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					                    Formulating Natural Products
By Christine Homsey
Contributing Editor

Over the past decade, sales growth in the natural-foods industry has averaged double
digits, and the number of stores offering natural products expands every year. Whole
Foods Market, Inc., Austin, TX, has 129 stores in the United States and is the country’s
largest natural and organic retailer. Wild Oats Markets, Inc., Boulder, CO, is second
largest, with more than 100 stores in 22 states. In 2001, there were about 300
cooperative markets in the United States, and mainstream food stores continue to
dedicate aisles and special sections to these products. Large food companies took notice
of the expanding retail opportunities in the 1990s and acquired many smaller natural
and organic operations over the past few years.

Although it’s not known exactly what effect a weaker economy will have on the natural
foods category, the industry potential remains intriguing.

What is natural?

Although often mentioned in the same breath, natural and organic are not the same.
With the exception of flavoring ingredients, the word natural has no legal definition; but
organic does. Organic products are often all natural, but the rules allow some synthetic
ingredients. Similarly, a product may be composed of all-natural ingredients but not be
organic. To qualify as organic, ingredients and products must not be produced using
sewage sludge, ionizing radiation (irradiation), genetic engineering methods or
unapproved farm chemicals.

Under new legislation, products may now carry wording such as “100% organic,”
“organic” and “made with organic (ingredient[s]).” Products bearing such wording must
meet the criteria for the particular claim and must be certified by an appropriate
agency. Any ingredients used must be acceptable according to the National List of
Allowed and Prohibited Substances (simply known as the National List), which was
developed as a result of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). The final rule
for organic food production, including the National List, is available online at nop2000/nop2/finalrulepages/finalrulemap.htm.

Though not legally defined, “the word natural has an expectation,” says Jennifer
Peterson, sales representative for Blooming Prairie Natural Foods, a Minneapolis-based
natural-products distributor. Peterson notes there are different levels of what is
considered natural. Simple ingredients such as produce, meat and dairy products sold
at any mainstream supermarket are natural in one sense. Other specifically marketed
natural products are free of GMOs, antibiotics and growth hormones. Companies often
target the natural-foods consumer by marketing poultry and eggs from cage-free or free-
range birds. However, the natural-foods consumers’ range of expectations make it
almost impossible to develop one-size-fits-all products, so defining a target market is
exceedingly important.

Who is buying?

According to Linda Wilson, general manager for nutriant, a Cedar Falls, IA-based
division of Kerry Foods, the organic industry has been growing between 22% and 30%
yearly. “This growth clearly shows that consumers are willing to pay the difference for a
chemical-free product, and the industry has expanded into mainstream food stores,”
she says. Indeed, the Greenfield, MA-based Organic Trade Association reports that 45%
of organic foods were purchased in mass-market supermarkets in 2000.

Natural-foods consumers tend to be educated and earn middle- to upper-level incomes,
Peterson notes. Other demographic factors influencing natural purchases are location
and age. These consumers tend to be urban or suburban, almost never rural, and on
average are between the ages of 35 and 55. Although race may influence purchase
decisions to a small extent, income and education are more indicative of who buys
natural foods.

Simple demographics do not tell the whole story, though. Personal values and interests
also influence natural-products purchases. Examples include vegetarianism, animal
welfare, environmentalism, raw foods diets, fear of chemicals, desire for clean labels, a
willingness to try new things or an affinity for foods that are “different.” Additionally,
says Peterson, “Natural-foods consumers tend to be label readers, and they are often
into general health and fitness rather than dieting.”

Natural products tend to cost more than their mainstream counterparts, and even
relatively affluent consumers are somewhat cost-conscious. “People shop on price, even
shoppers who shop exclusively at natural-foods stores,” observes Peterson. “Natural
consumers make a conscious decision to shop at these places, but once they’re in the
door, they will look for the lower prices.” Some retailers are addressing price issues by
introducing natural value lines, such as Whole Foods Market’s store-brand named 365
Every Day Value™. These types of product lines offer a less expensive alternative to
more expensive organic brands.

