Industry progress sparks structural change at Leatherhead

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Nutrition

Leatherhead Food International has put in place a new structure for
its research services, basing them around three platforms that have
major relevance for the food industry today: nutrition, food
innovation and food safety.

The UK-based consultancy has two division of its business. It is well known for its world food legislation services team that can advise on regulations across the globe, and also operates as a provider of scientific research - whether independently, in partnership with other research bodies or government departments, or on behalf of its members. The new structure coincides with the appointment of Paul Berryman, formerly LFI's research director, as chief executive following the retirement of John Bevington. Berryman, who took up his new post on January 2, told that the new structure represents the development of new technology and major current trends in the food industry. Nutrition "You can't pick up a newspaper without reading about low fat, low sugar and low salt foods,"​ Berryman said. "It is hard for people to know what to eat."​ Leatherhead's facilities include an intervention study suite, where researchers can look at the effect of certain foods on blood biomarkers of human subjects. The suite can accommodate as many as 100 subjects, allowing for "reasonably extensive studies​". One area that the nutrition team is investigating at presence is satiety, described by Berryman as "the study of what foods keep you full for longer".​ In particular, this involves foods with a low glycaemic index (GI), which release sugar into the blood stream more slowly than foods with a high GI. This means, for example, that eating porridge for breakfast will keep you full for longer than sugar-coated cornflakes, which give a quick energy spike but leave you feeling hungry again by mid-morning. According to Berryman, there is a trend towards food manufacturers incorporating satiety-enhancing ingredients into appealing foods that would otherwise have a low GI. Another area of research is efficacy of healthy and functional foods, to back up health claims in the light of last year's new European nutrition and health claims legislation. Although much of the research is conducted at ingredient level, there is also a need to test the food products in which they are used to check that they work in the particular food matrix. Leatherhead's nutrition services can also be used to check the nutritional content of food, so companies can supply accurate nutritional labelling on packs. This is another core area for the food industry at present, as the EU is devising new rules on food labelling and industry has proposed several different approaches - such as the CIAA's Guidance Daily Amount scheme, and the UK Food Standards Agency's traffic light scheme. In the future, Berryman predicts that Leatherhead will start to see more work coming in regarding the area of personalised nutrition. Food innovation ​Leatherhead's food innovation unit is involved in developing new ingredients, and an important part of its resource base is its tasting boosts, where a panel can test that ingredients do not impair the sensory properties of a food. For instance, a low fat product will not sell if it does not taste good, Berryman said. One project currently underway in partnership with Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) involves a low calorie mayonnaise containing fat globules that are the same size as normal globules, but have a hole in the middle. The idea, Berryman said, is that this avoids the starchy taste that often affects such low calorie products. Another ongoing project involves a new type of granular salt, made up of both large and tiny particles. The tiny particles melt instantly on the tongue, fooling the palate into thinking a food tastes saltier, while the larger granules are tasted later. Berryman said that the researchers had tried using just the tiny granules but tasting panels reported that they missed the crunchy sensation of regular salt. In addition, trends towards clean labels - removing artificial additives and E-numbers - are spurring the development of new ingredients like preservatives and colourings. This has been a particularly keen area of investigation since the publication of studies such as the worrisome Southampton study, which found a link between certain cocktails of preservatives and artificial colours and hyperactivity in children. However much of the work Leatherhead is currently doing in this area is confidential. Food safety ​ Leatherhead's projects in food safety cover issues such as microbiology, extending the shelf-life of foods, detection of food poisoning organisms, and measurement of the quality and authenticity of foods. It is also working with Defra on ways to detect the Norovirus - the winter vomiting sickness that is currently sweeping the UK - in foods. "Personally, I think the amount of food poisoning caused by viruses is underestimated,"​ said Berryman. While there is considerable attention to bacteria in foods, such as salmonella, he said he believes viruses like the Norovirus are responsible more often than they are given credit for. Research models ​ Leatherhead typically has three different models for its research projects. Projects such as the fat globules with a hole, described above, are dubbed Defra-link Research Projects, are funded by Leatherhead and its partners, such as the Institute for Food Research and some member companies, and the total is then matched by Defra. The current project has a budget of over £1m, but the costs can be two or three times as high. In such cases, contributing companies will have first pickings of the findings, but they will eventually come to bear on the industry at large. Leatherhead earmarks over £1m a year out of the fees it receives each year from its 1,000 member companies to conduct its own research, and the findings of these projects are then disseminated amongst all members. The third model is confidential projects, which are funded by individual companies and they own the intellectual property. Leatherhead has an annual turnover in the region of £10m. Forty-five per cent of its membership is from outside the United Kingdom.

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