As the meat and savory flavor experts here at Innova Flavors, we understand both the art and science of creating unique, customized taste solutions for your product. When processing food for consumption, there are a host of regulations that must be followed. Regulatory restrictions can dramatically influence how and with what ingredients your product is flavored.
At Innova Flavors, we have a team of regulatory experts who oversee our raw material documentation and compliance. The regulatory team, led by Senior Director, Regulatory & Formula Toni Shugarts, maintains documentation on the function of raw materials and the finished product.
Shugarts has more than 25 years of experience in regulatory and quality assurance in the food flavoring industry. With a degree in biology, Shugarts said her passion for science led her to her first job where she worked in a lab and focused on analytical chemistry before an opportunity arose in food science. “When I was in school, no one told you there was a food science degree, so I kind of fell into it,” Shugarts remembers.
From there, Shugarts worked in the regulatory and quality assurance departments for a few major food manufacturers, including Kellogg’s, prior to joining Innova Flavors in 2004.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes to regulations over the past decade?
Shugarts: As far as regulations, there have been significant changes made to help the consumer and provide them with more information to help them make more informed food choices. The nutrition panel is now easier to read, for example, and reflects changes in nutrients declared like added sugar. As an ingredient supplier to our customers, we have provided updated information over the last couple of years so our customers can meet their nutrition panel needs.
Q: As plant-based protein continues to gain momentum in the industry, what should our customers be aware of when it comes to regulatory and compliance?
Shugarts: As a flavor company, everything we do is driven by our customers’ requirements and restrictions. Whatever they need – if they want cleaner labels, halal, or kosher – for example, we meet those restrictions. So, the key is for our customers be aware of what restrictions they want to meet or what they want to claim.
Q: What is the most misunderstood aspect of regulatory and compliance, or what do you wish more customers knew?
Shugarts: A big thing is that our products aren’t always one-size-fits-all. If we develop a product to meet certain restrictions, that doesn’t mean it will meet other restrictions. For example, if we develop a product for use in the U.S., it may not be suitable for use in another country, and we will need to reformulate it to make it meet the restrictions of that country. We work closely with our customers in the development stage to determine restrictions upfront and work towards creating a product that will meet their needs.
Q: What is your greatest challenge in regulatory and compliance?
Shugarts: Meeting customers’ needs quickly in a competitive market. We work closely with research and development in the development stage, but sometimes it can take time to research, develop and make sure everything meets our customers’ restrictions. We want a fast turnaround, and we work hard and diligently to meet our customers’ lead times.
Q: What are you most proud of at Innova Flavors?
Shugarts: Our team development. I think we continue to grow and evolve with our technical knowledge and through our participation in the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA), which allows us to adapt as new restrictions happen and as we work to identify and meet our customers’ needs. Requirements have changed over the past couple of years, and we continue to work hard to meet those needs.
Q: How do you stay abreast of the latest changes?
Shugarts: We watch the FDA and USDA sites and receive industry notifications there. We are also members of FEMA, which is a good way we stay connected and on top of changes in the industry.
Q: Is there anything you are watching right now to see how things change?
Shugarts: Right now, the FDA is considering adding sesame as an allergen, so we are paying close attention on that outcome. It’s listed as an allergen in Illinois right now because one of the congressman had a child who was allergic and his experiences made him realize more transparency was needed, so labeling it became a law in Illinois and the FDA has just started looking at it. It’s all about staying on top of trends and hot topics. For example, right now there are several CBD products on the market, and we are watching to see what happens there in terms of FDA regulations. Just because there’s a new product out there, it doesn’t mean flavors are okay to be used in them.
Q: Looking to the future, what are you most excited about in terms of your department or Innova Flavors?
Shugarts: To continue to learn. Regulations change, trends change, and we are constantly learning to ensure we provide the best service possible to our customers and respond quickly to meet their needs. I think continuing to innovate and collaborate with other departments and collaborate within our own department to share information will be key to see if there are opportunities to do things better and more efficiently.
Did you know? Toni Shugarts, Senior Director, Regulatory & Formula at Innova Flavors, enjoys spending time with family and friends, and caring for her dog, cat and two hamsters. Shugarts also plays in a weekly pool league with her husband.