Formulation challenges

The limited scope of ingredients can make developing natural foods challenging. “Some
ingredients provide very specific functionalities and are difficult to replace with a
natural version,” observes Travis McMahan, director of marketing at Continental
Custom Ingredients, Inc., West Chicago, IL. “The availability of ingredients that meet a
customer’s requirements for natural is also limited. In many cases, the natural
ingredients are also more expensive.”

Trying to find a certain natural ingredient in a shelf-stable, concentrated form may be
impossible sometimes, says Dolf De Rovira, president of Flavor Dynamics, Inc., South
Plainfield, NJ. “An example is watermelon juice … it can’t be done,” he says. “There is
too much water, so the concentration of the juice to a higher, more stable brix would
totally destroy the flavor profile.”

Freshness is another concern. Because natural ingredients and finished products lack
chemical preservatives, shelf lives may be shorter. Flavors may fade, fats may oxidize,
and bacteria and mold may grow faster than in non-natural counterparts. Therefore,
storage conditions and inventory management become even more important.

Although formulating good-tasting products that have good shelf life can be a quite an
endeavor, the payoff in this ever-growing market can be great. As consumers look for
more healthful and environmentally friendly options, manufacturers who can utilize
natural ingredients, such as flavors, color, emulsifiers and other ingredients, to create
great-tasting products will have a head start in natural marketplace.
Flavors, naturally

Flavors are the one ingredient category for which natural actually has meaning. Flavor
manufacturers must identify flavors so that food and beverage companies can properly
label their own products. Finished foods must list flavors in the ingredient statement as
spice, natural flavor, artificial flavor or the appropriate combination of these. These
categories can be grouped as a percentage of the total and collectively labeled.

If the finished food is normally expected to contain the characterizing food ingredient
(e.g., strawberries in strawberry shortcake), it requires a flavor reference on the
package’s front panel. Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 101.22, details
how to label flavors and name foods expected to contain characterizing ingredients. In
some instances, indicating the source of a natural flavor on a label panel or product
information sheet may be wise. For example, McDonald’s Corporation recently came
under fire from vegetarians for not identifying that flavors used in its french fries
included naturally derived beef flavor.

There are several methods for producing flavors that can be labeled natural, including
distillation, extraction, fermentation, enzyme development and raw-material-roasting or
heating. Thermal reactions can produce natural, meat-like flavors that actually do not
contain any meat ingredients.

De Rovira says that the flavor industry has come a long way in improving the quality of
natural flavors. “There are now myriad flavor options from which to choose if
technologists find themselves faced with problems typical to developing natural-food
systems,” he explains. A technologist can turn to a compounded natural flavor when
processing negatively affects the flavor profile, heat is applied in processing, aroma is
flashed off, a long shelf life or fresh flavor is desired, or cost is an issue.

Sometimes, natural flavors are less durable in processing and degrade more quickly in
the finished product than artificial flavors. However De Rovira notes that flavor
manufacturers employ many techniques to ensure good flavor stability, such as using
raw materials and processes that are as consistent as possible, and rejecting any
product noticeably different from the target. Flavorists also make flavors complex so
that minor differences in the raw materials or process will not noticeably affect a batch
of flavor.

Proper storage of natural flavors is critical. For example, citrus flavors tend to oxidize
and should be kept refrigerated if possible, while juices, essences and other sensitive
ingredients also should be kept cool. On the other hand, some thermally processed
meat flavors tend to be very stable. For flavors or any other natural ingredient, adhere
to manufacturers’ guidelines for storage so that finished products will be of optimum
quality when they leave the dock.

