Schwan's to simplify ingredient list

by Josh Sosland
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Schwan's seeks cleaner labels for food products.
The Schwan Food Co. has committed to eliminate added trans fats, artificial dyes, HFCS and artificial flavors from its food product ingredient lists.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – The Schwan Food Co. on Oct. 21 announced an initiative to simplify its food product ingredient lists over the next two years.

Groups of ingredients to be eliminated from food made by the company’s Schwan’s Global Supply Chain, Inc. subsidiary include partially hydrogenated oils/artificial trans fats, artificial (certified) dyes, high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. 

Stacey Fowler, senior vice president of prodduction innovation and new venture development at Schwan Food Co.
Stacey Fowler, senior vice president of production innovation and new venture development at Schwan Food Co.

Stacey Fowler, senior vice-president of product innovation and new venture development at Schwan, said the initiative to simplify ingredient lists had been under way for several years and accelerated when Dimitrios Smyrnios, the company’s CEO, decided to step up the company’s investment in the effort.

Karen Wilder, senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs, said Schwan’s role in the K-12 school meal program, a market the company has served for many years, has been an impetus for health and wellness across the company. 

Karen Wilder, senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs at Schwan Food Co.
Karen Wilder, senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs at Schwan Food Co.

“Clean ingredient lists and ingredient simplicity was really started in our school products more than four decades ago, and we’re continuing to be one of the leaders in that segment of the marketplace, continuing to be sure the nutritional profile meets or exceeds the regulations,” Wilder said. “From that standpoint, we’ve already achieved a lot of our commitments within the school products.”

The breadth of the Schwan commitment sets the company apart from many other food processing companies, Fowler said.

“We’ve taken an umbrella approach with all our business panels to make these commitments whereas a lot of companies come out, and it’s one piece or one panel or brand,” she said. “This is everything.”

The exception to the blanket commitment is private label products Schwan makes, many of which are produced based on customer formulations, Fowler said.

In addition to serving schools and home delivery customers with its range of frozen foods, Schwan also sells product at retail, including Freschetta and Sabatasso’s pizza brands.

Reviewing the specifics of its plan, Schwan said it already eliminated added trans fats from the vast majority of foods before 2007 but has committed to eliminating all partially hydrogenated oils by the end of 2015.

The Food and Drug Administration in June announced that industrially-produced trans fatty acids are no longer Generally Recognized As Safe, and may not be added to food products after June 2018.

Schwan’s pledge to remove dyes also will be fulfilled by the end of 2015, while the company said it will have HFCS removed from its products by the end of 2016 and artificial flavors by the end of 2017. Schwan said the changes will be made while still meeting consumer expectations for taste and quality. 

Dimitrios Smyrnios, CEO of Schwan Foods Co.
Dimitrios Smyrnios, CEO of Schwan Foods Co.

“As a frozen-food leader, we are committed to offering quality foods made with the same recognizable ingredients you would find in your pantry,” Smyrnios said. He said the company would continue evaluating its ingredient lists going forward.

The removal of each ingredient group creates its own unique technical challenges, Fowler said.

“When you think about colors, you want to have a seamless interface with your consumers and their experience,” Fowler said. “We have items our consumers have been enjoying for decades. Chip and mint ice cream has a particular hue of green, a beautiful green our consumers know and appreciate. We had to make sure we had had the right color match with the new formulation to ensure the experience was uninterrupted.

“As we move into learnings around flavors, moving from an artificial flavor to a natural flavor, flavor is king with food design, and we want to be sure that is also seamless.

“Even things like HFCS — it has a specific sweetness intensity. We are looking for alternative sugars that are a match.

“When it comes to hydrogenate oils, stability is a factor. We have to make sure shelf-life is there. If it’s a whipped topping, we have to make sure the rosettes in our pie stand firm and proud with the particular design we have. It’s all those first impressions, making sure the flavors and textures and shelf-life, all that functionality is seamless.”

Considerable technical interaction with the company’s supplier base was necessary to allow the changes, she added.

“Because of consumers really caring about this issue at an unprecedented level, basically everyone in the food industry needs to engage in the subject,” Fowler said. “Nobody is untouchable with this conversation anymore.”

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