What do Evolution Fresh Cold-Pressed Juices, Nature Variety’s pet foods, Columbus Foods’ deli meats and Wholly Guacamole have in common? Aside from having a longer-lasting freshness and extended shelf life, they’re created through a process called high-pressure pasteurization or processing (HPP).

HPP is the cutting-edge technology that kills bacteria while maintaining the nutritional content and overall integrity of the food. The nonthermal pasteurization process eliminates pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes by applying approximately 87,000 pounds of hydraulic pressure per square inch to foods, without including additives. This process doesn’t expose the product to radiation, nor does it chemically alter the food. The result: Food manufacturers and retailers are able to accommodate consumer desire to have all-natural foods.

HPP products are growing in popularity, lining more and more shelves at local grocery stores like Kroger and Walmart, and coffee shops like Starbucks. For retailers, there has been a constant tension between shelf life needed for supply chain efficiency and providing fresh, all-natural products to consumers. HPP gives retailers a new weapon in this battle, resulting in a big win for food manufacturers that have adopted the technology.

Pros and Cons

While HPP has increased in popularity and SKU count, there are several factors that limit its widespread adoption. First, it’s expensive — often called the “mother of all batch processes” – so it isn’t well suited to high-speed, low-cost flow lines. Second, the technology doesn’t work well on all products. Depending on the contents and physical structure of the product, the technology can deform packaging, distort the color or not have the intended impact on preservation. Finally, the technical know-how and manufacturing capabilities required to deliver the product aren’t trivial, thus requiring a large investment in resources and capital.

To help manufacturers and retailers, HPP equipment manufacturers Avure and NC Hiperbaric and dedicated contract processors Universal Pasteurization and Safe Pac are building an infrastructure across the country. HPP equipment providers can provide a processor with the know-how and technical requirements to be successful. More food manufacturers are realizing the benefits of outsourcing their HPP needs to dedicated toll processors. The combination is making HPP increasingly affordable and accessible to more processors and food categories.

Retailers’ Role

Consumers are less trusting of the big-brand label on the outside of their foods. They want to be able to pronounce, and have transparency in, all of the ingredients, and to understand the provenance, domain and processes used to make their food. Retailers can capitalize on this desire by encouraging their food manufacturer partners to investigate the potential for HPP. Retailers would also benefit from a review of their private label portfolios to understand how HPP can help their own brand value propositions. In addition, retailers can help educate consumers on the merits of HPP and which foods are using this new technology.

At a time when consumers and retailers are increasingly at odds, HPP provides a unique common ground, as consumers can have the "cleaner" label they want and retailers can have the shelf life and food safety protection they need.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more about HPP, read PG's February 2014 article "Juicy Culture."

Manny Picciola is managing director at L.E.K. Consulting, a global management consultancy.

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