Alex Marangoni and Steve Bernet met while whitewater kayaking, which
told them right away that they shared a love of outdoor sports. What
they didn’t know, not initially, was that they lived just down the road
from each other.
| Alex Marangoni of Coasun with a plate of chocolate chip cookies made with the company's innovative new shortening.
Alex Marangoni and Steve Bernet met while whitewater kayaking, which told them right away that they shared a love of outdoor sports. What they didn’t know, not initially, was that they lived just down the road from each other.
Marangoni is a food science professor at the University of Guelph, as well as the university’s Canada research chairman. Bernet has a chemistry degree from Guelph, and worked in software for 15 years, co-founding ventures in Britain, opening foreign offices and bringing in investors on a large scale.
Yet, it was Bernet’s background in science that made it naturally easy for him to grasp Marangoni’s discovery of a new molecule and its considerable commercial impact.
“Alex had an idea at the kitchen stove one day,” Bernet says of the humble origin of an idea that led to the formulation of a new all-purpose shortening alternative called Coasun.
Completely trans-fat-free, which many traditional shortening alternatives can also claim, Coasun is also very low in saturated fats, which is something its competitors can’t claim, because they primarily use tropical or palm oils to create shortening’s physical characteristics.
“Their process for solidifying is completely different,” explains Marangoni. “What we have is essentially a structured emulsion with 40 per cent less oil, because instead of using palm oil, we use water.” Coasun is comprised of 55 per cent vegetable oil (canola, soy or sunflower), 40 per cent water and five per cent monoglycerides.
While the new shortening alternative gives bakeries the opportunity to give their customers impressive health and caloric claims, Coasun’s competitors have an economic advantage: Palm oil is significantly lower in price than locally produced vegetable oils such as canola or soybean oil. Still, Coasun’s tests have shown that its shortening alternative adds only two or three cents to the cost per item.
“That’s not a lot to pay for being able to make a claim that you’ve cut that muffin’s fat and calories by 40 per cent,” Marangoni says.
In 2008, the partners set up shop as shortening manufacturers, but they were forced to close because they were under-capitalized, among many other reasons, says Bernet. Rethinking their business model, they decided to take a different tack.
“Today, we’re strictly in the licensing business,” says Bernet, who spends much of his time overseas working with large food manufactures in Europe, the United Kingdom and Mexico, developing products to capitalize on Coasun’s claims.
Outside North America, food producers are excited by what Coasun can help them achieve, since many foreign governments have established new regulations restricting the amount of saturated fats in food.
“Europe and the U.K. are leading the world on this,” Bernet says. Although Canadian and U.S. government regulations have drastically reduced the amount of trans fat in food, saturated fat is not yet on the radar.
Marangoni is excited about production benefits he can also offer, such as 50 per cent less mixing time, more efficient material handling in bakeries, no taste or smell, and increased shelf life in products such as fresh cookies.
He is also effusive about the health and pleasure benefits he can offer: “Everyone likes to indulge in something decadent from time to time, but how much better would that experience be, from a health perspective, if we could deliver those baked goods with one gram of fat, rather than the 10 grams of fat that most danishes have?”
Getting the oil produced for greater domestic use continues to pose a challenge. The partners will custom-produce batches under special order, but in limited supply, they may not be able to provide economies of scale.
In the meantime, while Marangoni continues his academic work, engaging his graduate students into further applications of his discovery, Beret goes abroad to help food manufacturers see what Coasun has to offer them.
In one of Bernet’s projects working on a frozen breakfast product, he and his team were able to cut its fat content from six or seven grams of fat, to one gram of fat, as well as increasing the volume by 20 per cent. Another project dropped the fat content of a popular chocolate snack by 30 per cent.
If North American governments were as concerned about saturated fat and taking similar action as they have done with trans fat, Coasun would have considerably more traction in the market.
“There’s a long way to go,” says Bernet, despite the shortening’s claims about caloric reductions and their impact at point of sale.
If more companies want to make these claims and if governments want to take action to reduce fat in foods, says Bernet, “we can help with our development expertise in the baking matrix and in processing conditions.”
Until then, the partners continue their work in product development, working abroad and developing their commercial potential. The next sector to explore will be the organic and health food sector, a potential match made in heaven.
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