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Bringing health closer to the media’s heart with barley beta-glucans

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A virtual tasting session at BENEO

Of course, as BENEO employees we are always excited about new product launches. But this might be even more true for my colleagues and me in the Public Relations team. After all, we can share such news with media and thereby potential customers. Usually, this means sending a press release to editors so they can spread BENEO’s news. However, sometimes we go for something a bit more special and in depth to let them discover a new product with all senses.

When BENEO expanded its functional fibre range with the launch of Orafti® β-Fit, a clean label wholegrain barley flour with 20% beta-glucans in July 2023, we felt it was time for a different kind of media relationship building. Why? Because this was the first time BENEO introduced an ingredient with heart health benefits. And, let’s be honest, for someone who is not a nutritional scientist, these benefits are not that easy to understand. And secondly, maybe even more importantly, because there is one thing a press release will never be able to provide: a sensory experience. Curious to find out how we brought this additional level to editors? Then join me on our road to a virtual BENEO tasting session.

The key ingredient for success: Teamwork at BENEO

As BENEO’s PR team, our main task is to develop compelling stories about the company and its functional ingredients for the external world. This means that editors of trade magazines and media platforms are the main intermediaries and multipliers for us and our messages. To reach this target group effectively with the right content, we work with PR agencies all over the world. Our London-based PR agency helps us maintain our relationships with English-speaking media in Europe. An event such as our virtual tasting session was possible thanks to the team’s continuous efforts and hands-on mentality. However, we also depended on the expert input from colleagues in different functions and departments within BENEO – keep reading to learn more.

First, let’s take a look at the event format we chose. Virtual tasting sessions have proven to be a great way to immerse editors deeper into the world of BENEO – deeper than the written word would ever be able to. That’s because a crucial element of our ingredients is of course, how food and drink manufacturers can actually apply them in their products. Only if the end result also tastes good and has a nice texture, they will buy BENEO’s ingredients and use them in their reformulations or new product innovations.

No tasting without samples

To show editors first hand that BENEO’s new wholegrain barley flour allows for mouthwatering end products, we reached out to our colleagues at the BENEO-Technology Center. As always when there is a new product launch, the application specialists there had already developed various test recipes with the ingredient. Their aim is to evaluate its technical properties and to build up know-how about its optimal use.

In doing so, the BENEO-Technology Center always keeps two central aspects in mind: the organoleptic profile of the end product (i.e., the taste, smell, texture, color and visual appeal), as well as its nutritional profile. Especially when it comes to making potential nutritional or health-related claims on pack, it is key to be aware of the necessary dosages within a recipe. Luckily, we received the thumbs up from Rudy Wouters, Head of the BENEO-Technology Center, about having delicious, extruded cereals and muffin samples with Orafti® β-Fit ready. As he was available for explaining their properties and benefits to editors, we could proceed with the next phase of our planning process.

Tailoring our messages to the target group

Now, we involved Gitte Vaes, Product Manager Functional Fibres at BENEO as our second speaker for the event. She helped us compile the most important product-related information about our new barley beta-glucan ingredient. A key challenge was to make this input digestible and relevant for our target group: editors who ideally decide to write in a positive way about this ingredient. Together with our PR agency we decided to develop a nice fact sheet. Our goal was to present the nutritional and health-related as well as technical properties in a visually appealing way.

This is where the Corporate Design department came into play that supported us with concise graphics. To highlight the relevance of our ingredient, we also reached out to our colleagues at BENEO’s Market Intelligence and Consumer Insights team. They provided us with helpful survey results related to heart health and fibre intake to paint the full picture of this new product launch.

The R in PR – Making connections and showing appreciation.

Instead of simply sending the editors the technical samples for the tasting, we wanted to show them our appreciation for their continued support and interest in BENEO’s topics. This is why we decided to put together a nice press hamper that also included heart- and feet- warming socks. With love for detail, our design colleagues created a branded banderole for them, featuring our Orafti® β-Fit key message: “Keep health close to your heart, naturally”.

Press hamper with technical samples and socks

But what would an event be without any attendees? Importantly, we did not want to record an on-demand webinar, but really engage with editors. That’s why our PR partners were busy writing invitations and following up on availabilities. Another relevant aspect to consider were regional differences when it comes to regulatory affairs and product development.

After liaising with our PR agency in the US, we decided to go for two separate sessions – one for European editors and one for media representatives in North America. This allowed us to provide them with regionally relevant information to ensure they could take full advantage of their time investment. We were thrilled to see the registration numbers going up. In total, and across regions, almost 20 editors signed up for the tasting session.

