Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: The rise and potential of high pressure processing for fresh, clean products

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In general, talking about how a food or beverage is processed is not a way to win the hearts, minds and money of today’s consumers, who increasingly want products that are fresh, made with clean ingredients and as close to their natural state as possible. 

But there is a notable exception to this rule – high pressure processing, which is not only delivering on all three of these consumer demands, but also on the safety that regulators and producers require. And it is taking the industry by storm.

HPP seemingly came out of nowhere several years ago to become a $12 billion industry today and is predicted to double in the next six years.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast, Lisa Pitzer, the chief marketing officer for Avure Technologies, which makes HPP equipment, talks about what is driving the growth of HPP and how brands and manufacturers can hitch a ride on its rising wave. In addition, Jasmine Sutherland, who is the president of Perfect Fit Meals and Texas Food Solutions and Jen Berliner, the chief marketing officer of chilled soup maker Zupa Noma, talk about why they selected the technology and the benefits and challenges it presents.

As the name suggests high pressure processing uses pressure rather than heat to kill pathogens, but Ptizer explained in greater detail how this works and why it is more desirable in today’s food culture.

“High pressure processing is a way to pasteurize products without heat. So, it uses ultra-high pressured purified water to keep foods pathogen-free. So, for example, pathogens … are inactivated during the process of high pressure processing because their cell wall is destroyed and they eventually die,” she said.

But at the same time, she added, “when you pasteurize without heat you also get to keep all the vitamins and minerals and nutrients and in the process extend the shelf life. So, it is a very compelling process that allows consumers to have a total clean label product that tastes great, is nutritious with all its vitamins and minerals intact and extended shelf life.”

With so much to offer, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that HPP is growing fast across all categories – from fruits and vegetables to meat and seafood to soups and sauces. But the use of HPP in many of these categories is flying under the radar, in part because the juice industry is stealing the technology’s thunder.

“A lot of people know about the juices because the juice industry … has accepted the verbiage of cold-pressed… but it is actually not the biggest category. The biggest category is meat and whenever you go to the grocery store and you see meat that has no preservatives, all natural – that has been high pressure processed,” Ptizer said.

She explained the meat category, however, doesn’t use the term HPP because so many consumers are still turned off by the thought of “processing.”

Beyond meat, growing categories for HPP include guacamole, hummus, soups, sauces and salad dressings, she said.

While HPP may sound like a panacea for everything, it isn’t. There are several things it cannot do, as Ptizer explained. “It cannot do products that are dry or don’t contain a lot of … moisture. The product needs a certain amount of water activity,” she said.

Overcoming cost

There are other challenges with using HPP – a big one of which is cost. Like most new technologies, HPP isn’t the most affordable pasteurization process available, but as Sutherland explained there is a solution: Tolling.

“Tolling is about making a multimillion dollar piece of equipment accessible to multiple people,” and it is something that Sutherland does at Texas Food Solutions.

She explains that her ready-meal company started in HPP through tolling and as it grew and was able to buy its own equipment it wanted to make that same option available to other companies that might not have enough product to justify the full cost of the equipment.

“When you are a startup or launching a new product, you want to focus on that product and the creation and competition of that product. You want to focus on the packaging. You want to focus on the safety surrounding that product. Having to focus on the HPP as a startup and the equipment as well is sometimes a lot of priorities to establish. So, if you can have a partner that you feel comfortable with and together you can kind of tackle that,” then it is easier to make a great product using HPP, she said.

Tweaking formulas to account for HPP

Another potential challenge with HPP is that while the process is known for preserving nutrients, it also can change a product compared to other processes – sometimes for the better.

Sutherland explains that HPP can help flavors more fully permeate meat, for example, which means a formula might not require as much sodium. Similarly, Berliner said the water content of fruits and vegetables at different seasons also will need to be accounted for when processing products.

“It is not an insurmountable issue that comes about with HPP, it just means you have to explore and know your product better,” Sutherland said.

Another important consideration when using HPP is the type of packaging that products can come in. Because CPGs are processed after they are finished and in their packages, the cartons or bottles or trays must also be able to withstand the pressure – a factor that rules out glass and certain shapes of containers.

Guiding growth and awareness with a council and seal

With so much growth and interest in HPP, industry players who use the technique want to ensure that it is consistently used correctly, so as not to negatively impact consumers’ perception of the value or worse be connected to a food borne illness outbreak for widespread recall.

As such the Cold Pressure Council was formed last April and it is developing a Cold Pressure Verified Seal that will launch in the coming months.

Among the Council’s efforts will be ensuring that manufacturers use HPP correctly consistently to ensure food safety and the integrity of the method for the entire industry. It also will focus on building consumer awareness in part so that shoppers know the extra value – and the reason for the added cost – that HPP brings. 

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