This episode explores how good bacteria may play a significant role in the global dairy market by extending the shelf life.
Reducing food waste using nature's own resources
UN estimates that 1/3 of all food is wasted. It is simply unbearable to think of considering that at the same time 800 million people in the world are starving. We need to find solutions for more sustainable food production and efficient use of resources.
Perspectives from the dairy industry
The dairy market is characterized by high turnover, fragile supply chains and relatively short shelf lives. Consumption of dairy products in developed markets is a significant contributor to global food waste and losses. It is estimated that almost 20% of yogurt is wasted in the EU alone - mainly due to expiration date. But by using naturally occurring good bacteria it is possible to extend the shelf life of a yogurt.
Listen to the perspectives of different actors in the dairy industry on how extending the shelf life of yogurt may help fight food waste.
Karen Lauesen: 0:00
Karen Lauesen: 0:00
Hello and welcome to this podcast series, The Power of Good Bacteria. My name is Karen Lauesen, and I work at Chr. Hansen, where we have been working with good bacteria for the food and health industries for more than 145 years. In this podcast series we will talk about the amazing world of bacteria and discuss how bacteria may actually help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Did you know that all living things on this planet are influenced by tiny microbes and that these microbes, or ‘good bacteria’, are actually nature’s own way to help humans, animals and plants stay healthy? Bacteria are infact the most successful life form on earth. They have been around longer than us, and this is because they can adapt to extreme environments like living inside active hot springs or at the bottom of the deepest ocean. Bacteria are tiny, but there are more bacteria than grains of sand and they have more biomass than all other living things. We all carry around 40 trillion bacteria in and on our body. That’s a number most of us can’t even get our head around. But even more fascinating is that all 40 trillion bacteria are so small, they could fit in a paper cup. Simply put, we live in their world – not the other way around. Most of us were raised to believe that bacteria were bad for us. A good bacteria was a dead bacteria.Fortunately, science has progressed so much since then and we now know that bacteria is actually nature’s own way to help humans, animals and plants stay healthy. There is an increased understanding of the power of good bacteria and the impact it can have on some of the major challenges facing our modern world, such as food waste and the overuse of antibiotics for people and animals and even reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture. So, let’s take a look at how bacteria may actually help to address these challenges. If we start with food waste, the UN estimates that 1/3 of all food is wasted. It is simply unbearable to think of considering that at the same time 800 million people in the world are starving. This is a paradox which we need to address. Especially bearing in mind we will be 10 billion people in 2050. We need to find solutions for more sustainable food production and efficient use of resources. If we take dairy as an example it is a market characterized by high turnover, fragile supply chains and relatively short shelf lives. Didde Frese, head of CSR at Coop, the largest retailer in Denmark gives us the retailer perspective:
Didde Frese, COOP: 3:08
Dairy product sand also yogurts are the type of the products that have a short shelf life, and that also means that these are the types of products that many supermarkets tend to waste, not onpurpose, but because they have theshort life, it means they are really in the danger zone.
Karen Lauesen: 3:24
Consumption of dairy products in developed markets is a significant contributor to global food waste and losses. It is estimated that almost 20% of yogurt is wasted in the EU alone. But by adding naturally occurring good bacteria it is possible to extend the shelf life of a yogurt. But would this make a difference?
Didde Frese, COOP: 3:49
I think that increasing the shelf life by maybe 3 or 4 days would definitely make a difference for stores like these, because it means we could waste less food and also make adifference for the environment. In Coop we waste perhaps 1-2% of our turnover, despite having a very very strong effort on reducing food waste. Soit would meana great difference if you could actually extend the shelf life of some of our products.
Karen Lauesen: 4:18
The technique of using naturally occurring good bacteria to extend the shelf life of yogurtis called bioprotection. Here with me I have Peter Thoeysen who is Director in Bioprotection at Chr. Hansen. Tell us, how can bioprotection help reduce food waste?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 4:36
The challenge is to keep the yogurt fresh and safe and make it last longer. I think most of us have thrown away yogurt.It means a lot that we as consumers have just a few more days to eat it. The key thing is though that we modern consumers want real food without unwantedartificial ingredients and without compromising on taste.
Karen Lauesen: 5:19
So we looked at, I mentioned before, some of the numbers around food waste with yogurt. So how much would that actually reduce the food waste of yogurt?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 5:26
If we just extended 7 days in Europe, we made an impact study that shows that we can actually save 30% of all the yogurt wasted.