Adding some color

Some foods, such as fruits, vegetables and some juices, have a naturally occurring color
associated with them. Many foods, such as snacks, confections and beverages, have
color added. These may be synthesized chemically or be derived from a natural source,
but from a regulatory standpoint there is no such thing as a natural color in the United
States. Other countries recognize the concept of natural colors, but in this country the
FDA does not allow colors to be grouped and labeled as natural. Rather, colors are
divided into two categories: certified color additives and exempt color additives.
All colors on the certified list are synthetic, so none are suitable for natural foods. On
the other hand, many of the colorants on the exempt list are found in nature and would
indeed be considered natural in other countries (and are often referred to by that name
in this country rather than “exempt” or “noncertified”). For instance, annatto extract,
dehydrated beets (beet powder), caramel color, fruit juice, paprika, turmeric and
vegetable juice all are on the exempt list. The “List of Colorants Exempt from
Certification in the U.S.” and rules for their use are detailed in 21 CFR, 73.
According to 21 CFR, 101.22, color additives not subject to certification must be
declared as “artificial color,” “artificial color added” or “color added,” or as “colored with
______” or “______ color” (the blank to be filled with the name of the color additive listed
in the list of colorants noted in 21 CFR, 73). Because listing “artificial color” on a
product marketed as all natural is non sequitur, many companies declare exempt colors
by name. In any case, a label cannot carry the words “natural color” to avoid misleading
the customer. For example, if a strawberry ice cream was colored with beet powder, the
customer might attribute the pink color to strawberry ingredients rather than the added

When selecting an exempt colorant, care must be taken to ensure that it can be used
legally in a product. There are no practical restrictions on many exempt colorants, but
some can be used only for certain applications. For example, grape color extract may be
used only in non-beverage foods, and grape-skin extract (enocianina) is approved for
beverages only. A few colors are legal for use only in animal feed.

Colorants from natural sources can be used in numerous applications, according to
Jeanette Quinn, food scientist for GNT USA, Inc., Tarrytown, NY. “They can be used in
all types of beverages, candies, yogurts, fruit preps, applesauce and baked goods.”
Byron Madkins, director of applications and product development for the color division
of Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee, provides this overview of the types of naturally derived
colorants: “Turmeric is a bright yellow color derived by solvent extraction of the coloring
component curcumin from the turmeric root. Annatto is an orangish-yellow color
derived by extracting the carotenoid pigment bixin from the surface of seeds from a
shrub grown in South America, Africa and the Caribbean. Carmine/cochineal can range
in shade from orange to magenta-red to purple and is solvent-extracted from insects
grown on cacti in South America. A growing class of natural colors used in food and
beverage applications is the anthocyanins, which are colorants derived from fruits and
vegetables, such as grapes, elderberries, red cabbage and purple carrots. These colors
typically provide a range of bright red to magenta-red to purple shades in application
and are most stable at low pH. Other natural colorants that are used are red beet,
extracted from red beets; paprika, extracted from the red pepper pod; caramel color,
made from specially processed carbohydrates; and titanium dioxide, which is mined
and purified from an ore and is the only white colorant that is approved for coloring

The most commonly used natural colorants are annatto, carmine, turmeric and the
anthocyanins. Annatto typically is used to color cheese products. The anthocyanins are
widely used in beverage applications and, in addition to providing beautiful red shades,
also may offer health benefits, probably as a result of their antioxidant properties.
Carmine has exceptional stability and provides attractive, vibrant red shades, both
qualities difficult to obtain even with synthetic colors. However, Quinn says, “Although
carmine is permitted for use in the United States, there is controversy related to its
source, the cochineal insect. Many people question the fact that it is considered to be a
natural colorant, when it is actually derived from an insect rather than a plant source.
Carmine is also not considered kosher, something that is highly desirable when
developing a food product.”
Factors such as pH, oxygen, light and extreme heat can play a role in natural colorant
stability. A color may become unappealing at a certain pH, or may change hue. “The
application the colorant is in plays a large role in the stability of the natural color,” says
Quinn. “For example, black carrot extract in a beverage with a pH of 3.0 will be a
bright-red color and extremely stable. This same colorant in dairy applications having a
pH greater than 4.0 will be more of a purple color but will also be stable, outlasting the
shelf life of the product.”

