AlpBioEco

Valorisation of innovative bio-economical potentials along bio-based food & botanical extract value chains in the Alpine Space

BM#26 - Gluten-free apple flour

Product description


Apple flour is gluten-free and can be used either for human nutrition or for natural cosmetics. Basically, there are two ways that apple flour can be produced: One way is to process apples directly into apple flour, and the second is to process finely milled, dried apple pomace. Apple pomace is a by-product of apple juice production and is composed of apple pulp residues, peels and seeds. Apple pomace is often considered as waste, but it still contains a high amount of nutrients, which makes apple pomace interesting and valuable for human nutrition and skin care.
 
Picture: Apple flour bread sample, business visit in Barge, Italy. Apple flour bread © Barbara La Licata

Italy 

In the project, apple flour was produced by using apple pomace originating from ancient organic varieties of Italian apples. These ancient varieties are more resistant to parasites and contribute to local biodiversity. No chemical substances have been used at any stage in the production process. The apple flour produced still contains high quantities of sugars, fibres, pectin and different antioxidants with antiradical activities. Given these characteristics, it is possible to produce an apple paste by rehydrating and homogenising the flour, thus obtaining a more water-soluble product. In the project, apple flour was used in different bakery products (sponge cake, bread, shortbread cookies and cereal bars). Moreover, the apple paste served as a functional ingredient for the realisation of three cosmetic products: face cream, micellar water and shower gel. This cosmetics line is 100% organic, rich in natural antioxidants and sustainable.

Business and marketing opportunities

In the Piedmont Region, more than 4 thousand companies annually produce 230,000 tons of apple; the total Italian apple production amounts to 2.2 Mio tons per year available for further processing. Of this volume, about 2.3 - 2.5% (50,600 – 55,000 tons) are side streams – residues from primary and secondary production, mainly apple pomace. The possibilities to use and further process these quantities of apple pomace could lead to an increase in the profitability of the companies by diversifying the incomes. Especially interesting is further processing into ingredients for the food industry, in particular for the gluten-free sector. Moreover, apple flour could be also used for production of functional and nutraceutical foods. Additionally, the chemical characteristics of apple flour make it interesting for applications in the cosmetic sector due to its high content of different types of antioxidants. It even serves as a major ingredient for different types of cosmetic formulas. In both application cases, the market penetration of apple flour should be strictly correlated to the concept of territoriality and sustainability, by using an effective storytelling approach.

Implementation hurdles

For successful production, a dedicated logistical process needs to be set up in order to further process apple pomace into apple flour immediately after the production of apple pomace or to ensure immediate refrigerated storage in case of post-production. This is especially important, as the food industry and cosmetic companies require products with high levels of standardisation in terms of chemical characteristics as well as taste, texture etc. Thus, the entire production process needs to consider these requests from all points of view (logistic, quality assurance, etc.), which is difficult due to the different origins of the apple pomace and the different varieties included in the apple pomace. As apple flour is not water-soluble, its use in the cosmetic sector is difficult. As an alternative, apple paste can be used. It is water soluble and suitable for all cosmetic categories but is produced at higher costs. Apple paste production requires more processing and the use of more technologies.

Suggestions for the next steps

The next steps for the implementation of the apple flour business model are related to the different market opportunities. In the case of the food
sector, food design has to be completed with further development of recipes as well as laboratory analysis and sensory studies. In addition, a more
detailed analysis of market trends and opportunities to enter niche markets (like organic and gluten-free) still has to be done. In the case of the cosmetic sector, further product development and quality management are also necessary. Policy requirements also have to be addressed: firstly, apple paste should be registered with the International Cosmetic Ingredient Nomenclature Committee (INCI), which provides the systematic name for the identification of a cosmetic ingredient. Then, apple paste should receive the declaration of safety and approval for use according to the relative directives. Moreover, a complete formula design for the cosmetic line is needed, together with the developing of a solid cosmetics branding strategy.

Slovenia 

In Slovenia, apple flour is relatively new on the market, but it is considered as a product with a high potential, as it can be used in gluten-free food production. Production and use were discussed during a focus group workshop with experts from Slovenia. Later, the apple flour was tested in gluten-free pastry production and its parameters evaluated. 

Business and marketing opportunities

Business and marketing opportunities were discussed according to the customer segments, such as end consumers and users using apple flour as an additive to the final product. In the case of end consumers, the material and design of the packaging must be such as to inform the customer that it is a natural product and that this product represents the specific values mentio-ned above. Among bakers, confectioners, innkeep- ers and restaurant managers, it is necessary to find those who share similar values as those represented by the product. In kitchens of public institutions that are tied to public procurement, a different approach is needed in terms of green public procurement. The consumer market has increased interest in zero waste and circular economy food production. A product such as apple flour being based primarily on leftover material and offering a gluten-free alternative to tradi-tional flour offers excellent opportunities for successful marketing positioning. 

Implementation hurdles

First of all, it is still unclear how large the market for apple flour in Slovenia is. This makes it hard to estimate the costs and benefits. Although gluten-free products are more and more in demand on the market, apple producers see gluten-free apple flour as a niche product with strong competition on the market. In addition, apple flour production from apple pomace has many technical and investment-related hurdles. To process the apple pomace, special machinery is needed. As many businesses don’t yet own such a machine, investments into equipment would be needed. Also, the logistics of the apple flour tend to be demanding in terms of storage conditions and packaging material. 

Suggestions for the next steps

Connecting apple growers with food processing companies and product development and testing are two important next steps, including aspects of quality, taste and standardisation. In addition, rai-sing the awareness of consumers, promoting and educating them about bio-based food products, the development and implementation of marketing activities and gaining support and funding from government institutions are crucial for the implementation of the business model. 
In Slovenia, the conditions for mass production of gluten-free apple flour and international marketing are currently limited due to a lack of appropriate technical equipment in the food industry to produce such products. Thus, it is necessary to develop a product that targets certain groups of early adopting customers and consumers who value the special advantages of the product, such as sustainability, regionality and circularity. 
 
For further details, please read our Best Practice Brochure

Business visits conducted by Envipark: apple paste and cosmetic packaging / trials of Confiserie Luciano, a specialised grocery store in Barge, Italy (© Barbara La Licata) and gluten-free pastries made with apple flour at BC Naklo, Slovenia (© BC Naklo)