Making waves in LATAM: Targeting niche platforms with mainstream potential

Homemade beef burgers with onion, pickles, fresh vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes and tomato sauce on serving wooden board over blue painted background. Top view, vertical composition

Brenntag Food & Nutrition has strengthened its applications know-how significantly in Latin America (LATAM). A new plant-based concept shows a great approach in keeping an eye on current niches that have strong potential to go mainstream.

Scientists conducting an experiment

Two new Food Application & Development Centers for Latin America

It’s been a busy few months for Brenntag Food & Nutrition (F&N) in Latin America, as we further reinforce our position as the leading food ingredients distributor in the region.

In June, we opened our newest Food Application & Development Center (FADC) in Guarulhos, close to Sao Paulo in Brazil. This fifth FADC in the continent will particularly support F&N teams in Brazil and the South Cone in the following segments: beverages, bakery, dairy, chocolate & confectionary, sauces, meat, convenience food as well as functional food and food supplements. The FADC is equipped with all necessary state-of-the art equipment and special items such as a photostability and fermentation chamber, as well as a texturometer.

The investment news comes hot on the heels of the opening of our fourth FADC in Guatemala City. This facility supports our F&N teams particularly in Central America but also in the rest of Latin America in the beverage, dairy, confectionery and bakery segment. The two facilities support F&N’s existing network of laboratories in Mexico, which are currently being upgraded. Furthermore, they complement two FADC sites in Colombia, one of which was upgraded last year with a specific meat application laboratory.

All five facilities are equipped with specialized devices to find the right ingredients to support our customer needs. The FADCs allow our local teams to propose new alternative concepts, participate in customer innovation projects and develop new business. It’s about creating innovative formulations for them and presenting our capabilities and know-how to the market.

A window on the world

The Brazil and Guatemala openings mean that a global network of 30 FADCs is now in operation for Brenntag F&N globally. This allows for the sharing of vast formulation and applications knowledge and insights between local R&D teams and colleagues in other regions. Furthermore, this network provides a window into regional trends, such as plant-based meat alternatives, that will have a profound impact in LATAM markets in the future.

“The Brenntag Food & Nutrition team has a firm intent and a great opportunity to leverage our global network in terms of applications and various relationships. We have a great perspective on the growing global trends that will eventually have an impact in LATAM,” says Tomás Navarro, Vice President F&N LATAM.

While he accepts that the current uncertainty may have delayed innovation from some respects, Tomás is confident that we should be ready for a new product development rebound. “I believe that we have a great opportunity to lead the way in terms of trends and innovation, given that no other company in LATAM has such a massive presence in the region. As a global organization, we can truly offer our customers a window on the world in terms of the latest trends and consumer preferences, as well as our application expertise,” Tomás adds.

Modern kitchen interior design in white with marble counter
Fresh homemade burger on dark serving board with spicy tomato sauce, sea salt and herbs over dark wooden background. Top view, copy space

An eye on trends with potential

This global and regional approach is particularly valuable when it comes to exploring the potential for alternatives to the traditional food & nutrition products that have been consumed in LATAM markets for decades.

While the market for plant-based meats may currently be much less developed in LATAM markets than it is in North America or in Europe, there are clear opportunities across demographics. These products can meet the demands of older consumers looking to cut back on their fat and cholesterol intake. But they hold particular potential for a growing number of millennials and centennials who are switching away from meat, due to animal welfare and sustainability concerns. These younger consumers are looking for plant-based options that replicate the taste and texture of meat, but without the overuse of fat and starches. So far this is an untapped market.

“There is clear potential for plant-based alternative options in LATAM markets, but we are still in the very early stages of development when it comes to overcoming cost, health and quality concerns,” says Lina Espinosa Garcia, Commercial Director F&N for North LATAM. “Right now, there are several options available on the market, such as carrot and beet-based products that are expensive and very gummy and breakable in texture. These products don’t pretend to be like meat – they are vegan and are aimed at enhancing the flavour of vegetables,” she adds.

Stepping up to the challenge

This market gap is a space that food scientists at F&N are all too happy to step into. The LATAM team has therefore partnered with vegetable proteins specialist Roquette in the creation of plant-based alternatives, with less fat and cholesterol, but great taste and texture.

Last year at the 2019 Mexico Food Summit, the companies jointly presented a taco concept with a pea protein-based meat replacement filling. Should this year’s event take place as planned in November, chefs will be serving up a plant-based burger that has been created by Brenntag F&N developers featuring Roquette’s flexible plant protein blends. But regardless of it happening or not, a great option will be available for tasting.

The plant-based burger concept, which is featured in a bun and which contains ketchup and a vegan cheese was formulated by combining ingredients from several strategic suppliers.

Enrique Fernandez Cornu, Technical & Marketing Director F&N, LATAM, explains that a diverse collection of ingredients came together for a truly innovative product idea. “We are proud to have partners from across the ingredient spectrum, which includes the natural colors, flavors, emulsions and phosphates that we needed to create this concept,” he notes. “For texture and the protein content, modified pea proteins from Roquette are used, as well as soy protein isolate,” Enrique explains.

Homemade beef burgers with onion, pickles, fresh vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes and tomato sauce on serving wooden board over blue painted background. Top view, vertical composition

Creating synergies for formulation success

It’s a great example of how diverse ingredients can be neatly combined into a truly on trend concept to support evolving consumer demands. “The idea is to present the full package and try to promote our own brand,” Rebeca Alvarez Colin, Commercial Manager LATAM, Flavors, Fragrances & Food Ingredients notes. “This could be a great initiative to work together with our suppliers and present something that we at Brenntag F&N have developed internally and to show that to our customers,” she adds.

Tomás stresses that right now these types of products are a niche market, but that they have the potential to go mainstream in LATAM too. “I believe that as the technology evolves and develops at great partners like Roquette, manufacturers of good value vegetarian options will be able to get a more significant share on the market,” he notes. “It will take a while, but we are convinced that this is a great opportunity to lead the way in terms of category defining trends, particularly among the younger generations,” Tomás concludes.

The plant-based concepts reiterate Brenntag F&N’s position as a global supplier with a local approach to product development. It’s all about keeping an eye on current niches that have great potential to go mainstream.