What people want - As consumers’ preferences change, Cargill is launching new products that satisfy their wishes

By Tom Vandyck August 30, 2016

“What’s in my food, where does it come from and is it good for me?” These are questions more and more people ask when they roam the supermarket aisles.

They’re not just looking to buy the cheapest, most convenient products. Instead, they give careful consideration to what’s in their food, how it was produced and if it meets their definition of “healthy.”

Consequently, revenues for organic, gluten-free and non-GMO foods are up sharply, and the number of new products that carry such claims on their packages keeps growing accordingly. Meanwhile, many of the old mainstays are struggling.

“In large part, this is about lifestyle, values and what people decide is healthier for them,” said Cargill executive vice president and food and bio-industrial ingredients leader Frank van Lierde. “It’s our job to deliver ingredients and help our customers create products that are in line with consumers’ changing demands.”

Van Lierde says that while Cargill isn’t straying from its foundational food ingredients businesses, it is looking to invest more in specialty products with high growth potential and attractive margins. It isn’t alone.

“We have conducted studies across food companies, restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores, and the very clear trend is that growth is coming from lower-calorie, ‘better for you’ foods,” said former food company executive Hank Cardello, a senior fellow and director of the Obesity Solutions Initiative at the Washington-based non-partisan think tank The Hudson Institute and author of Stuffed: An Insiders’ Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat.

“If you want to grow, you want to be in that space,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you have to abandon what you’re currently selling, but if you don’t get involved, you leave growth on the table.”

According to Cargill’s vice president of food technology Kerr Dow, consumers are mostly looking for transparency. “They want to see simple labels — ingredients that are familiar, recognizable and expected. That’s not a sudden change. It has been gradually evolving over time. With each passing year, it becomes less of a fad and more of a longer-term trend.”

To complicate matters, consumer preferences aren’t always rational. For example, many people favor gluten-free products even if they haven’t been diagnosed with gluten intolerance. And even though study after study confirms that foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are safe, much of the public still seeks to avoid GMOs.

“Cargill’s approach has been evolving along with the marketplace,” said Dow. “Where we might have waved off objections that didn’t square up with the science in the past, we now recognize that values and perceived health benefits help determine consumer decisions and, therefore, our customers’ needs.”

The company’s portfolio is adapting accordingly.

“The point is, we need to become better known for products that address different consumer preferences,” said Dow. “We could say, there’s no scientific, food safety or nutritional basis for non-GMO products, and they cost more, so why would we make them? The simple answer is: it’s what a growing number of people want.”

According to Cardello, a company like Cargill would be remiss if it didn’t make the most of the opportunity. “The profit motive is aligned with the kinds of products that are healthier, and that’s something you don’t see too often,” he says. “I view it as the classic win-win situation. If Cargill could take the lead on advancing better-for-you versions of the products that people already like, it would be good for you and good for your customers.”

Read on to learn about a few ways that Cargill is rising to the challenge.

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are widely known. In adults, they may support intestinal and cardiovascular health. In children, they are thought to help brain formation. The trick is: how do you get enough of them?
Omega-3s are usually found in fish, which is why an estimated 35 percent of Americans take fish oil pills. Now, Cargill is offering IngreVita™ canola oil infused with omega-3s from fish.
“Consumers tell us they are looking for added nutrition in the foods they buy, and there is a growing awareness of the benefits of omega-3s,” said Kristine Sanschagrin, marketing manager for Specialty Seeds & Oils at Cargill. “IngreVita is perfect for manufacturers looking to include long-chain omega-3s in their food and beverage formulations.”
As an added benefit to food makers, the oil has a 12-month shelf life and it is sensory neutral, which means it doesn’t taste or smell like fish. Now customers can boost the omega-3 content in their products just by switching up their canola oil.
The next step is already in the works. At Cargill’s specialty seed innovation lab in Fort Collins, Colorado, the team is developing a canola variety that has the omega-3 built right in from the start — no fish required.