Corbion helps food manufacturers succeed, naturally
Spoiler alert: If you prefer edibles without artificial preservatives, and if there are naturally preserved products in your pantry or fridge that are tasty, fresh, and good to eat, you’re going to love learning about Corbion. Their work in naturally derived preservation solutions supports food manufacturers in their mission to create healthier, safe, shelf-stable groceries made from ingredients consumers can feel good about.
In an age where real ingredients are at top of mind for shoppers, and the need to balance freshness, flavor, and food safety is key to the success of fast-moving consumer goods producers, Corbion is a true champion. Through its Sustainable Food Solutions division, the global leader in lactic acid, functional blends, emulsifiers, fermentation products, and advanced preservation solutions leverages more than a century of expertise and a full bench of the most creative scientists on the planet to help FMCG firms feed the world.
Based in The Netherlands, Corbion extends its ingenuity deep into the global biochemical, biomedical, and bioplastics markets. At present, the company’s joint venture with Total, the fourth largest international oil and gas company in the world, is launching Corbion to the forefront of polylactic acid (PLA) development. Biobased and biodegradable, PLAs are one-of-a-kind bioplastics used in fresh food packaging, organic waste bags, foodservice cutlery and packaging, tea bags, durable consumer products, toys, 3D printing, and non-woven goods. As we went to press, the firm announced the development of its second PLA plant, the first of its kind in Europe.
“We believe in preserving things that matter. For us that means preserving the planet as well as the food we consume. Sustainability is in our DNA, so it is embedded in the way we do business,” explained Andy Muller, the company’s president of sustainable food solutions. “At Corbion, preservation has a double meaning. We develop sustainable products to preserve food and we have food ingredients made from processes such as fermentation. With these products we enable our customers to produce food and other products that help preserve the planet, like PLA, which helps reduce the consumption of regular plastics and subsequently reduces the use of fossil fuels around the world.”
In his division, the focus is on eliminating spoilage and keeping food safely, while retaining all the positive qualities of the finished product that consumers expect. “We use ingredients that are natural food ferments to keep it safe from foodborne pathogens, mold, and any type of spoilage. The other thing we do is preserve the eating experience for the end consumer. Our ingredients also allow products like bread to stay fresh longer, safely extending its shelf life,” he noted.
“There are many different ways to preserve food. In the US alone, over one-third of all food manufactured is thrown away. Imagine if we could use that one-third to feed the world and to help people who don’t have a plate of food on their table every day. Our ingredients help maintain texture, freshness, and taste, as well as maintain food safety over a longer period of time, safely extending the shelf life of those products, and delivering the eating experience consumers expect. And in doing that, we have aligned our business with three of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: Zero Hunger (No. 2), Good Health and Well-Being (No. 3), and Responsible Consumption and Production (No. 12).”
Corbion’s naturally derived food preservation ingredients are used in bakery products, dairy, sauces, dressings, meat/deli meat products, and confectionery. The company’s emulsifiers and functional systems are also used in these and other categories such as beverages. “Our main goal is to help customers deliver great products that remain safe and tasty from the day they’re made to the day of they’re consumed,” he stressed.
Most of us think of lactic acid when we feel the burn during a run or after a day or two of working out at the gym, but there’s a fascinating universe beyond just the tingle in our muscles. “Lactic acid is dairy acid that naturally occurs in milk. It occurs in sour cream, cheese, anywhere milk is present. As an organic acid, lactic acid and its derivatives—all the ingredients manufactured from lactic acid—are widely used as natural preservatives in food, in addition to other uses. We produce it through fermentation. We take sugar from cane, beets, or even dextrose from corn, then ferment it to produce lactic acid. Fermentation has been used to preserved food for centuries; it is how yogurt and cheese are made from milk, or beer from grain. Even bread is technically a fermentation of yeast, so we use a very simple process provided by nature,” Muller noted.
Corbion scientists also use vinegar, celery juice or powder, ferments of other fruits and vegetables like onion powder, and a range of other natural ingredients, including antioxidants such as acerola, depending on what’s required in the finished product. Admittedly, artificial preservatives have been cheaper to produce than the elegant solutions provided by nature, but today’s shoppers are hungry for products made with ingredients they recognize and understand.
The company’s Co-Create program helps FMCG producers succeed in meeting these demands in high-pressure environments. “Our mantra is, ‘Keep creating,’” Muller said. “Speed to market is getting faster and faster, especially if our customer’s competitor is introducing a new product. You need to get there fast. We work hand-in-hand with our customers and co-create with them, working together to blend the knowledge they have with our knowledge in order to come up with the right product the first time. When we work together, speed to market becomes much faster.”
In the past few years, CPG firms have seen their R&D budgets drastically reduced, a result of market pressures and other influences. “These companies have to rely much more on companies like ours in developing specific products. We really work hand in hand to develop the product, but the big differentiator is our incredibly experienced technical team. We don’t just develop the product, we also go to our customers’ plants and help them scale up, or troubleshoot issues,” he added. “Our tech service team works at the plant level, helping customers implement everything developed in the lab, determining what kind of equipment adjustments may be needed to scale up and go into production.”
When the pandemic hit, Corbion kicked into high gear. “As an essential business we have a huge responsibility. We could not break the supply chain. Imagine at the beginning, in March and April, if on top of all the fear and uncertainty the food supply broke down,” he solemnized. “I’m personally very proud of how our employees have lived the values of Corbion. They work really hard to interact safely with their colleagues, taking care of our customers, themselves, their families, and the community.
“We are conscious of the fact that our families eat what we make. As consumers ourselves, we benefit from what Corbion does. We take a great deal of care in the way we develop, produce, and sell our products because they touch our own families. We’re not producing something for someone else,” he said.
“Everything we do is guided by our core values: care, collaboration, courage, and commitment. These are things you have to have in order to preserve what matters today, and do it in a way that preserves what matters tomorrow, too. We’re very proud of the role we play in making that happen.”
Corbion is the global market leader in lactic acid and its derivatives, and a leading supplier of emulsifiers, functional enzyme blends, minerals, vitamins, and algae ingredients. We use our unique expertise in fermentation and other processes to deliver sustainable solutions for the preservation of food and food production, health, and our planet. For over 100 years, we have been uncompromising in our commitment to safety, quality, innovation and performance. Drawing on our deep application and product knowledge, we work side-by-side with customers to make our cutting-edge technologies work for them. Our solutions help differentiate products in markets such as food, home & personal care, animal nutrition, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and bioplastics. In 2019, Corbion generated annual sales of € 976.4 million and had a workforce of 2.138 FTE. Corbion is listed on Euronext Amsterdam.