Creating products that meet specific dietary requirements presents particular challenges. However, it can be worthwhile for the producer looking to serve niche markets but what does it mean from a product development perspective?
Developing for a specific diet can be a challenge but can align your product with a dedicated customer base. Niche diets can become mainstream. The effort arises from removing or limiting certain ingredients. As product developers, we need to be clear about the product brief and how each element works within the recipe.
Keto – an example of specific dietary requirements
A recent example of a specific diet is the ketogenic – or keto – diet. It’s a high-fat, moderate protein and low carb diet. The diet makes the body produce ketones which are used as fuel when blood sugar is low. Ketones are made by the liver from fat and are an indicator the body is burning its fat stores. It’s an approach to weight-loss which promises rapid results and little hunger.
Ketosis is not without its risks, and we’re not advocating it, just using it as an example of a very specific requirement. Keto diets are increasing in popularity, so this offers new opportunities for high fat, low carb products to reinvent themselves. It’s also an excellent example of how product development to a specific brief can also address potential concerns, namely:
“Since following a low-carb diet can impact electrolyte balance, low-carb foods that can also provide a boost of sodium such as jerky, bacon, pork rinds and cracklings, could be successfully repositioned as keto-friendly snacks,” said Stephanie Mattucci associate director of food science at Mintel.
The development challenge
Managing the fat content
Fat is either saturated (generally solid at room temperature) or unsaturated (liquid at room temperature). Unsaturated fats are considered to be more healthy, but using a high proportion of a runny ingredient in a solid food product causes problems, i.e. how do you stop your product oozing all over and out of your packaging?
The solution is to combine with components that help solidify the product such as proteins and fibres (at a modest level). Saturated fats could be the answer, bearing in mind the health issues surrounding more significant amounts. Plus, it’s important to consider that higher ambient temperatures can make such fats runny as well.
Shelf life and stability
Shelf life is not just a physical stability issue. High fat can mean the potential for fat oxidation and rancidity. This may need controlling with modified atmosphere packaging, antioxidants or another method.
Delivering the protein
Protein sources are readily available for this type of diet and can be sourced in a concentrated form to limit the addition of too many carbs, which may be naturally associated with them.
It’s important to agree on the requirements of a product first and then develop and refine the recipe to balance stability, taste, texture and nutrition. Most foods are a combination of carbs, proteins and fats in varying proportions and so choosing ingredients carefully and being guided by accurate nutritional data from each is crucial.