Karen Lauesen: 5:40
This impact study was peer reviewed by The Waste and Resources Action Programme - a registered UK charity called WRAP for short, and showed some other very promising findings. Tom Quested from WRAP elaborates:
Tom Quested, WRAP: 5:55
This study looks at the impact of introducing Fresh Q, which is a bioprotective culture, that has the potential toextend the shelf life of yogurt by 7 days. The study looks at the environmental impact – what could happen to food waste throughout the supply chain? And it also looks at economic incentives forthedifferent actors within that supply chain. One of the key findings from it, is that there are situations, highly plausible situations, in which there are economic benefits for both dairy manufacturers and retailers, while still reducing food waste across the supply chain.
Karen Lauesen: 6:32
We talked to Mette Toft, Quality Manager at the Danish dairy Thise, who have already implemented bioprotection in their production.
Mette Toft, Thise: 6:40
We have implemented the bioprotection, because by using that we can extend the shelf life. And that means in the whole supply chain we get great benefits out of it because normally we have a very short lead time here. We need to produce it on Monday to sell it on Wednesday, and then the shops they get it maybe on Friday, and then they have maybe, I don’t know, one week before they have to put it into the stores, because if not, then they don’t have enough rest shelf life. So the whole supply chain benefits actually from this, because if we can extend the shelf life with one week, then we can produce maybe only one time a week in stead of two times. That reduce a lot of waste inside the factory. Then the warehouses for the shops, they can also reduce because they have a longer time, where they can keep the products before they have to throw them away, because of the expiry date. And then by the end we still give the consumer exactly the same shelf life when they buy the product.
Karen Lauesen: 7:46
So, it’s really quite promising that bioprotection adds value throughout the supply chain. But, Peter, coming back to you, I know that many consumers have a great focus on what we can do to reduce food waste. But on the other hand we don’t like the idea of ingredients being added to our products.
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 8:05
If we look at yogurt and cheeses in particular, they are made by fermenting milk. And by fermenting the milk they stay fresh for longer. So a yogurt stays fresh longer naturally than fresh milk. With the normal type of lactic acid bacteria, that we would otherwise use to produce yogurt or cheese, we are able to find specific good bacteria that has just more than average ability to delay spoilage. And this is why they can extend shelf life. They eat the nutrients that the bad bacteria need to live and grow from. So they outcompete the bad bacteria. So in that way it stays fresh for just a little longer. Nature is pretty amazing that way.
Karen Lauesen: 8:50
Nature is in deed pretty amazing in that way, and I now when it comes to fermented products we’re adding these cultures to in deed make the product. So if I go the supermarket and look at yogurts, then the yogurts that have got these bioprotective cultures in they will simply have a longer shelf life than other yogurts?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 9:09
Yes, they will typically last longer, and you'll experience that they taste better even at the end of shelf life.
Karen Lauesen: 9:17
Let’s talk about that question of taste, because of course we all have our favorite yogurts, our favorite things that we like to buy…how do you ensure that the consumers are experiencing the same taste that they are used to, that they like, that they are familiar with?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 9:30
Well, it doesn't need to have any impact on the taste at all. Already, 10% of all yoga in the world ist using this kind of bacteria, so lots of us are enjoying them every day. But I can tell you that we also commissioned an independent consumer study in Germany not so long ago, we wanted to explore how extending a shelf life of yoghourt affects consumer acceptance in the blind sensory test. They documented that there was no difference in consumers liking of yoghourt with standard shelf life. And one was seven days additional shelf life.
Karen Lauesen: 10:12
The study also showed that the consumer purchase intention was influenced positively and even favored the yogurt with longer shelf life if consumers were presented with information about the food waste reduction potential.
Karen Lauesen: 10:31
That’s pretty amazing actually, because there are so many cultures that can be added to yogurt and define the taste. But I’ll be really interested to know, once the consumers said it didn’t taste any different, did you tell them what the difference between the yogurt was, and what was their reaction there?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 10:47
Yeah, this is a question that we actually always get when we talk with our customers, the dairies, because they are obviously concerned of how do we as consumers react, when we know that here is a product that has extended shelf life and can stay fresh a little longer. Do we like it or do we think tah hmm there is something with this product I don’t like? But in fact the study showed that the consumers even preferred the products with a longer shelf life. And I think what makes the difference is that we do care about food waste, and this is turning into something that makes us choose different products even at the supermarket shelves today.
Karen Lauesen: 11:24
So you’re saying that they couldn’t taste the difference, but in fact if the product was helping to reduce food waste they actually preferred it?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 11:32
Yes, since the longer shelf life is achieved by natural means, many of them were even willing to pay a higher price for such a product.
Karen Lauesen: 11:46
Consumer interest in reducing food waste is also something COOP sees among their customers.