Madkins agrees that the application will have a major affect on stability and says that
overall, natural colors are not substantially less stable than synthetic colors. “There are
applications where a color such as annatto will be subject to oxidation and fade in a
product before a corresponding blend of FD&C Yellow No. 5 and FD& C Yellow No. 6
will fade,” he says. “There are applications, however, where a synthetic color such as
FD&C Red No. 40 may be subject to oxidation or reduction in a product, but an
anthocyanin such as purple carrot or red cabbage may hold up just fine. There are
many applications where carmine and cochineal are much more stable than
corresponding synthetic red options.

“There really is no set pH at which all natural colors become unstable in food
applications,” continues Madkins. “For example, annatto is stable at a pH greater than
4.0, but it can be rendered acid stable through emulsification with the appropriate
carriers. The anthocyanins are all stable between a pH of 2.5 to 4.0. Above this pH they
shift to purple and blue shades, becoming less stable and fading. Carmine and
cochineal, with all of their market forms, have a wide range of pH stability. Turmeric is
stable at a pH of less than 6.5.”

Extreme heat applied during processing often causes natural colors to break down and
fade, such as with annatto. Anthocyanins typically will change from a bright-red color
to a dull-red to a brown color and then eventually fade. Turmeric, however, is very heat-

Subjecting all colorants, whether naturally derived or synthetically produced, to light
negatively affects them; they eventually fade. Among the more light-stable natural
colorants are carmine/ cochineal and caramel. Annatto and paprika have moderate
light stability. Turmeric and beet have poor light stability, and usually are used in
applications where the product is protected from light.

One color that is difficult to impart in natural foods is green. No natural green colors,
including chlorophyll, are approved for food use in the United States. Madkins notes
that a lack of a stable natural blue color further complicates matters, making it
impossible to blend natural blue and yellow to obtain a green shade. Although
chlorophyll can impart a green color, is approved in Europe and allowed in dentifrices
in the United States, it is not suitable for many applications.

“Natural green colors such as chlorophyll are typically found in plant sources, which
have a neutral pH,” says Quinn. “The chlorophyll molecule can be very unstable. At
neutral pH, it will impart a bright-green color. When exposed to heat or acidic
conditions, the magnesium ion is lost from a chlorophyll molecule and the resulting
molecules (pheophytins) are an unappealing dull olive-green color. Copper chlorophyll,
which is chemically modified to be green under acidic conditions, is commonly used in
other parts of the world.
“Other natural colors, such as those derived from algae, have the potential to impart
green color in acidic foods,” Quinn continues, “but since these natural colorants have
not been petitioned for use in the United States, the FDA does not allow their use in
food applications.”

Although chlorophyll is now being petitioned for food use, the reason more colorants
aren’t petitioned is because the process simply doesn’t pay off. “To petition the FDA for
approval of a new colorant requires a substantial amount of time and financial
backing,” says Quinn. “For most companies, petitioning for the approval of a new
colorant is not worth the time and money since approval of the product means other
companies can reap the benefits of their hard work.”

Egging it up

Many forms of dried, frozen and refrigerated egg products can be used in natural-food
products, according to Glenn Froning, Ph.D., professor emeritus, department of food
science and technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and technical advisor to
the American Egg Board, Park Ridge, IL. Products may be made from whole eggs or
separated into white and yolk ingredients. Drying these yields egg-white solids, egg-yolk
solids or whole-egg solids. Refrigerated and frozen egg forms include blended or
separated eggs that may be sold plain, sugared, salted or with corn syrup. Gums also
may be added to some dried or frozen egg products.

Additives occasionally are used in egg ingredients that would make them unsuitable for
use in natural products. “Dried egg white sometimes has triethyl citrate or sodium
lauryl sulfate added to improve foaming properties,” says Froning. “Sodium aluminum
silicate is added to some yolk-containing dried-egg products to improve free-flowing
properties.” Froning recommends working with egg suppliers to ensure that products do
not contain undesired additives.

Because natural foods should not contain chemical emulsifiers and other additives, the
polyfunctional attributes of eggs can be tremendously helpful. The major functions
provided by eggs and some common applications include: foaming (for angel food cakes,
meringues); coagulation (custards and binding of meat products); emulsification
(mayonnaise, salad dressings); color (egg noodles); and prevention of sugar
crystallization (chocolates).

