Interview with Food Ingredients 1st: Simon Brown MD

 In Health

Here’s Simon Brown’s latest interview with Gaynor Selby at Food Ingredients 1st…

There has been a jump in new product development for better-for-you snacks driven by health-conscious consumers searching for satiating healthy food that tastes good, can be eaten on-the-go and is low in sugar. Companies are finding success in the “snackable” dried fruit, nuts and seeds category where produce is packaged into convenient individual items and snacks are being redefined as somewhere between healthy and indulgent.

John Morley is tapping into the growing demand for healthy snacks, as people are moving away from a chocolate-coated raisin and instead of going towards a healthy trail mix containing dried fruit ingredients.

Whether it’s healthy or indulgent snacking, as a business John Morley deals with ingredients that are used for both.

As a supplier to bakers, breakfast cereal and food manufacturers, John Morley works with mainstream retailers to well-known household brands. It provides a wide range of ingredients –including sultanas, raisins, currants, apricots, figs, dates, almonds, hazelnuts, coconut, bananas, apples, cranberries, orange and lemon peel, glacé cherries and many other ingredients like mincemeat and fruit fillings – selected from over 20 countries around the world.

Speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst, Managing Director Simon Brown talks about some of the latest trends in the sector, market opportunities, innovation and what’s coming up for the UK-based firm.

Brown – who also sits on the boards of The National Dried Fruit Trade Association (NDFTA) and FRUCOM, the representative body of European traders in dried fruit and nuts – says that healthy eating trends are pushing up production and consumption of dried fruit and nuts which have been growing over the last ten years.

Tree nuts, almonds, pistachios, macadamias, walnuts, hazelnuts, as well as dried fruits such as raisins, table dates, and apricots, are all on a slight or steady increase.

“It all comes from healthy eating. That’s where the interest lies,” he says. “Health and well-being is the big trend now. Traditionally, nuts and dried fruit, while a healthy ingredient, have been used in indulgent confectionery – cakes, biscuits, etc. You get all these lovely dried fruits and nuts and then shove them in a product full of chocolate and sugar.”

“Over the last ten years, however, it’s all been about a much healthier agenda,” he reveals.

Dried fruit for snacking

One of the categories, where plant-based inspired eating is driving innovation, is snacking. Today’s health-conscious consumer is way less likely to reach for sugar-laden cake or cookie or high-fat snacks like chips.

This shift in preference is helping to drive growth in the snacking category for John Morley’s dried fruit and nut products. However, there are certain challenges to overcome, largely about communicating the healthy characteristics of dried fruit.

“In the last couple of years, there’s been a jump in new product development around snacking for dried fruit and nuts. Snacking is a growing passion. We’re all snacking more. We’re all grabbing food on the go.”

“While indulgent products remain a bigger market, healthy snacking is definitely on the rise. Snacking is growing, but more to the point healthy snacking is growing, and so dried fruit use in snacking is growing.”

“There’s a real key challenge in that dried fruit is linked with sugar. It’s a common misconception that comes from an oversimplification of sugar. Because dried fruit has a sugar content, it’s sometimes said to be bad for you, which is completely wrong. The industry has to work hard to make people understand that dried fruit is inherently good for them and there’s a difference between added sugar and natural sugar.”

“For instance, there’s no more sugar in a raisin than in a grape. No-one would think a grape is bad for them and yet the only difference is the grape hasn’t had the water removed. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same. I think everyone would agree that a tablespoonful of raisins is a lot better for you then a tablespoonful of granulated sugar.”

“The positive thing is there’s a huge amount of news stories coming through about nuts being good for you, and the same is starting to happen with dried fruit – to do with high fiber, nutrients, gut health, and vita-nutrients.”

John Morley sources dried fruit, nuts and seeds from all around the world, including North and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa. Last year the company brought in 110,000 tons.

“The UK is a massive player in dried fruit and nuts. We’ve got that trading mentality as a nation and it’s still very much alive. The UK is the biggest importer of dried fruit in the world,” Brown continues.

With regards to Brexit, Brown most dried fruit and nuts come from outside the EU. He expects consumption and availability to stay the same but has questions overs whether importers will have to pay duty to bring products into the UK.

“Traders will always find a way of working,” he adds philosophically.

Brown explains how John Morley, like many others in the food industry, is being asked how the company can reformulate or reduce sugar as only expects this to grow as businesses sharpen their focus on sugar reduction across multiple categories.

“The use of fruit as a replacement for sugar is definitely growing. Fruit-based snacking and bars have got close on 10 percent growth over a year and we can only expect that to continue.”

“Dried fruit has natural sugar that is inherently more healthy. Products such as date paste and date bars are widely known. More innovations will come through in the next year or two as people get to know more. Expect to see other dried fruits being used in the future.”

“Cereals have a massive task in reducing added sugar. In granolas, we see claims of no-added-sugar or lower sugar and again they are using dried fruit as a sweetener. We sell dried fruit that is going to be used as a sweetening agent in breakfast cereal. The biggest task facing breakfast cereals is having to get rid of that added sugar.”

Healthy partnership for cereals 

Recently John Morley teamed up with OptiBiotix Health to deliver a weight management breakfast muesli utilizing SlimBiome technology. OptiBiotix’s patented Slimbiome claims to support weight loss management by modifying the activity of the microbiome. The exclusive license granted to John Morley marks the first foray of SlimBiome into the UK breakfast market and is “an exciting development” for Brown.

The Slimbiome product aims to help accelerate weight loss while maintaining blood sugar levels. This helps to lessen food cravings and induces a lower blood glucose rise after meals, compared to high sugar food and drinks. Furthermore, the blend of prebiotics and dietary fiber helps to create the “feeling of fullness” while the trace mineral content enhances the body’s use of insulin, helping to metabolize carbs and fat.

The development of the muesli breakfast products allows OptiBiotix to extend its GoFigure range of online products and create “health and wellbeing” own label brands for supermarkets within the UK.

“A lot of young people are keen on their health. They wish cereals were healthier and that they would keep them feeling full. That’s what we’re picking up on. We’re using something that people think of as healthy anyway – muesli – and then putting a functional item in there, a prebiotic that will help them feel fuller for longer,” Brown adds.

“Also, people aren’t eating enough fiber, and fiber is a key reason why our gut stays healthy. Muesli is a source of fiber, so with this partnership, we feel like we’re ticking quite a few boxes. This development is a help in many ways.”

Another recent development is “Drive Me Nuts,” John Morley’s own innovation.

“It’s a healthy snack pot which fits into the cupholder of a car. Brands and initiatives like that are definitely going to be growing. There are very few new dried fruits and nuts, so you have to look at what you use, in what format, and with which packaging.”

By Gaynor Selby at Food Ingredients 1st

View full interview at Food Ingredients 1st.

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