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FEMA 49th Fall Symposium Addresses Chemophobia, Supply Chain Transparency and More

Contact Author Deniz Ataman, managing editor, Perfumer & Flavorist
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This year’s 49th Flavor Extracts and Manufacturers Association (FEMA) Fall Symposium was held at the Westin New York in Times Square on Oct. 22-24, 2018. Members attended a variety of presentations on consumer trends, scientific research and market updates from industry thought leaders. Speakers included:

  • Lu Ann Williams, co-founder and director of innovation, Innova Market Insights
  • James Kennedy, author, “Fighting Chemophobia” and chemistry teacher
  • Hannah Doran Aneiros, Sustainability Services, PwC
  • Joanna Drake, JD, general counsel, FEMA
  • Thomas Hofmann, Ph.D., senior vice president, R&D, Technical University of Munich

Excellence in Flavor Science

Thomas Hofmann, Ph.D., professor, Technical University of Munich, introduced his SENSOMICS research which uses innate flavor compounds from foods as a means for flavor enhancement. Hoffman’s research discovers natural taste modulator systems and identifies chemical signatures for quick and accurate data. He explained that because olfaction is a constructive sense, there is no volatile that smells like food itself. With more than 10,000 food volatiles and approximately 230 food odorants (KFOs) and 3-4 KFOs per food item, the information is dense and requires a more unified flavor quantitation.

Current aroma and taste assessments include human sensory analysis and cell-based assays; however, Hofmann argued that these assessments require higher costs and multiple trials in order to achieve quick and accurate data. With demand growing for natural flavors, Hofmann suggested that through computational odor/taste coding, the benefits of HTP-mass spectrometry (digitizing flavor) offers inexpensive costs, high robustness, high reproducibility, library creation and automation.

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One of the challenges behind this research is translating it to consumers who are critical of food tampering. Considering that consumers are looking for natural solutions, Hofmann argued that the key is to include the concepts of culinary chemistry and explaining that these compounds are naturally available in foods to enhance flavor profiles.

Resilient and Transparent Supply Chains

In her presentation, “Resilient and Transparent Supply Chains,” Hannah Doran Aneiros, Sustainability Services, PwC, linked the environmental and social impacts of climate change with transparency within the supply chain. Our current global situation is bleak – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report explaining that a 1.5-degree Celsius reduction is necessary to mitigate extreme environmental damage. As a result, there is a need for collective action by government, companies and industry groups to reach these goals to reduce global temperatures.

Water is under increased pressure, with a 19% increase in global irrigational water demand by 2050 (with agriculture contributing to 30% of the total freshwater usage). What does this mean for global supply chains? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Aneiros explained water shortages are going to impact where farms and factories are located. Ultimately, it will take a forward-facing approach to address uncertainties. Aneiros cited blockchain technology as a means to create a more traceable supply chain. She explained, “If you know where everything is in your supply chain…you can deal with a solution quickly for better business decisions.” But blockchain technology isn’t a cure-all for traceability. There is still a lack of knowledge for the technology, including reconciling the virtual world with the physical (i.e. a person still has to enter the data into the system). Yet, its potential is far-reaching with possible applications for addressing environmental challenges (climate change, biodiversity, conservation, water cleanliness, clean air, etc). The challenges of complex products along the supply chain requires a coordinated approach that plans for 2-10 years across a lot of different players.

Flavors in an Experiential Economy

In her presentation “Global Trends – What’s Next for Flavors?” LuAnn Williams, co-founder and director of innovation, Innova Market Insights provides a macro view of the upcoming mega trends impacting flavor, food and beverage. She cites globalization, the rise of single households, uncertainty and volatility in the global economy, and the cost of unhealthy lifestyles as factors that contribute to new product development. As a result, consumers are looking more towards living and discovering new experiences versus acquiring materials. The experiential economy is booming, with 78% of millennials preferring to spend money on an experience or event over buying something desirable. What does this mean for flavor innovation?

As brands, retailers and service providers focus on experience-centric product innovations, it’s an opportunity for the flavor industry to consider both taste and color to delight the senses through sensory storytelling. Flavor trends include ethnic sauces and seasonings, plant-based and flexitarian diets, herbs and processing for flavors (i.e. small-batch, freeze-dried, stone ground, cold pressed).

Williams predicts discovery as the top trend for 2019 as consumers look to unexpected flavor trends (ginger and chocolate, chili chocolate, sparkling wine-flavored potato chips and multisensory dining experiences) to satisfy their curiosity for adventure.

Inoculating the Public Against Chemophobia

It’s safe to say that education is a key preventative tool against chemophobia, the fear of chemicals. Chemistry teacher and advocate James Kennedy discussed his experience as an educator to shed light on chemicals and its purpose in the classroom. In his presentation, “Inoculating the Public Against Chemophobia,” Kennedy cited the lack of outreach and education in school on chemistry that breeds chemophobia. He argued that removing the word “chemical” as a noun and instead of replacing it with terminology to describe a material (i.e. acid, solvent, metal, powder) will shed a positive association between chemistry and the world around us. Instead of focusing on elements, Kennedy suggested an emphasis on molecules, modern chemistry and storytelling to provide a useful and practical outlook on the subject.

“Children have a natural instinct to be experimenters,” he explained; and whether it’s a big budget, factual documentary or a shift in the curriculum towards practical uses in chemistry, there is a significant opportunity to change the way we think about chemicals, chemistry and science.