Foaming properties are provided primarily by proteins from the egg albumen (white).
Globulins increase viscosity, lower surface tension and improve foam stability.
Ovomucin also helps stabilize the foam; ovalbumin (the major protein in egg white) and
conalbumin provide heat-setting properties. Egg-white proteins also are major
contributors to the coagulation properties of eggs. Lipoproteins from the yolk also can
be of importance to coagulation properties.

Eggs’ emulsifying properties come from the yolk. Lecithoprotein (lecithin) in the yolk
provides excellent emulsification ability in combination with the egg-yolk oils. The yolk
also contains several natural antioxidant pigments including xanthophylls, lutein and
zeaxanthin. These pigments provide a rich yellow color to many foods, including
noodles, omelets, custards, baked products, ice creams and sauces.

Dried, frozen and liquid eggs are labeled simply as “eggs,” “egg whites,” or “egg yolks.” If
they contain added salt, sugars or gums, these additional ingredients must be included
on the ingredient statement.
Lecithin keeps it together

Soy lecithin is a natural alternative to chemical emulsifiers, so long as it has not been
modified through processes such as hydroxylation and acetylation. “Unbleached, non-
modified forms of fluid lecithin are suitable for inclusion in natural foods,” says Bruce
R. Sebree, Ph.D., manager of emulsifier and texturant technology for ADM in Decatur,
IL. “Other types of emulsifiers are not used in natural foods because they are
synthetically produced.” The lecithin types used in a natural product depend on the
natural-product philosophy. According to Sebree, de-oiled lecithins sold in the United
States are bleached with hydrogen peroxide, a process that many wouldn’t consider
natural. However, the new organic standards do allow for the use of bleached and de-
oiled lecithins in addition to the unbleached and fluid forms. (Bleached lecithin is listed
as an allowed synthetic.)

Lecithin is produced by water-degumming of crude vegetable oils and is composed of
phospholipids, triglycerides and fatty acids. Sebree says that lecithin is very useful for
emulsification, instantizing, wetting and pan release, functionalities that result from the
phospholipid content of the lecithin. Lecithin will aid in mixing of dissimilar ingredients
and will add lubricity to reduced-fat foods both in terms of processability and
mouthfeel. Additionally, lecithin can supplement the emulsifying properties of egg yolk
or can be used in eggless products. Common lecithin applications include granola and
other bars, baked products, confections, icings and nutritional drinks. The FDA has
deemed lecithin GRAS, and many products also are certified kosher.

A key concept used in discussing emulsifiers including lecithin is hydrophilic-lipophilic
balance (HLB). HLB values range from 1 to 20 and denote the relative strength of
hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (oil-loving) groups of emulsifiers. Emulsifiers at
the low end of the range have a greater affinity for oil and those at the high end will be
more attracted to the aqueous phase. Therefore, low-HLB emulsifiers will form water-in-
oil emulsions, and high-HLB emulsifiers will form oil-in-water emulsions. Most fluid
lecithins have an HLB of about 4.

Breads, cookies, crackers and doughnuts typically use 0.1% to 0.3% lecithin based on
flour weight. Cake mixes call for about 1.0% to 3.0% based on fat weight and piecrusts
0.5% to 1.0%, on a fat basis. Pancakes and waffles utilize about 0.1% to 0.2% based on
total batter and icings about 0.2% to 2.0% of the total weight. Snack foods use about
0.2% to 0.8%. Confections utilize 0.2% to 2.0% and chewing-gum base might call for as
much as 5.0% for softness. Sebree suggests incorporating fluid lecithin into an oil
phase if at all possible. Calling a lecithin supplier to discuss appropriate forms, HLB
values and usage levels will be helpful in getting started on a natural formulation

In addition to its functional properties, lecithin also may confer health benefits. Soy
lecithin is a primary nutritional source of choline, for which the FDA has authorized a
nutrient content claim. Choline has been linked to brain development (possibly
including memory function), cardiovascular health, liver function and reproductive
development. To qualify for the “good source of choline” label claim, a food or
supplement must contain 55 mg of choline per serving, and 110 mg per serving to make
an “excellent source of choline” claim.
Saying it with soy

