(Reuters) - Food companies are using a growing arsenal of technological advancements to try to make what we eat closer to nature.
From sweeteners to proteins to texturizers, companies such as PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N), Cargill Inc CARG.UL and Burcon Nutrascience Corp (BU.TO) are employing an army of food scientists to help make the next generation of foods healthier and tastier, with a more understandable ingredient list.
"We are trying to make our products much more simple, much closer to nature," said Kerr Dow, Cargill's vice president of global food technology.
"What is great for technology is that that is really quite difficult," Dow said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit, held this week in London, Paris, Singapore and Chicago.
Dow, who oversees about 1,000 "food technologists" that make ingredients and other applications for the food industry, said that 20 or 30 years ago, scientists were trying to change ingredients.
"Today all of our scientists are more interested in how do you take natural materials and make them easy to use in food products, which is just as difficult."
Cargill on Wednesday unveiled a new technology that improves the taste and texture of reduced calorie drinks. It works especially well with Truvia, a natural no-calorie sweetener Cargill developed with Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), Dow said.
Craig Binetti, president of DuPont's (DD.N) nutrition and biosciences unit, said such "innovation partnerships" abound, since about 92 percent of all food companies are "actively working" to improve the health profile of their products.
"So it's everybody if you think about it," said Binetti, whose company has partnerships with Nestle (NESN.VX) and Kellogg (K.N) and spends half of its $1.6 billion R&D budget on agriculture and nutrition.
INVESTING IN HEALTH
Global population growth and rising middle classes are driving the need for more high-quality food, which experts say will only come with technological advancement.
"By 2050 we will need 100 percent more food and 70 percent of that will come from new technology," said Tim Hassinger, vice president of the Crops Global Business Unit of Dow AgroSciences, which is part of Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N). "We believe that."
Burcon Nutrascience, a Vancouver-based research and development company, recently signed a deal with Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N) to sell a soybean protein it developed that can boost the nutritional value of baby formula, sports drinks and juices without a "beany" taste or texture.
Johann Tergesen, Burcon's chief operating officer, told the summit that Wall Street recently "woke up" to the value of ingredient companies.
"I've received so many new, unsolicited inquiries from investment bankers," Tergesen said.
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