Meet the Experts: Brid O'Riordan

R&D Manager, Glanbia Nutritionals, EMEA

Brid O’Riordian, R&D Manager in EMEA, collaborates with customers to develop innovative new offerings. In this Q&A, she highlights trends in healthy snacking and how Glanbia Nutritionals is prepared to support customers through formulation and application expertise.

What are some trends you are seeing in healthy snacking? How has Glanbia been responding to these trends?

Consumers are looking for convenient, luxurious alternatives to their favourite snacking products – while still maintaining a healthy profile. Texture has become a great way for brands to differentiate their products on the shelves, especially in bars. Plant-based nutrition has also emerged in this category with many consumers looking for alternatives to animal-based ingredients.

Protein still maintains its healthy halo and as awareness of the health and nutritional benefits of protein continues to grow with mainstream consumers, protein fortification remains a high priority for our customers. It has proven challenging to incorporate high levels of protein in bars while still maintaining the texture consumers love over the course of it’s shelf life. We have been working with manufacturers to develop bar solutions for current market trend; for example, creating lighter, whipped, more aerated textures. In order to accommodate additional protein without sacrificing taste, we have had to innovate on adding protein to other aspects of the bar. Most protein fortification is in the dough layer of bars. However, we have developed technology that allows protein fortification into bar coatings and fillings, for example caramel or chocolate. Additionally, we have been working to develop protein crisp inclusions to add texture and protein. We also expect our innovation in crisps and eventually extruded snacks to have appeal to those consumer consumers that prefer more savoury, but healthy snacking options.

While traditionally, we would have focused on dairy protein, the rising demand for plant protein cannot be ignored. In one survey by FMCG Gurus in 2019, we saw that nearly 40% of UK consumers are trying or actively consuming plant-based proteins. We have put a lot of work extending our product portfolio to pea protein made specifically for European bar manufacturers, called BarHarvest™ Pea Protein. Thanks to our extensive experience in dairy proteins, we have transferred this knowledge to develop a range of plant proteins for bars, which provides a clean taste, great texture and a long shelf life.

While traditionally, we would have focused on dairy protein, the rising demand for plant protein cannot be ignored.

How has the demand for plant proteins altered the way you work? What are the difficulties in working with them from a formulation standpoint?

Our strong applications and formulation expertise from the dairy protein category has really helped us to rapidly respond to the plant protein trend. Particularly in trying to improve tastes and textures for consumers, we already know a lot of the science and chemistry involved in getting those attributes right, so it is just a matter of adjusting to fit the properties of plant proteins. We have found that plant proteins tend to be drier than other proteins, which can create a crumblier texture. We are working with manufacturers to develop their formulations in line with consumer expectations, allowing them to enjoy their favourite products with improved tastes and textures. We also work closely with flavour houses to develop solutions that mask the distinct tastes of plant proteins or the bitter notes from whey proteins to ensure a great tasting snack.

While it can be challenging to formulate with plant protein, ingredients such as Glanbia Nutritionals’ BarHarvest™ Pea Protein, are helping to pave the way in this area. BarHarvest Pea Protein adds protein fortification, and is an allergen-free, gluten-free, kosher protein ingredient that delivers excellent performance. BarHarvest is designed to improve the shelf life, moisture and soft texture of bars, cookies and other baked goods. We are continually trying to find a balance between maintaining functionality, nutrition and great taste for the consumer.

How have you found customer collaboration with R&D evolve over your time at Glanbia?

In the past, we would have provided support to customers who may have developed their own formulations and looked to Glanbia as just an ingredient supplier. However, we found that if we were able to support customers earlier in the process as a formulation partner, we saw a higher rate of success and a more efficient product development timeline for our customers. For the past few years now, we’ve worked on growing our capacity to collaborate with customers – whether that is visits to the Glanbia Innovation Centre (GIC) in Kilkenny, Ireland, or remotely at their own plants. Increasingly we work with our customers from the initial ideation stage, through to the launching the product, and developing the final recipe with them that belongs to them. We have become the go-to supplier for ingredients, as well as expertise and R&D.

In terms of general product development trends, we have found the pace to have completely changed in the last three years, particularly in the bar category. While in the past, taking a new product to market might take up to two years, now our customers are able to go from concept to launch within six months. This shows how competitive the market has become, and the strides the sector has made in recent years. We feel that the changes we’ve made in how we collaborate with our customers has really helped speed up their process to market.

granola bars

What sort of challenges are customers coming to you with as an R&D application scientist?

The biggest challenge facing manufacturers continues to be maintaining texture over shelf life. Not only does the texture have to be great for consumers, but the shelf life must also be long enough to satisfy retailers. There is a balance and science to finding ingredients formulated for the right texture and the required shelf life. Even small adjustments to formulations can have a big impact – and this remains the challenge many customers bring to us to help them find a solution. Our expertise in this area has led us to develop products specifically for this challenge. The BarPro™ and BarFlex® ranges help meet these growing needs by creating bars that avoid hardening with long shelf lives that are ingredient label friendly and taste good.

What are some of the services at the Glanbia Innovation Center in Kilkenny that you offer to the customer that they may not get from other ingredient suppliers?

We try to be flexible for our customers. For those who are not able to come into the centre, we work with them remotely to develop their formulations – by sending them different iterations of bar concepts, together with regular video conference calls, allowing us to refine prototypes based on their feedback. Replacing or supplementing ingredients in any products needs careful planning and execution – it is certainly not a simple method. By sharing our extensive applications knowledge and formulation expertise, we can help brand owners develop their own recipes to take to market. For those customers who are able to visit the centre, it can really expedite formulation time. Depending on the product requirements, we could spend a day developing multiple iterations of bars to help the customer make a final formulation decision and then begin shelf life testing. If we were sending prototypes back and forth, this could take weeks or months. It all depends on the customer and their timeline. From the outset, we work with the customer on their timeline and decide which option works best for them.

Aside from protein, what are customers looking for in their bars? Are there any challenges when combining ingredients for multiple benefits such as fibre, protein, etc.

There is always a challenge when adding extra ingredients, such as fibre, into bars, as it can have a huge impact on the resulting product. It can be a complex process to test certain ingredients and assess their suitability and subsequent effect on the shelf life. Recently, we have had increasing interest from brand owners on the addition of vitamins and minerals into bar formulations. Fortunately, we can work closely with our colleagues in the premixes business unit at Glanbia Nutritionals, to ensure products are aligned with the right recommended daily allowance, are suitable for whatever format we are developing and ensure brand owners can make the specific nutrition and health claims they desire.

Does the popularity of bars look set to continue?

In my opinion, we haven’t reached a peak in bar popularity, yet. Consumers will continue to lead active lives and bars are a great option for achieving a quick hit of nutrition. I expect consumption will continue to rise, with exciting flavours and textures on the horizon. New snacking formats beyond bars are also expected to grow, with increasing interest in applications like cookies, bites and savoury snacks. This evolution will be crucial to retaining consumer interest, particularly among millennials and newer consumers.

How important is innovation in R&D in the bar sector?

R&D is extremely important because consumers are always looking for something new. The foundation might stay the same, but in order to stay relevant in the dynamic health & wellness sector, brands need to continue to innovate and bring exciting and better tasting products to the market. The work we do in R&D enable brands & manufacturers to keep consumers engaged and drive the conversation forward. Innovation will continue to be key in the ever-growing, dynamic bar sector, and we look forward to supporting the development of new creations that show up on shelves in the future.

Learn more about Glanbia Nutritionals Bar Solutions.

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