With strategically located regional development centers, BENEO focuses on customer proximity and ensures that new product ideas convince with taste and market relevance
Buzzwords like “glocalization” and phrases like “think globally, act locally” are omnipresent. Indeed, one of the most widely asked questions of our time is: How can regional identities and cultural characteristics be preserved in a globalized world? In answering this, the food industry faces the challenge of combining global business activities with the right feel for differing regional needs and customs. To master this challenge, BENEO focuses on regional product development. At multiple sites around the world, food technologists work together with customers and partners on tailor-made concepts in the style of the region that meet the tastes of local consumers.
Taste – a variable with many facets
People’s taste preferences are being developed during the course of their lifetime and are directly related to their personal environment. There are some universal genetic predispositions in babies, such as a preference for sweet and an aversion to sour and bitter flavors. But it is only when infants start eating adult foods that they develop their own particular preferences in terms of the taste, texture and appearance of food. Social, cultural and psychological influences in particular determine what, when and how food is eaten later in life. It is difficult to change this imprint retrospectively. Maggots as a source of protein, chicken’s feet or fermented herring? To the palate of the average Brit, for example, these dishes do not appeal.
Certain principles also apply to the finer sensory nuances of globally popular products: Texture, salt content, flavor combinations and sweetness profile – all of these variables can determine the success or failure of one and the same basic product in different regions. From their own personal travels, most people know that strawberry ice cream or chocolate taste different in the USA or Asia to how they do in Europe. In addition, there are regulatory requirements that define whether and how various ingredients can be used in individual cases.
BENEO focuses on regional expertise
As one of the leading manufacturers of functional ingredients, BENEO understands how important sensory fine-tuning is in determining the success of a product. In 2011, the company established the BENEO-Technology Center to support customers in the development of products with technological or nutritional benefits. First and foremost, the company’s application technologists in Tienen, Belgium, and Offstein, Germany, ensure that everything from sugar-free chocolate and high-fiber crackers to meat-free Bolognese sauce and low-fat yoghurt are equal or even superior to their traditional alternatives in terms of taste, appearance and texture. To ensure that regional product and taste preferences are taken into account wherever possible, BENEO has opened further development centers around the world in recent years.
Rudy Wouters, Vice President BENEO- Technology Center, recalls: “The idea developed in the USA, where we began construction of a regional application laboratory in 2011. It wasn’t large, but it was big enough to enable us to adapt our product ideas from Europe to local tastes on site.”
A BENEO development center in Asia followed just one year later. Since 2012, food technologists in Singapore have been working on incorporating the company’s functional ingredients into recipes in such a way that, in addition to any desired nutritional or technological benefits, the typical flavors of the country are emphasised. In the Asia- Pacific region especially, there are numerous products that Europeans are not even aware of. Without local experts, it is virtually impossible to define reference formulations and explore the potential for successful reformulations.
Rudy Wouters adds: “Our core business is the production and marketing of the functional carbohydrates Isomalt and Palatinose™, the prebiotic fibers inulin and oligofructose, as well as numerous ingredients derived from rice and, more recently, texturized wheat protein. The special thing about BENEO is that we have developed all of these ingredients ourselves. So we know exactly how to get the best out of them. But we are neither a flavoring house nor a scientific research institute. That’s why we work closely with other companies and with universities in various regions across the world to ensure that our product samples are convincing in all respects.”
From laboratory to high-tech center
What began in the USA with a small laboratory was raised to a new level in spring 2018: measuring 3000 square foot and equipped with state-of-the art technology, the BENEO application center in Parsippany, New Jersey, offers the best conditions for developing new product ideas for the North American market and putting them through their paces. A variety of versatile benchtop scale and pilot scale equipment allow local employees to manufacture and analyse a wide range of products. These include baked goods, classic and fermented dairy products, soups, sauces, frozen meals and various types of bars and beverages. Equipment is available for the analysis of rheology, particle size, pH value and freeze-thaw stability, enabling the technologists to optimize the use of BENEO functional ingredients in different food matrices.
Not quite as large, but just as professionally equipped, is the newest development center. Ope-rating in São Paolo since the end of 2018, this location completes the current network and means that BENEO is even closer to its customers and their target groups not only in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the USA and Canada, but also in Latin America.
“Geographical and cultural proximity to customers naturally offers many advantages,” continues Rudy Wouters. “We can respond more quickly and flexibly to individual needs. The market and product knowledge of our on- site colleagues ensures that our ideas and concepts are relevant. And if the customer should ever experience production problems or require further optimization of formulations, we are nearby.”
Service – from the idea to the marketing
Application expertise is just one of the many building blocks of all BENEO development centers – wherever they are located. The company also supports clients with market and consumer research, marketing as well as nutritional science and food legislation. The regulatory environment in particular has a decisive influence on which ingredients can be used in which applications, in which quantities and in which combinations. The same applies to claims based on health or nutritional information. Something that is common practice in the US or in Asia may, for instance, fall foul of European regulations – or vice versa. The BENEO-Institute combines expertise in this field and helps to ensure that regional product concepts meet all legal requirements.
BENEO continues to consider further regional application centers in the future. All over the world, consumers are increasingly asking for products that contain less sugar, are “clean label” or contribute to intestinal health. In addition, more and more people are fighting obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Foods that can make an active contribution to a healthy lifestyle while meeting consumer tastes expectations therefore hold great potential.