As part of our 'Spotlight on...' series, we caught up with Brandt Maybury, Co-Founder & Managing Director of TasteHead, as he chats to us about innovation and product development in food & drink and the growing demand for ingredients and products with key health benefits.
Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us how your journey started in the world of food & drink?
I’m Brandt Maybury, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Tastehead, an innovative Food Development Agency. I’ve always been obsessed with good food from a very young age, so it was probably inevitable that I’d end up as a chef by the age of 18. After many years of working insane hours in pubs, hotels and Michelin starred restaurants I decided that I wanted to use my passion and creativity with food in an industry that had a slightly better work/life balance. I started my journey into product development as a development chef for a number of leading bakeries, developing cakes and desserts for the likes of Waitrose, M&S, Costa Coffee and more. I was then very fortunate to land the role of Taste Specialist for Green & Black’s Chocolate (yes, that’s an actual job!), working as part of the marketing team to develop new products and market them across all sales and media channels. By this point I was operating as a consultant, and so was juggling my time between Green & Black’s and helping out other challenger brands and start-ups. This led to myself and Micah Carr-Hill, former Head of Taste at Green & Black’s, setting up Tastehead in 2017. As an ever-growing team of eight, we currently work with clients of all shapes and sizes to develop new products and recipes across almost every category that you can imagine, from vegan snacks and energy drinks, to ethnic baby food and non-alcoholic distillated spirits. Therefore we’re very fortunate to be at the forefront of innovation and see many trends develop from the very beginning.
Covid-19 and lockdown have raised awareness on the importance of self-care through food and drink. Are the health benefits of a product becoming more president in your product development for clients?
Certainly, but this was already the case well before lockdown. For several years now there has been this umbrella trend of ‘better for you, better for the planet’ which has led to the rise of many new products that most of us are now familiar with; kefir, kombucha, kimchi…and they’re just the ones that start with a ‘k’. We also see an ever-increasing focus on the nutritional profile of all products, particular areas such as fibre content, sugars, various micronutrients, use of adaptogens, etc. The vegan/flexitarian trend is partly driven by the proposed health benefits, and many of our current projects are looking at new, innovative ways of producing vegan versions of many classic meat and dairy products. Some of these products are surprisingly convincing, whilst others have a long way to go when it comes to ‘taste’, but the demand is driving an incredible amount of R&D from specialist ingredient suppliers who are all trying to nail the next big ingredient that can transform this category.
Tiredness, stress, anxiety, gut health are just some of the ailments consumers are trying to cure through a change in diet. Are there any ingredients you think have active health benefits?
This is something that I can talk about from personal experience, as much as professional. I have a similar story to so many other people these days, where I became quite ill and used diet and lifestyle to bounce back healthier and stronger than before. The main focus for me was on gut health and so it’s no surprise to me to see this becoming a huge trend, especially now that science and properly controlled studies are starting to finally prove the importance of a well-balanced microbiome.
We regularly work with a number of ingredients high in fibre and prebiotics, such as chicory root, various seeds, legumes, etc, which feed the probiotic bacteria in our gut and can have profound benefits to your overall health over time. Probiotics are starting to become available in more stable, encapsulated forms, allowing them to withstand higher temperatures and acidity levels and therefore suitable to be supplemented in foods and drinks previously out of bounds. Many fermented foods such as sauerkraut have a high amount of probiotics by nature, whilst sprouted grains and overnight oats help to reduce the phytic acid within the grains and aid better digestion. The focus is certainly on gut health at the moment, and I think this will continue for some time.
With numerous eye-catching products joining the food and drink market daily, how can a new product stand out and convey its health and wellbeing benefits? Are there any key words or ingredients you think buyers are looking for?
Key words and claims that we regularly see include immunity, prebiotics, probiotics, FODMAP, adaptogens, CBD, fermented, sprouted, high in fibre, no refined sugars and gluten-free. Some of these terms are still puzzling to many consumers, and as there’s only so much real estate on packaging to educate people some brands are starting to utilise the power of QR codes that can navigate consumers to a webpage full of information. QR codes never quite took off when they were first launched, but now that most smartphones have a QR detector automatically programmed into the camera function there’s no barrier around having to have a dedicated app. Most pubs and restaurants are currently taking advantage of this to provide menus in a more hygienic way, so the timing is perfect to consider including a little black and white square on your packaging.
The thing to consider for most food and drink products, however, is knowing how loudly they should be communicating these claims. Even in the world of functional foods, ‘taste’ is still a key purchase driver. Brands who communicate the proposed health benefits of their products too prominently run the risk of jeopardising their taste and premium positioning somewhat – it can be a tricky area to balance. Even the healthiest foods on the market need to be commercially viable, and this will be a key concern for category buyers when considering new listings. Many of the brands winning in this space have had redesigns that dial down the health cues and amplify brand and taste.
Why are sustainable and natural materials growing in popularity in the packaging of food and drink products?
This has partly been driven by various macro social cultural trends, including high levels of media coverage about climate change and the effects of plastic packaging on the planet. There are also several famous influencers in this area, such as David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Zac Efron. Particularly for Gen Z and Millennials this is an important factor when purchasing products, and the industry is now trying it’s best to meet demand with innovative materials and technologies. There are often compromises to shelf life and print quality though (not to mention cost) with some of these new materials, so there is still a way to go before they become the new norm. The switch to paper drink straws has been pretty revolutionary, and a good example of how design and innovation will eventually catch up to meet consumer demand and expectations.
Product development is a truly innovative field, what are your predictions for the coming months in terms of food and drink development? Anything you are particularly excited by? Any new buzz words?
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 will have a profound effect on the food and drink industry for the foreseeable future. We are already seeing a boom in direct-to-consumer models, with artisan products once out of reach to many people in the nation now only a few clicks away. This will also fit well with a potential recession on the horizon, as during austere times many people level-up on their weekly groceries as a compromise for saving money on fewer meals out. We may also see more nostalgic and ‘comfort’ foods during these times.
Some of our more innovative, recent projects include the world’s first vegan pork scratchings, by Vegan Pig. They were all set to take the pub trade by storm at the start of this year, so we’re keeping everything crossed for those guys as things hopefully begin to move again. We also have a number of vegan meat alternative projects that we are working on, so there’s certainly no sign of slow down on the V front. I expect the trend will ultimately evolve to being more around ‘plant-based’ than 100% veganism, which we are starting to see with various flexitarian approaches combining meat and plant-based ingredients in ways that have never been seen before.
Thanks, Brandt, for your insights! If anyone in the industry wants to get in touch, what is the best way to reach you and the team at Taste Head?
For more support and advice surrounding health in food & drink, people, visit our 'Spotlight on... Health & Wellbeing' page.