Soybean ingredients have a very healthful image in the eyes of many natural-foods
consumers and have soared in popularity. Soy products come in a wide variety of
flavors, textures and forms: soymilk; soy flour; concentrates and isolates; tofu; and
fermented products, such as miso and tempeh. These high-protein ingredients can be
turned into faux hotdogs and burgers, ground-beef-like crumbles, meat analogs that
resemble whole muscle, soups, pasta, cereals, yogurt, puddings, cheese, baked goods,
candies, frozen desserts and beverages. Characteristics vary widely and formulators
need to choose the correct balance of protein level, texture, viscosity, mouthfeel and
solubility desired for an application.

Despite soy’s success, chemicals used in its processing can be off-putting to
consumers, not only from a standpoint of naturalness but also of flavor. Wilson says,
“The primary chemical used in the soy industry is hexane gas, which is used to pull the
oil from the meal during the early processing stages of soy milling. Hexane gas has the
ability to separate the oil fraction from the meal fraction. Once separated, the hexane is
distilled out of the solution and reused. The process is very economical for the
processor but does alter the natural flavor of the soybean. This change in flavor has
given soybean ingredients an off-flavor that has been very unacceptable in the food
industry. Many dollars have been spent to mask this off-note and hide the soy in the
finished product.”

New soy products offer chemical-free alternatives to the soy ingredients than have been
available in years past. Also, in the last few years, non-GMO forms of soy ingredients
have become much more obtainable. Non-GMO, nonchemical, identity-preserved soy
products, such as those produced by nutriant, can be certified organic upon request.

According to Wilson, non-GMO products currently available include seasoned soy
halves, full-fat and low-fat soy flour and grits, textured soy protein, cereals,
concentrated soy protein, isolated soy protein and naturally expelled soy oil.

Starches, gums and other stabilizers

Natural-foods formulators usually avoid modified food starches because the cereal
starches often are treated with chemicals such as succinic anhydride, acetic anhydride
and propylene oxide. As a result, manufacturers look to native starches, such as
traditional cornstarch, or other alternatives, such as wheat flour, brown rice flour and
arrowroot. These ingredients work well when long-term stability and syneresis will not
be issues, but they do have some limitations as well. Cornstarch has little tolerance to
high-shear processes, acid and high-temperature holding. Unmodified starches also
may have undesirable textural characteristics when cooked and their viscosity may be
difficult to control, making them largely unsuitable for industrial applications.

If more stability and process tolerance is needed than cornstarch can provide, specialty
native starches produced through classical breeding are an option. Based on potato,
waxy maize or tapioca, these starches offer better cook-up characteristics and more
resistance to acid, shear and temperature than traditional unmodified starches.

Applications for these specialty starches include retorted, hot-filled and refrigerated
foods as well as soups, dressings, condiments, fruit fillings, pudding, yogurt, sauces,
pet foods and some frozen foods. (For more information on available starch types and
how they are produced, see “Starch: Stabilizer Solutions” in the September 2000 issue
of Food Product Design.)
Another possibility for natural products is a line of native starches from National Starch
and Chemical Company, Bridgewater, NJ, modified with a proprietary process that
utilizes standard food-processing techniques versus chemical modification. These
potato, corn, tapioca and rice starches, available both in cook-up and cold-water-
swelling forms, provide improved process functionality, such as shear, pH and process
tolerance, along with viscosity and shelf stability, plus allow a natural label ingredient
listing of “(source) starch.”

Arrowroot and brown rice flour sometimes are used as thickeners because of their
natural image. Arrowroot is bland in flavor, turns clear and glossy when cooked, and
sometimes is used in puddings and sauces. Because it’s thickening power is about
twice that of wheat flour, arrowroot sometimes substitutes for other starches. Brown
rice flour, another option for thickening, includes the bran and oil fractions and has
more flavor than pure rice starch. As with wheat flour, brown rice flour should be
“cooked out” to avoid raw cereal flavors.

