In addition to being CFIN’s Regional Innovation Director for BC and Yukon, Lavina Gully is a food scientist and product developer with almost two decades of experience helping food and beverage companies innovate. In this series, Lavina answers questions from CFIN members on everything from product development, R&D, manufacturing best practices, and co-packing – just to name a few!
If you have questions for Lavina, you can reach out to her directly and we can answer your question in next month’s mailbag.
This month, Lavina answers your questions about 3D food printing, xanthan gum, and working with a brand strategist.
Q: 3D food printing is fascinating! Can you explain what the process involves, and what you think about the benefits and challenges of the technology?
3D food printing technology involves the use of 3D printers to create edible items layer by layer. This technology is an extension of traditional 3D printing, adapted for use with food-grade materials. The process typically begins by designing a digital model of a food product using computer-aided design (CAD) software. This model serves as the blueprint for the 3D printer, which deposits layers of edible materials, such as dough, chocolate, or other food-based pastes, to build the final product. The layers are gradually built up to form the desired shape. The printed product may need additional processing, such as baking or cooling, to set the layers and create the desired texture.
The technology allows for a high degree of customization, including for specific dietary needs, or to create unique shapes and intricate designs that may be challenging or impossible to achieve through conventional processing. In terms of personalized nutrition, it can exactly control the composition of food materials, allowing ingredients to be adjusted to meet individual nutritional requirements. It can also streamline the food preparation process by automating certain tasks to reduce labour costs and increase efficiency, while significantly reducing food waste.
While this sounds great, there are also challenges that need to be addressed as the technology continues to develop. The initial cost of 3D printing equipment and the edible materials is a key barrier, as is the limited variety of edible materials currently available for 3D printing. There are also limits to replicating the sensory qualities of traditionally prepared foods, and achieving the desired texture and flavours of food products can be difficult. At the same time, depending on the complexity of the design and the type of food being printed, the process can be time-consuming compared to traditional cooking methods. 3D food printing technology is still evolving, so it will be interesting to watch as new products enter the market. For more on the topic click here to view a webinar on 3D food printing presented by Alberta’s Food Processing Development Centre and the University of Alberta.
Q: We’re hearing a lot about fermentation or biomanufacturing. Is there an opportunity in Canada to manufacture a product like xanthan gum through this process?
Cellular agriculture through precision fermentation is an emerging opportunity in Canada, and numerous Canadian companies are already developing cultivated ingredients. While not made through precision fermentation, xanthan is produced via bacterial (xanthomonus) fermentation of sugar substrates. It is the gold standard for thickening and stabilizing a wide array of food formulations due to its stability across a range of pH and temperatures, and is used in sauces, dressings, frozen dairy and beverages. Xanthan exhibits unique shear thinning behaviour, meaning viscosity decreases when stirring is applied.
The industry saw an uptick in usage of xanthan with the rise in popularity of gluten-free baking, although this has plateaued. Startups tend to favour xanthan because it is readily available on retail shelves and therefore quite accessible and affordable for experimentation. Xanthan also doesn’t carry as much negative consumer perception as other hydrocolloids, such as carrageenan, so there isn’t much pressure for food companies to reformulate and find alternatives. Some proposed alternatives are fruit and vegetable fibres, however, they lack the pH and temperature stability and have higher cost in use.
Most xanthan is produced in China, with some produced in Europe and the U.S., generally destined for foods sold at retailers that have country of origin restrictions. While fermentation is an energy-intensive process and therefore susceptible to changes in energy pricing or policy, opportunities do exist in Canada for investing in fermentation capacity and developing domestic xanthan supply, particularly when combined with the use of renewable or clean energy sources. This would also provide the opportunity to upcycle Canadian carbohydrate waste streams as fermentation substrate, reducing reliance on imports and the need for supply chain contingency planning.
Q: I’m hoping to grow my food business over the next year. What are the advantages of working with a brand strategist when expanding your food brand?
Expanding a food brand requires careful planning and a deep understanding of the market. It’s not necessary to work with a brand strategist or specialist to grow your food brand, but they can provide several advantages. That includes:
Conducting market research and providing insights on food trends, consumer preferences, and competitive landscapes.
Helping you identify and understand your target audience and how to better align your brand with their preferences, values, and needs.
Positioning your brand effectively, considering factors such as quality, sustainability, and unique selling propositions to stand out in the market.
Crafting a compelling culinary identity and storytelling that enhances the emotional connection between your brand and consumers.
Collaborating with designers to create packaging that reflects your brand identity and attracts and engages consumers on the shelf.
Ensuring you maintain consistency in messaging, visuals, and overall brand communication so your brand presents a cohesive image across various channels, including packaging, marketing materials, and online.
Ensuring new product lines complement the existing brand while meeting consumer demands.
Planning and implement community engagement initiatives.
Developing a digital marketing and social media strategy that effectively communicates your food brand’s message and engages with your target audience online.
If you’re not working with a brand strategist, ensure that all of these areas have been factored into any expansion plans.
CFIN Members get exclusive access to funding opportunities, five Regional Innovation Directors, and YODL. Learn more about what it’s like to be a CFIN Member and how you can join our growing community of food professionals.
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