Society and communities
How science is making a tasty profit for global crisp manufacturer
Healthier crisps that still taste good, have a longer shelf life and cost less to produce might sound like every snack manufacturers’ dream, but that is exactly what University of Nottingham scientists have helped the team at Piper’s Crisps to achieve.
Not only that, but the changes they implemented have helped to transform the brand into a global player in the snack industry, playing an instrumental part in its reported £20m buyout by food giant PepsiCo.
The Lincolnshire-based company first began working with the University, which has a long track record of partnering with industry, in 2013 and as a result of this collaboration has made numerous improvements to its operations – netting it almost £5.5m.
Input from the university’s scientists helped Pipers cut ingredient costs, reduce the salt levels in its crisps and extend its products’ shelf-life, enabling it to expand into 42 countries around the world. All at the same time as improving the popularity of its products with consumers.
Professor of Flavour Chemistry Ian Fisk headed up two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), which saw University of Notttingham scientists embedded within the company, having previously spent many years researching how to make snack foods tastier.
He looked at the way salt was absorbed during eating. His results showed that a significant proportion of a crisp’s seasoning is not perceived before it is swallowed, leading the food industry to over-season snacks – costing them money and having health implications for consumers.
His research showed that modifying the size of the salt crystals altered the perceived flavour. He then went on to study how the composition of carbohydrate, lipid and protein in seasoning affected flavour release. The result was a way of reducing the use of seasoning without compromising flavour.
Building on this knowledge, Professor Fisk and his team first began working with Piper’s in 2013, investigating the best oil for frying crisps in order to extend their shelf life and ensure taste was not affected.
They showed the benefit of switching the frying oil to high oleic sunflower oil and use of nitrogen gas to replace the gas within the packaging which slowed down the oxidation rate and stabilised the crisps.
Pipers integrated the new oil into all its production lines and, as a result, reduced raw material costs. It also increased the shelf life of its products from 16 to 26 weeks – something that enabled the company to look at developing a new export strategy, targeting countries that would have been unviable with the shorter shelf life.
In a second KTP Professor Fisk and colleague Dr Deepa Agarwal developed a flavour profiling tool which resulted in two new vegetarian, gluten-free flavours being brought to market - Atlas Mountains Wild Thyme and Rosemary, and Delicias Jalepeno and Dill.
Professor Fisk and Dr Agarwal also continued to identify routes to extend shelf-life and reduce the ambient oxygen content of the packs, and found that combining gas flushing with new packaging materials would further improve seasoning stability. Changes implemented as a result of their new findings meant the company could increase shelf life even further – from 26 weeks to 40 weeks, again resulting in further expansion, this time in to markets in South East Asia and the USA for the first time.
They also delivered a detailed training and selection programme to help Piper’s establish an in-house team of specialist tasters who support product development and day-to-day quality control.
"Our work with Piper’s is a fantastic example of what can happen when industry and science work hand-in-hand. We were able to offer them insights which not only made their products more attractive to consumers but completely transformed some of their working processes, resulting in higher profits and a wealth of new opportunities."
Professor Fisk said: “Our work with Piper’s is a fantastic example of what can happen when industry and science work hand-in-hand.”
“We were able to offer them insights which not only made their products more attractive to consumers but completely transformed some of their working processes, resulting in higher profits and a wealth of new opportunities.”
Alex Albone, founder of Pipers Crisps, said: “The research and ongoing support from the University of Nottingham has given us insight into the science behind our products. From a commercial perspective, we have been able to both reduce the amount of oil wastage and improve the shelf life of our crisps, which opens up new opportunities for us especially in relation to exporting products.”
The positive academic experience of working with Piper’s through the government -unded Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme has led to numerous other projects for Professor Fisk and his team, including recent projects in flavour science for alcoholic beverages, increasing the sustainability and health credentials of nut butters and easy to eat noodles, and supporting the developments of low sugar alternatives for pot desserts and jellies.
Professor Ian Fisk
Professor Ian Fisk is Professor of Flavour Science in the Faculty of Science
Food and Function 2012, Xing, T., Fisk, I.D: Salt Release from Potato Crisps
University of Nottingham Research Repository 2012, Fisk, I.D., Boyer, M, Linforth, R: Impact of protein, lipid and carbohydrate on the headspace delivery of volatile compounds from hydrating powders, European food research and technology
Food Chemistry 2016, Marasca, E., Greetham, D., Herring, S.D., Fisk, I.D: Impact of nitrogen flushing and oil choice on the progression of lipid oxidation in unwashed fried sliced potato crisps.