Although most gums come from natural sources, they are sometimes excluded from
natural products, partially a result of consumer confusion. (Remember the television
commercial where a woman warily reads an ice cream ingredient statement, and she
sounds especially leery when she gets to “locust bean gum”?) However, water-extracted
gums (arabic, guar, locust bean, carob bean) and the microbial polysaccharide xanthan
gum all appear on the National List as approved ingredients in organic foods. To
educate consumers, some manufacturers list gums in ingredient statements with the
words “a natural fiber source” or “natural fiber” noted parenthetically.

Controversial ingredients

Some ingredients fall into a gray area when it comes to natural products, and whether
or not they are used depends largely on the company marketing the finished product
and its target consumers. Ingredients that tend to stir controversy include GMOs,
modified starches, hydrogenated oils, and bleached or bromated flour (unbleached flour
has become the expectation in the natural-foods marketplace). Maltodextrin is another
ingredient that is sometimes avoided.

GMOs (e.g., transgenic grains) continue to be a hot topic in the food industry. Although
genetically engineered ingredients are not allowed in organic products under the new
government rules, their inclusion or exclusion is not defined for the unregulated
natural-foods arena. Nonetheless, some natural-foods retailers are working to eliminate
GMOs from their products. For example, Whole Foods Market recently reformulated its
private-label soft drinks using sucrose instead of corn syrup. Whole Foods made this
decision because its suppliers could not guarantee that the corn syrup was made from
non-transgenic corn.

The definition of “non-GMO” is also the subject of debate. “Many different standards of
purity have been set around the world for non-GMO products,” says Wilson. “Our
company recognizes that nothing is 100% pure and therefore we guarantee 99% purity.
We know that the Roundup Ready® gene is growing in popularity in the farming sector,
and contamination levels are growing each year. That is why we contract with our
growers and do strict testing of the seed being planted and the finished crop being
Synthetic sweeteners generally are avoided in natural-food formulations. Although
white sugar made from sugar beets or sugar cane is derived from a natural source, it
does not have a very healthful image in the natural-foods market. Less-refined forms of
sugar are popular, though like white sugar, they don’t contribute significant amounts of
micronutrients to the diet. “Natural” sweeteners include honey, agave nectar, apple
juice, grape juice, maple syrup, molasses, liquid cane juice and crystalline cane sugar
that has undergone only a single evaporation process. Many of these are available in
certified-organic as well as conventional forms. Unlike clean-tasting white sugar, most
of these sweeteners contribute a flavor to the finished product. Some consumers may
find these flavors objectionable, and others may not mind them at all. Some sugary
ingredients such as grape juice and apple juice may be refined to the point where they
are almost flavorless and colorless, but this may cost them some of their natural

Fortification can create other concerns. Many products, even those labeled as natural,
are fortified with vitamins, minerals and other substances that are synthesized rather
than naturally derived. Some supplements now are targeted specifically at the natural
market, such as natural-source vitamin E, usually derived from vegetable oil. Another
example is Continental Custom Ingredients’ AquaMin, a calcium and magnesium
supplement derived from seaweed.

These are just a few examples of potential problem ingredients. How retailers and their
consumers perceive specific ingredients should be the guiding force in product
development. If a product will be sold in mainstream supermarkets, the criteria for
naturalness likely can be set internally by the company’s R&D and marketing groups. If
a product is targeted at food co-ops or natural chains, the retailers’ guidelines should
be reviewed carefully before formulation work begins. “Although some natural stores
and co-ops are less stringent about what types of products they will offer than they
have been in the past, they are still fairly tight in comparison to what is offered by
mass-market retailers,” says Peterson.

Be sure to inquire about any ingredient’s origin and processing. A good practice is to
contact all suppliers to verify that specific ingredients are indeed natural; for instance,
make sure that soy oil doesn’t contain any synthetic antioxidants or antifoaming
agents. Bear in mind that organic and natural are not the same concepts. When making
an organic claim on a label, be sure that your ingredients and formulation are
acceptable under the final organic rule to ensure that your finished product will pass
review by an organic certifying agency.

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