As consumers trend further into the health and wellness realm, they’re focusing more on the freshness of their foods while demanding products that shun many preservatives.

According to Technomic research, nearly nine in 10 adults feel that fresh foods are healthier, while 80% believe they are tastier. The study also says that 78% of consumers are making an effort to eat more fresh foods instead of processed foods.

But fresh typically means a shorter shelf life, challenging commissaries, central kitchens and bakeries to find the right balance when producing foods for retailers.

Supply chain solutions

HAVI Global Solutions is a supply chain solutions company headquartered in the U.S. in Downers Grove, Illinois. The company points out that responding to consumer demand by replacing artificial colors with naturally-occurring spices or deciding to trade chemical preservatives for natural alternatives can put a dent in a manufacturer’s supply chain if is unprepared.

Getting those new materials to the facility could become troublesome, especially if the suppliers are located outside the country. Unique transportation modes, as wells as FSMA laws and food safety considerations make the ability track and trace ingredient origins vital.

Since the use of more natural ingredients may mean a shorter shelf life, manufacturers will likely have to set up smaller shipments of their products to retailers.

Intense planning is a must when preparing forecasts. Manufacturers need to consider historical and point-of-sale data in order to anticipate demand while also leveraging things like weather and geography, according to HAVI. The company offers a range of solutions for supply and demand planning. The suite of services can be delivered through a project-based consultation, hosted and managed services or software tools.

Packaging matters

San Francisco-based ReGrained — which produces bars that utilize the grains left behind from the process of brewing beer — has found that finding the right packaging is key when trying to maximize shelf life and freshness. The company sells its baked goods in retailers like Fresh Thyme, Sprouts Farmers Market, Gelson’s, Nugget Markets, Raley’s and more.

It’s even more vital when the company’s mission features a strong focus on the environment.

“Our business is all about designing a food system in line with the planet we love,” he said during the opening session of the Trends and Innovations Seminar, hosted by Sosland Publishing Company. “And we felt the packaging we used was an important reflection of that. We tried to take a stand, but what we learned is our packaging decision was actually creating food waste.”

ReGrained’s initial packaging was compostable, a decision made knowing that it would complicate the supply chain by creating longer lead times, compromised shelf life and additional cost.

“We went to a nine-month shelf-life from 12 to 18 months,” Kurzrock said. “Then, as our distribution became more complicated, we learned our material was causing our product to prematurely stale, in some cases, before it reached the grocery store.”

The company eventually was forced to switch to conventional film.

“There is a ‘P’ in CPG and that is packaging,” Kurzrock said. “I think it has been horrifically overlooked by major companies. We are in the future trash business, and no one likes to talk about that. We tried to do something about it but weren’t able.”

Finding unexpected help

Bakeries can look to unlikely sources in an attempt to strengthen shelf life.

San Francisco-based Renewal Mill focuses on upcycled ingredients, some of which can boost freshness.

“We forage the food system for streams of nutrition that are currently not utilized or are underutilized and convert them into novel ingredients,” says Claire Schlemme, Renewal Mill’s CEO.

Renewal Mill currently sells okara flour, which is a high-fiber, high-protein, gluten-free flour made from the soybean pulp generated during soymilk production. The company is exploring byproducts from other non-dairy milks, including oat, almond and pea.

“Okara flour is an extremely versatile ingredient with a very neutral flavor, which is described as slightly milky or nutty," Schlemme says. "It has a light color allowing it to blend easily into most flour-based products, including pasta, pancake mix and cookies. Okara flour has a number of functional benefits, including having high water- and oil-binding abilities. This improves moisture retention and can lengthen shelf life of bakery products.”

Renewal Mill sells its okara flour directly to manufacturers, producers, foodservice outlets and brokers. The standard wholesale unit is a 25-pound bag, but the company offers custom quantities upon request.

Fighting pathogens

Manufacturers of meat-based products look for protection against pathogens for obvious food safety reasons, but it can also help in fresher foods and strengthened shelf life.

“Foodservice and retail buyers are looking for longer product shelf life, in part due to complex logistics and, essentially, a longer cold chain,” Tom Rourke, business development director for Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion, told Food Business News, a sister publication to Supermarket Perimeter. “Manufacturers want to maximize their geographic reach, but when they do, they not only expand their opportunities, they also increase the potential impact of an outbreak of foodborne illness.”

Organic acid salts can be used as effective antimicrobial agents.  The action of pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms is the same, but their effectiveness caries by the organic acid, specifically the amount of undissociated or non-ionized acid.

Fermentation technology can help the development of optimized-performance ingredients containing organic acids, sugars and peptides, often without any artificial additives. Vinegar-based ingredients are gaining traction among processors because of its clean-label appeal.

“It’s a simple, commonly recognized ingredient, and can prevent Listeria growth within a targeted shelf life period,” Amanda King, technical manager, Kemin Food Technologies, Des Moines, Iowa, told Food Business News. “Vinegar is made through a natural fermentation process that produces acetic acid.”