Bringing ambition to life

Consumers want natural, healthy food that is also indulgent, innovative and ‘Instagrammable’. Government health targets call for less sugar, fat and calories but more fruit and vegetables. Food & Drink Technology visits Chaucer Foods to see how it maintains consistency, sustainability and traceability all while managing ingredients costs…

As a manufacturer of freeze-dried fruit, vegetables, herbs and pulses, and baked inclusions, Chaucer is helping retail and food service brands turn these challenges into opportunities.

Chaucer has undergone a dramatic evolution from a croutons baker to a global innovator collaborating with customers to develop new products and solutions. Consumers want innovation and novelty, new textures and flavours, both in sweet and savoury foods, says Scott Jacobson, CEO Chaucer Consumer.

“There’s a real appetite for creativity,” he says. “One of the ways we’re helping to meet this need is with our specialist baked inclusions: pieces of waffle, doughnut, brioche and gingerbread, in varying sizes and textures for use in ice cream, chocolate and confectionery.

“We work closely with customers to develop the products they need, from a crunchy incusion to go into ice cream, to savoury baked toppings or snacks.”

A fast-growing area of Chaucer’s expertise, and one that is reflected in the company’s recent rebranding, is freeze-dried fruit, vegetables, pulses and herbs.

In contrast with other methods of preservation, Scott explains, freeze-drying retains the nutrients, flavour and colour of produce. It is a technique that Chaucer has perfected. Raw ingredients are rapidly frozen, preventing the formation of large crystals that damage the produce’s cell structure. Next, they are placed in a vacuum chamber. When optimal pressure and temperature are reached, the ice sublimates – it changes into water vapour, skipping the liquid phase and leaving the produce intact but with all water removed.

The resulting product is not only nutritious, colourful and tasty, but also crisp, thanks to the porous quality created by the removal of the frozen moisture.

“It’s very convenient for customers,” says Scott. “Supplied pre-prepared, it requires no cutting or chopping, it’s light to handle and easy to store at ambient temperatures, with a long shelf life.”

From production sites in France, USA and China, Chaucer supplies the freeze-dried produce in a variety of formats, including whole, pieces, slices, powders or drops, and they are used around the world in drinks, ready-meals, snacks, confectionery and cereal. Sports nutrition is among the new sectors in which Chaucer is currently developing new applications, with a new product innovation (NPI) focus that continuously responds to food trends and opportunities.

Global capabilities mean Chaucer can not only supply off-the-shelf products, but also develop bespoke solutions for customers, wherever in the world they happen to be.

“It is a meeting of expert minds,” says Scott. “Our Commercial and NPI teams work closely with customers to understand their challenges and ambitions, and together we create innovative, bespoke solutions that really add value to their business. We have development kitchens around the world, and provide technical support for customers’ NPI teams, so that our ingredients work perfectly with their processes and products.”

This unrivalled global reach and capability also means consistent products for global brands, so the same quality of product is supplied worldwide. This also provides a large and stable supply chain for continuity of supply and mitigation against seasonal and other fluctuations – as well as helping customers to meet their responsible sourcing goals.

“We have agricultural partners worldwide, with farms and growing programmes in Chile, China and North Africa. The produce we use is fully traceable and meets stringent standards in environmental sustainability and social responsibility.”

All Chaucer’s production facilities are either BRC A* or A rated and FDA compliant, with certifications including kosher, halal and organic. But while industry-leading technology and innovation are essential to Chaucer’s success, says Scott, it is the company’s people that bring all the elements together.

“We work hard to develop skilled and experienced teams who are able to deliver, and who share the core values and principles of Chaucer,” he says. “A great business depends on great people.”

Chaucer’s journey has taken the business from its 1980s roots as a bakery in Kent, to its acquisition in 2016 by Japan’s Nagatanien, with co-investment from INCJ, Ltd. Today, the creation of a fresh brand identity signifies the global business’s new direction and restructure. A new website also provides a resource for NPI teams in food manufacturing businesses, where Chaucer’s own development specialists share their knowledge and insights into food trends, ideas and industry issues.

“Our brand identity reflects our values and direction, to collaborate, innovate, and create solutions to a whole range of business challenges faced by our customers,” Scott says.

“By doing this, we add value, realise opportunities and bring ambition to life.”

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