The final preparations

Shortly before the scheduled events in October 2023, the colleagues at the BENEO-Technology Center prepared the cereal and muffin samples in BENEO’s application labs in Tienen (Belgium) and Parsippany (New Jersey, US). Then, they shipped them to the PR agencies so they could arrange the press hampers. Admittedly, the muffin parcels kept us in the PR team on our toes for a few days. As they had to be shipped in frozen format with dry ice, they were declared as “dangerous goods” by the customs officers which added a few extra delivery days. But luckily in the end, all editors received their parcels in time for the event.

It’s show time: Bringing the project to life.

Finally, after weeks of preparation, it was time for the editors to join Gitte and Rudy for the 45 minute interactive virtual tasting events. But before everyone took a bite of the samples, Gitte provided an introduction into barley beta-glucans. She explained why Orafti® β-Fit was the perfect addition to BENEO’s ingredient portfolio. As it offers an economically attractive solution to enrich a product in heart-healthy beta-glucans, it is fully aligned with the company’s purpose of connecting nutrition and health. Another exciting aspect is that this is the first BENEO product manufactured in the US.

How beta-glucans support heart health and blood sugar management

The attendees learned that Orafti® β-Fit is a natural, clean label and non-GMO wholegrain barley flour with a beta-glucan content of 20% and a total fibre fraction of 40%. Next, Gitte unlocked the secret to barley beta-glucans’ many health benefits.

As viscous, soluble dietary fibres, they make the food thicker after consumption and thereby delay its passage through the gastrointestinal tract. Beta-glucans pass the small intestine without being digested by human enzymes. The increased viscosity of the ingested food delays the uptake of glucose from other carbohydrate sources and the uptake of bile acids. This results in a glucose- and cholesterol-lowering effect – the latter of which means a reduced risk for coronary heart disease.

Then, in the large intestine, beta-glucans are fully fermented by the gut microbiota. The health effects of cereal beta-glucans have already been explored by 170 human intervention studies and a vast majority confirm a reduction in blood glucose response and in blood cholesterol levels. The exciting news for food manufacturers is that these health benefits have also been recognised by official bodies such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and other national authorities with the approval of corresponding health claims. This allows for convincing front-of-pack communication if the conditions of use are fulfilled.

Taking the consumer perspective

To highlight why enriching products with barley beta-glucans is so attractive, Gitte shared a few additional insights. For example, being dietary fibres, barley beta-glucans help to increase the fibre content of food products. This supports consumers in closing their fibre gap.

In addition, Orafti® β-Fit is made from the well-known ancient grain barley. As a wholegrain flour, it meets the interest of the 35% of consumers worldwide who eat wholegrain to improve their heart health (FMCG Gurus 2021).

Last, but definitely not least, more than two thirds of global consumers are interested in heart health products even when not suffering specific health problems (FMCG Gurus 2021). Eating foods enriched with Orafti® β-Fit is a convenient way for consumers to choose nutritional products that positively impact heart health.

A tasteful deep dive into the world of barley beta-glucans

After learning about all the nutritional and health benefits barley beta-glucans have to offer, the participants were eager to try the samples they had received from BENEO. In this context, Rudy explained the technical properties of Orafti® β-Fit. He particularly highlighted what manufacturers have to keep in mind when adding it to their formulations. After all, to take advantage of health claims, a certain amount of beta-glucans needs to be included in the end product. Here, the BENEO-Technology Center can rely on its trials with a range of applications. The team conducts them in the company’s regional application centres to ensure that local conditions of use are fulfilled.

The heart of the tasting session

While EU editors tasted a mouthwatering apple-pecan-cinnamon muffin with possibilities for claims like ‘source of fibre’ and ‘maintenance of normal blood cholesterol level’, US editors tried a different muffin recipe, in line with US regulations for appealing front-of-pack communication. Rudy explained that barley beta-glucans are viscous fibres that absorb a lot of water, which is why manufacturers need to finetune their existing recipes, e.g., by adding water. The editors shared their sensorial evaluations in the chat: “It tastes like a healthy muffin with slightly sweet flavour – it is good!”. The participants also complimented the nice bite and moist mouthfeel of the muffins.

Then, it was time to evaluate the second sample, the extruded expanded cereals with Orafti® β-Fit. “For this application, it was key to achieve crispiness and crunchiness”, Rudy explained. Editors confirmed that the “crunch was excellent” and that it was “light and crispy”. At the end, the participants also had a chance to ask all their open questions to our BENEO experts. For example, they were interested in the production and raw material used for making the flour as well as possible future projects.

Coming to the end of our virtual event journey

After the tasting sessions – during which the editors hopefully all wore our heart socks – they received the presentation slides and the fact sheet.

This project is a great example of teamwork making the dream work. A big thank you goes out to all the colleagues involved in making this a success – especially Steffi Hitry, PR-Manager at BENEO and responsible for the project, Gitte and Rudy as the spokespeople during the event, and our supportive PR agencies who helped us organize and prepare everything.

Of course, also thank you to all the editors who joined BENEO and gifted us their time and attention – see you next time.😊


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