Didde Frese, COOP: 11:52
Consumers they are very concerned about food waste. What we do in our stores and also what they also cause themselves in terms of food waste in their own homes. So I think they will also be happy to receive new kinds of products that have an extended shelf life. If they have the perception that this is something that have been created in a natural way.
Karen Lauesen: 12:14
Producers also have an interest in meeting this consumer demand, as dairy producer Thise explains.
Mette Toft, Thise: 12:21
Because we are producing organic products, we are only interested in natural. So that is why it is really really important that we can do the prolonged shelf life in a natural way.
Karen Lauesen: 12:34
The impact study also shows that extending the shelf life may even give a competitive advantage for producers.
Tom Quested, WRAP: 12:41
So if the shelf life of yogurt gets extended, using something like FreshQ in a natural way – then we know from lots of studies, that consumers across Europe and across a lot of the developed world, often look for the products on the shelves with the longest possible shelf life. They often go rummaging to the back of the shelf to find the item that has the longest shelf life. So there’s the opportunity for manufacturers that are producing yogurt with the longer shelf life, that they could gain market share as a result of this.
Karen Lauesen: 13:14
These new opportunities even include the possibility to reach new markets as Thise has experienced.
Mette Toft, Thise: 13:20
If we only have 21 days of shelf life or 28 days of shelf life, we can have some difficulties in reaching some of the far European markets, when they still want to have two weeks of rest shelf life, when they get the products. So by expanding the shelf life we actually get the possibility of reaching markets that are more far away in Europe where the logistic is not so fast as if we’re just having it inside Denmark or in Scandinavia.
Karen Lauesen: 13:48
So it seems that extending the shelf life in a natural way is not only good for the environment, but it even makes good business sense. So, Peter, the biggest question is, why aren't all dairy manufacturers using these bio protective cultures?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 14:04
That also puzzles me! Well, we do see a very rapid increase in the use of these cultures. They are one of our fastest growing categories and have been over the last couple of years. But one concern, I often hear when talking to dairies about this is that they are obviously concerned about how all their customers, how all we consumers think. How do we feel about food where shelf life is just a little longer than what we normally find in the supermarket? Do we trust those foods to be natural? I think it is fair question. I do see a big shift in this question at the moment though, and I think the reason, what’s causing this shift is our increased concern over food waste. In a recent study we conducted in south Europe, consumers mentioned short shelf life, as the primary reason for throwing our yogurt. And we see how dairies in Northern Europe now engage with consumers on this subject. They engage with them in conversations about how to evaluate quality of the dairy products by using our senses like smelling, looking at it, and even tasting the product before throwing them out. They have even gone so far as to changing the date marking saying Best before…But often good after.
Karen Lauesen: 15:24
Thise is one of the dairies that has taken this step.
Mette Toft, Thise: 15:27
We have made a new initiative where we have actually started marking all our milk cartons with “Even good after”. So that even though you have an expiry date maybe today then please look at your product to see if it’s good enough, because when we are giving a shelf life, it is when everything is checked and controlled, but a lot of our products are actually also eatable after the expiry date, and that is what we also try to tell the consumers. To say “ Think before you throw away”. And we think it will generate a reduction in food waste. We have a plan of expanding this marking, so that we will also do it on all our fermented products. So we find it a big and very good initiative to reduce food waste.
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 16:18
So what I'm seeing is that because we, as consumers all want to waste less, we are much more open now to accept or even prefer products that stay fresh longer than what was the standard. If we do not compromise on only using real food ingredients, of course
Karen Lauesen: 16:35
So the next question I have is really I mean, the impact of these bio protective cultures on yogurt is pretty clear. Can these bio protective cultures also be used in other food types?
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 16:47
Yeah that’s a really good question, and I wish that we could say that we already have solutions that can increase shelf life in all sorts of foods. Today we have solutions that can increase shelf life typically in fermented foods like yogurt, fermented salamis and cheeses. But we do also have cultures that help increase food safety or reduce a risk for bad bacteria to have harmful impact on us as humans. So in foods like salmon and ready-to-eat salads cultures with bioprotective effect can be applied to make them less risky and more safe for us to eat.
Karen Lauesen: 17:28
Peter Thoeysen, thank you very much.
Peter Thoeysen. Chr. Hansen: 17:30
Thank you, Karen.
Karen Lauesen: 17:31
So, even though bacteria may be small, they’re not too small to matter. In fact, as we have just heard they are most likely a key part of the solution in shaping a sustainable future and resilient food system. So, it seems appropriate to end this podcast with a quote by American writer Stewart Brand: “If you don’t like bacteria, you’re on the wrong planet”. Thank you very much for listening.