Tipping Point for Retort?

Consumers are bombarded with advice from health experts on how to stay healthy and lose weight, including what foods and food ingredients to avoid. From trans fats to high fructose corn syrup to gluten, dietary villains come and go, fueled by new scientific studies, government guidelines and consumer groups.

Pam Koch, Columbia University

Pam Koch, Columbia University

But the current campaign being waged against processed foods is like no other — it is a genuine food movement. Precipitated by health and environmental crises and changing attitudes toward food among Millennials and health-conscious consumers, it is one of the greatest challenges the food industry has ever faced.

Hans Taparia, NYU

Hans Taparia, NYU

Food companies are responding by eliminating ingredients, reformulating legacy brands, investing in organic and increasing transparency. Despite these efforts, pundits like Hans Taparia, Clinical Assistant Professor, NYU Stern School of Business and Pam Koch, Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education and Policy, Teachers College at Columbia University say they must do more.

In conventional processing, or retort, packaged foods are placed in pressurized cookers at high temperatures for up to an hour. To mask the damage caused by this prolonged exposure to high heat, salt and flavor, texture and color enhancers must be added to the food.

“In spite of some small changes, most products made by large food brands still have myriad artificial additives and preservatives, and use processing techniques that strip their products of most nutrients,” they wrote in the Huff Post Politics.

Taparia and Koch are right. There’s just one thing that stands between big food and its ability to deliver healthier additive-free packaged food: the legacy food sterilization process. You simply cannot produce the packaged foods today’s consumers are demanding with retort.

Replacing the 15,000 machines currently operating in the United States will require significant capital investment. However, many retort systems are past their useful life and ready for replacement.

Meanwhile, food tech is the rage in Silicon Valley — companies like Hampton Creek, Impossible Foods and Soylent that are manufacturing new categories of food are attracting millions of dollars from big name investors. But those investments won’t clean up the labels of hundreds of legacy food brands and convenience foods that Americans rely on to feed their families.

When will we reach the tipping point on retort replacement?  And when, as food analyst Greg Wank of Anchin Block & Anchin LP recently asked in the Dow Jones Business News, are we going to get activist investors in these food giants whose agenda is to accelerate the trend towards healthier eating?