaluation by a third-party administrator, and verification must be renewed every year thereafter.
“Bakers’ best assurance for the claims made by their ingredient suppliers is via a third-party certification program,” said David Whitmer, corporate director of quality, MGP Ingredients. “In the past year, MGP has obtained Non-GMO Project verified status for all of its wheat starch and many of its wheat protein products.”
Due to limitations of testing methodology, it should be noted that claims such as “G.M.O.-free” cannot be made. According to the Non-GMO Project, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high. Its claim can only assure consumers that the product is compliant with the organization’s rigorous standards.
“Free-from” products also are driving food sales and pushing manufacturers to secure certifications that legitimize their claims. According to Euromonitor International, sales increased 7% in 2016 to reach $32 billion. The growth seen in this category has boomed as consumers are reading labels more carefully, seeking natural ingredients and looking for foods that represent a “guilt-free” purchase, said Ewa Hudson, head of health and wellness, Euromonitor International.
Unverified gluten-free claims are easily made by manufacturers in the United States because of loosely established standards by the Food and Drug Administration. One of the most reliable certifications bakers and snack makers can use to verify the legitimacy of gluten-free ingredients is from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (G.F.C.O.). The group offers a G.F.C.O. Buyer & Distributor guide that outlines suppliers’ products that are certified gluten-free.
To obtain this certification, all products and facilities must be tested and inspected by a G.F.C.O. auditor. Products are then tested every subsequent year to verify the integrity of the claim. Incorrectly sourcing ingredients for free-from products can have detrimental effects. Making sure suppliers are properly producing and transporting ingredients for these items is imperative. When looking to verify any ingredient claim, Robert White, president, Focus Works, recommended getting copies of suppliers’ current certifications and double-checking its scope to ensure it matches the product being supplied.