Bakers should look to inclusions as a way to shorten ingredient lists.

Reformulating always comes with a tradeoff. When changing a tried-and-true formulation, it’s important to know what can be compromised and what can’t.

“All seasoned formulators know that certain compromises must be made to arrive at an acceptable product, especially if a critical ingredient must be replaced,” said Toby Moore, baking professional, AIB International.

When it comes to reformulating for short label, formulators must decide how much they are willing to bend on issues of taste, function and processing.

Taste is always a concern for food manufacturers.

“Taste will always be paramount, followed by the shorter ingredient list,” said Jenny LaPaugh, senior director, Global Market Research & Insights at Dawn Foods.

Regardless of what consumers say about a demand for healthier products, their spending habits say they still buy based on taste first. In its consumer research, Dawn Foods found that not only do consumers prioritize taste but good taste made from ingredients they consider to be real food.

Bakers should avoid comprising taste when reformulating for short label.

“To do this, bakers need to formulate with ingredients that maintain desired tastes, while also removing the unrecognizable and artificial ingredients,” Ms. LaPaugh explained.

This includes removing artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and partially hydrogenated oils.

This may be challenging as ingredients that appeal to consumers may not meet their expectation of the final product in terms of color and taste.

“When it comes to reformulating foods, one challenge is making sure that the foods look the same, as certain ingredients change the color or appearance of foods when removed,” said Jonathan Davis, senior vice-president of R.&D., La Brea Bakery. “Natural ingredients, for example, are a little softer and less vibrant than foods with artificial colors, so it’s a challenge for the baker to ensure that the reformulation process doesn’t completely change the look of their foods.”

New replacement ingredients need to deliver on their promised function, too. Aeration, leavening, shelf life … whatever the ingredient is supposed to do, it needs to deliver or else the finished product suffers.

“The products have to be the same quality or higher; we don’t compromise on quality,” said Nelly Margolin, director of R.&D. for Wenner Bakery’s reformulation process. “If we need a certain shelf life, then this is the shelf life we need for that product. We need these features in this product, and we also need the solution to be clean. So we aren’t asking our ingredient suppliers. We are demanding.”

This might seem like a tall order for ingredient suppliers to fill, but with choosy consumers scrutinizing labels before spending their money, bakers and snack makers feel the heat.

Not only must these cleaner, shorter ingredient lists result in a tasty, quality-matched product, but it also has to be processed on commercial equipment. Consider, for instance, the chocolate chip cookie. The formulation is simple, with not much extra to trim the ingredient list down. A common place to turn to shorten the label is the chocolate chip itself.

“Some chocolate chip declarations are inherently shorter than others,” said Gunther Brinkman, vice-president, contract manufacturing, Ideal Snacks Corp.

This is the case with many inclusions, not just chocolate chips, that can be an easy way for bakers and snack producers to cut the ingredient list down.

However, in Mr. Brinkman’s experience, a shorter ingredient list can lead to processing issues. Using a chocolate chip that doesn’t have soy lecithin in the formulation leads to chocolate smearing on the oven band.

“You’re dealing with smearing chocolate all over the place and increased downtime for sanitation,” he said.

short label
To offer consumers higher quality bread and more transparency, La Brea Bakery cleaned and shortened the ingredient lists of its breads.

In that instance, bakers must weigh the new challenges against the consumer perception of a functional ingredient.

Balancing priorities is the heart of reformulation, and something every formulator must do. Mr. Moore suggested three things to keep in mind when attempting any reformulation.

“The big three are cost, functionality and availability,” he said. “All three legs of the reformulation stool must be at the top of the must-do list.”

If an ingredient can be eliminated altogether without affecting taste, quality or processing performance, then all the better. However, if the ingredient is critical and must be replaced, then these big three come into play. Cleaner ingredients can sometimes cost more, while trendy ingredients are sometimes not widely available. Supply hasn’t always caught up to demand. And of course, there is always the question of function: Does the new ingredient function as well as the one it is replacing?

“Sometimes hard decisions must be made when the Big Three are at odds with one other,” Mr. Moore said. “The baker might decide to proceed with sourcing a more expensive ingredient to avoid producing product at or beyond the process capabilities of the plant.”

Despite these challenges, ingredient technology has come a long way, and formulators have more resources today to help replace and remove ingredients than ever before.

“Ingredients that were difficult to replace just five years ago now have alternatives that function well,” Mr. Moore said.

At the end of the day, it’s important that bakers and snack producers are in touch with the reality of their consumers’ demands.

“Right now, many consumers want foods made with natural ingredients and free from artificial flavors, colors preservatives and other chemicals,” Mr. Davis said. “Know what your customers prioritize most when selecting a baked good, and adjust accordingly.”

With the right priorities and supplier support, bakers and snack makers can find just the right formula to shorten their label.