The food and beverage industry is constantly evolving to accommodate new trends in the market; new flavours, ingredient, buzzwords hit the shelves every month, making it difficult to keep up with what is healthy and what is a flash in the pan.
Amongst all the buzz and trends is an emerging health-conscious contingency, focused on health over design, wellbeing over quick profits that is slowly taking over at the cash register as more and more customers seek foods that have substance and style.
A bright light in that emerging demographic is Edmonton-based BioNeutra, a private research and development company working in the realm of production and commercialization of food ingredients for neutraceutical, functional, and mainstream foods.
Founded in 2003, BioNeutra is the vision of Dr. Jianhua Zhu, President and CEO, a Chinese bioengineer with a background in biochemistry. Invited by the University of Alberta, Zhu came to Canada in 1998 to work in the chemical engineering department, later transitioning to the bio-pharmacy industry.
Alberta’s abundance in raw agricultural material provided the ideal material for Zhu’s work, most of which was in oligosaccharides, natural carbohydrates with three to 10 simple sugars linked together and many benefits as a partial replacement for fats and sugars in some foods. Raw material for Zhu’s work can be found in the starch of barley, oats, corn, and potatoes.
Zhu and the company’s co-founders worked in conjunction with Agriculture Alberta to find a viable and healthy fibre alternative that would produce a healthy, value added substitute for ingredients in drinks, chocolate bars, breads, etc.
“Agriculture Alberta really supported the idea of diversifying the agricultural business from the start,” says Zhu. “This project really put the focus on value-added agriculture.”
The project Zhu is referring to is BioNeutra’s VitaFiber, a natural, starch-derived prebiotic soluble fibre that acts as a dietary fibre, prebiotic and natural sweetener that is low in calories.
Studies have proven that VitaFiber is useful for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, the absorption of minerals, and the prevention of constipation.
“We call it a three-function product: a prebiotic, a fibre and a low calorie sweetener,” says Zhu.
“Fibre is something that we all know about, helps with regularity and cholesterol, people are truly seeking fibre in a number of products,” says Lindsay Sutton, Marketing Manager for BioNeutra. “Reports show fibre claims on food packaging are going to rise and consumers are actively seeking it out.”
Customers may be less familiar with prebiotic, “a category of functional food, defined as non-digestible food ingredients that stimulates the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of beneficial bacteria in the colon, and thus improves health. Numerous scientific studies showed that VitaFiber are a prebiotic and improve overall digestive health.”
KGK Synergize conducted clinical trials that concluded in late 2011 which positively validated dose tolerance and prebiotic effect of VitaFiber.
“More and more people are becoming educated on the benefits of prebiotics,” says Sutton. “Prebiotic fibres provide the nutrient source for prebiotic that are already in the gut, so if you eat foods high in prebiotics, the prebiotics help the viability of the bacteria being used.”
While BioNeutra will sell VitaFiber in retail stores later this year, the product is enjoying a very successful presence in the wholesale market, with 5,000 metric tonnes sold annually, and growing. According to BioNeutra, “VitaFiber formulation could be used in a variety of consumer food products under the health food category and can be promoted as a safe, new, trendy health food product, increasing product sale lists as well as sales revenue. VitaFiber could be used in a variety of beverages, candy, chocolate and energy bars, confectionary products, milk products, home cooking ingredients, and various desserts.”
2012 will see BioNeutra really push for space on Canadian shelves after gaining its fibre designation from Canadian regulators. “We are going to push retail product into the Canadian market,” says Zhu. “We have very good demand for natural product and with our organic certification, and we are well positioned to provide a great product for people who are more and more focused on natural and healthy products.”