Alana’s Choice: The Challenge of New Ingredients

One of the most fun parts of my job as founder and President of Libre Naturals is research and development.  Since I love to cook and create with food, getting in to my R and D lab and trying all sorts of new products and recipes is my idea of a good time.

What I don’t like is when we do move forward with new products and I have to let our customers know that new ingredients are coming in to our facility.  While I never allow any ingredients into our dedicated facility that have any of the top 14 food allergens (including cross-contamination), it doesn’t matter what new ingredient I introduce, inevitably a portion of our current clientele have a food allergy to it.  I understand this completely as my daughter is not only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts but also to chickpeas and kiwi.  The latter two may not be top food allergens but that doesn’t mean they are any less of a health issue and in fact, can be harder to spot in an ingredient list.

So when considering new ingredients to try, I do go beyond the top food allergens in my assessment of whether I want to try them at all.  A case in point is our introduction of broad bean protein isolate for our new line of plant-based protein bars – a product that we’ve been asked for many years to make available.

So where did I start with choosing a protein powder?  Two of the top proteins in protein bars over the years have been soy and whey (dairy), which are in the top food allergens so they’re immediately discarded from consideration.  So I started with rice protein, pumpkin seed protein and hemp protein.  I didn’t choose any of them for our products for a wide variety of reasons from grittiness and poor flavor to not enough protein percentage.  For example, if the best-tasting pumpkin seed protein powder is only 50% protein by weight, you have to add so much protein powder that your bar becomes inedible.  I wasn’t interested in bringing out a product I’d never want to eat myself.

After discarding these possibilities and now over a year into development, the only new plant-based protein powders on the market were pea and chickpea proteins.  After researching them both, I determined that the cross-reactivity potential for our peanut allergic clientele was just too high.  When you’re dealing with protein powders, you’re concentrating the protein into an isolate that is 80 to 90% protein, and since allergic reactions are to the protein component of any food, you’re increasing the potential for an allergic reaction.  Many peanut allergic consumers have discovered this lately when they can eat peas but have had serious reactions to some of the new plant-based food products that are using pea protein.  So the protein bar development was put on hold.

About a year ago, one of our suppliers approached us with their brand new broad bean (also known as fava) protein powder made from Canadian grown broad beans.  After reviewing the research and finding that beans have the lowest rate of legume cross-reaction (about 0.5%) for those who are peanut allergic, I thought I’d give it a try.  The result after an additional year of R and D is our new line of plant-based protein bars.

But I also don’t stop there.  In May 2018, once it was determined that our new protein bars would be using at least some of the broad bean protein isolate, I put out information via our enewsletter and social media that we’d be bringing out protein bars with broad bean protein and asked for input for both flavors and comments.  Then, as the year towards launch progressed, I kept adding information to the enewsletter and social media and to our ingredient declarations on our website in May, followed by “coming soon” in preparation for our September 25th launch.  For every person who sent a comment of concern for any new ingredient (broad bean was of the most concern but chia seeds were too), each of them was responded to, many that I personally reached out to. As a food allergy mom myself, I don’t take these concerns lightly.

While I can’t reach all people with enewsletters, social media and our website, by sharing information over a longer period of time, we can hopefully catch many of our customers at least one of those times.  One customer, upset at the new protein, thought I should make an announcement through Food Allergy Canada.  I thought this was a good suggestion but when I reached out to Food Allergy Canada about the possibility of a public service announcement, I was told that they’ll only do so when it’s a public safety risk, such as adding a top 10 food allergen when none were there before.  In fact, they indicated that they don’t recommend legumes are avoided unless advised by a doctor since for many food allergic they are a healthy alternative.

In the end, new products and ingredients always leave us in a Catch-22 with some customers thrilled that we’re introducing new items and others disappointed that we’re making a change that will affect their ability to eat our products.  Whatever the case, I make these decisions with a great deal of care and consideration.  Ultimately, my goal remains the same as when I originally started this company:  To help families just like mine.