Coatings used in the food industry for meat and fish now carry a wider appeal to the senses, reports Jonathan Thomas.
The global market for food coatings (of which batters and breadings represent a significant sector) was worth an estimated USD2.9bn in 2019, having grown by an annual average of around 6% in recent years. Much of this increase has been driven by the rising consumption of processed meat and seafood products, with future growth likely to come from emerging economies in regions such as the Asia-Pacific.
Coatings such as batters and breadings are typically used to improve the sensory appeal of foods by enhancing taste, appearance and texture. These types of coatings also help to retain the moisture of foods during the deep-frying process. Additionally, both batters and breadings can protect meat and seafood during the freezing and frying processes, assisting in holding in moisture which results in a juicier finished product.
Sometimes described as ‘wet coatings’, batters are typically a mixture of flour and liquids (e.g. milk or eggs). Wheat flour has been the standard ingredient for some time, but the growing popularity of gluten-free diets has led to manufacturers experimenting with alternatives such as potato, rice and soya flours. Other ingredients are often added to batters as leavening agents to aerate the finished product and therefore improve fluffiness, with baking powder and beer two notable examples. Breadings, in contrast, are drier coatings, consisting of particulates which stick to the surface of the protein. Typical breadings range from simple blends of wheat flour, corn starch and seasonings to more complex varieties based on breadcrumbs incorporating additional ingredients (e.g. nuts and seeds) for additional flavor and texture.
Increased consumer demand for healthier options has led to the development of coatings promoted on a health platform. One of the most common examples has been the emergence of batters and breadings suitable for gluten-free coated foods, whereby manufacturers have opted for flours made from vegetables and pulses (e.g. lentils, peas and chickpeas) to replace wheat-based varieties. Meanwhile, the coated foods market appears to have recognized the potential offered by ancient grains, which are increasingly appreciated by consumers for their numerous health benefits. In the Dutch market, a recent addition to the Iglo range of frozen seafood from Nomad Foods was breaded fish with an ancient grains coating, launched in Multigrain and Spelled & Sourdough varieties. In a similar vein, the same company has tapped into the health benefits associated with seeds, since it supplies Chicken Strips with Chopped Pumpkin Seeds in the Austrian market.
Recent activity within the market also suggests that panko breadings are becoming more commonplace. Panko breading (a lighter form of coating typically used in many forms of Japanese cuisine) is recognized as offering a lighter, crispier and flakier coating compared with more traditional breadcrumbs, since it absorbs less oil and grease. Thus far, panko breading has been most apparent with seafood such as tilapia and shrimps.
Elsewhere, other efforts to improve the texture, taste and nutritional profile for batters and breadings used in the coated foods industry remain ongoing. One recent innovation from Goldensheaf (which forms part of Kerry Foodservice and is the UK’s leading brand of batter) is a new batter which stays crisper for longer and is therefore ideally suited for delivery channels. Goldensheaf’s Smart Batter absorbs less oil and offers improved taste, as well as being low in calories.
Another leading supplier of coatings is Newly Wed Foods, whose range includes breadcrumbs and tempura batters. A recent addition to its range was Biscuit Crumb, which delivers a tender bite reminiscent of Southern-style homemade biscuits, bakery goods with a browned crust and a soft, flaky interior. European bakery trends have also influenced new product activity, since Iglo’s range in Austria includes Oven-Baked Cod with a Focaccia Herb Coat.
The market has also witnessed greater interest in coatings offering ethnic-inspired flavors. Examples have included African (e.g. harissa), Asian (e.g. yuzu) and Middle Eastern (e.g. Aleppo pepper). In the UK market, the Birds Eye range from Nomad Foods includes Mexican Nacho Crumb Chicken Grills, which are coated in breadcrumbs blended with spices and tortilla chip pieces.
Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic
The lockdown enforced across much of the world resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had an adverse effect upon demand for coated foods via foodservice locations. At the retail level, however, the situation appears to be far more promising. In the UK, for example, data from the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) indicates that sales of frozen foods rose by over 28% in both value and volume terms in the four weeks ending 22nd March 2020, compared with the same period 12 months earlier. Separate data from Kantar suggests that the number of in-home meals consumed in the UK during the lockdown period increased by more than 500 million per week.
Scampi appears to have been one of the main beneficiaries of this trend. During March 2020, the UK-based Whitby Seafoods reported a surge in demand for frozen scampi, supplying an additional 1 million portions to major supermarket chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons. Across the European region, meanwhile, market leader Nomad Foods reported heightened demand for many of its frozen foods in the retail sector during the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis. In what may serve as a pointer towards the future direction of the market, the same company reported that the share of its revenue taken by online channels increased from 5% to 7% during this period.
Many foodservice operators, however, appear to be struggling, a situation unlikely to improve for much of the industry during the short to medium term. Some companies within the industry have been forced to adopt new business practices, such as experimenting with online ordering (e.g. via food delivery platforms like Deliveroo and UberEats) or increasing the frequency of cashless purchasing. Within the UK, the trade body the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) – which protects the interests of around 8,500 UK fish and chip shops – considers the future to be not entirely negative. One reason is that – unlike pizzas or takeaways from Indian or Chinese restaurants – meals such as fish and chips are amongst the most difficult to replicate at home.
In addition, the Covid-19 has also resulted in a fall in prices for many types of the fish which have traditionally been used in coated foods, mainly due to the widespread closure of the foodservice industry. For the UK fishing industry, this decrease in prices has been most evident for species such as hake and monkfish, the bulk of which tends to be exported to European and Asian markets. This has led industry sources to suggest fish and chip operators try serving battered hake alongside more traditional favorites such as cod and haddock. Research carried out in 2018 by the trade body Seafish found that 8% of consumers would potentially be interested in buying hake, which has the added advantage of being an extremely sustainable species.
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