Ahead of her speaking role at Future Food-Tech, we spoke to Hanne Søndergaard, CMO, EVP of Marketing, Innovation, Communication & Sustainability, Arla Foods, to understand how Arla is using ingredient innovation to offer sustainable and nutritional solutions to its consumers.

Hanne Søndergaard, Arla Foods

What areas of ingredient innovation are delivering the most value for today’s food industry and why?

Everything that helps us increase the value for consumers and make us more sustainable as a food industry. It can be ingredients that increase the nutritional value of a product or make it more affordable. It can be bio protection that helps us maintain quality and safety and increase shelf life. At Arla, we produce products that are as close to what nature can provide as possible. So I am excited to see how nature’s own solutions are being explored by the food tech industry to help match consumers’ specific needs and also solve some of the challenges we have with a growing need for sustainable nourishment in the world.

How is Arla working to achieve solutions to reduce, or replace, sugar in beverages and foods without losing taste or texture? Can you give us any examples?

Sugar reduction is high on our agenda, but also a challenge as the preference for sweet taste is ingrained in our food culture. In Arla, we have set an upper limit for added sugar within our different product categories and we have an innovation team dedicated to sugar reduction. Our main challenge is to reduce sugar in yogurts and dairy beverages that are acidic or sour by nature. A simple solution is to gradually add a little less sugar to the product over time. In other cases we adjust the parameters of the dairy base and experiment with the mix of fruit and berries to naturally make a yogurt sweeter. When we use sugar-reduction solutions, they are natural with only few exceptions.

Last year, we set ourselves the ambition to make an organic product consisting of just 2 ingredients; yogurt and real fruit. No added sugar, concentrated fruit juice or syrup – and no  thickeners or additives. To be honest, it was a bit of a mission impossible. We tested over 180 variations of fruit preparations and spent hours and hours to get the taste and consistency right. But we finally succeeded and the product is now launched in Germany as Arla Bio Nur. ‘Nur’ in German means ‘only’. It has later been launched in Denmark and is planned for other European markets.

Do you see plant-based alternatives offering comparable nutritional value to cow milk?

I know that some consumers perceive them as nutritional competitors because they are both white liquids and can be used for some of the same purposes. But in reality, they are fundamentally different. Milk is only gently processed and naturally high in protein, calcium, certain vitamins and contains bioactive components. Plant-based drinks are made from relatively small amounts of solid plant foods and mixed with water, additives and sometimes added sugar. Even though you’ll get several good nutrients and bioactive components from almonds, oat and soy beans in their whole natural form, you only get 2-10% refined plant material in plant-based drinks while the rest is basically water.  To increase the nutritionally value, plant-based drinks are fortified with protein, calcium and vitamins. Only soy drinks naturally contain significant amounts of protein, but is not a rich source of calcium. So there is no doubt that milk is a food source that is very hard for any other food to compete against when it comes to natural nutrient density.

You’re joining us at Future Food-Tech London – what new technologies or opportunities are you most excited about seeing? 

I think technologies that help people understand their genetic profile and how they can personalise their dietary choices will play a significant role in the future. It’s interesting for us at Arla, because milk contains so many beneficial components and combinations of nutrients that can be explored to optimise health. We have excellent capabilities to create whey-based ingredients targeted people with special needs, such as babies, elderly, athletes, patients etc. and there is still so much more to understand about milk’s natural benefits. Another technology with exciting possibilities is AI, which we have recently implemented in our supply chain to be more exact in our predictions, planning and production. There are definitely other areas where AI will help us increase profitability and reduce waste in the future.