Interview by Sheldon Baker
Pam Stauffer is global marketing programs and communications manager at Cargill. A proven marketing leader with over two decades of experience in the food and beverage ingredient categories, she is responsible for developing strategic integrated marketing programs across food businesses to promote new and existing products and establish industry thought leadership.
Ms. Stauffer received her bachelor’s degree in finance at Michigan State University and her MBA at the Carlson School, University of Minnesota. Prior to Cargill, she worked in financial consulting at Merrill Lynch and sales at Whirlpool Corporation. (Adv Mind Body Med. 2023;37(3):33-36.)
Sheldon Baker is an InnoVision contributing editor. His freelance editorial content can also be found in several lifestyle publications, and as CEO of Baker Dillon Group LLC, he has created numerous brand marketing communications and public relations campaigns for health and wellness organizations. Contact him at [email protected].
Advances in Mind-Body Medince (Advances): Talk a little about Cargill’s health R&D and technology manufacturing process.
Pam Stauffer: As a global leader in food and agricultural production, we believe it’s our responsibility to take a leadership role in sustainable innovation. That’s why Cargill is investing in all areas across our supply chain, developing state-of-the-art products, programs, tools, and services that enable our customers to do more with less and be the best stewards possible of the world’s natural resources. We are committed to engaging our company’s brightest minds, empower productive partnerships with external innovators, and we leverage our unmatched reach and scale of operations in the creation of actionable sustainability initiatives that can make a truly impactful difference across land, sea, and air. Our global R&D capabilities are central to this journey, and include more than 50 R&D facilities, including 10 major innovation and R&D centers. This includes our innovation and R&D hub in Minneapolis, MN, which spans four campuses with experts in key disciplines such as biotechnology, material science, ingredient functionality, analytical science, rheology, sensory science, culinary based-product development, and data analysis.
Advances: Cargill’s expertise in processing agricultural commodities into high-quality ingredients supposedly gives the company an edge in making products. How so?
Ms. Stauffer: Innovation is more than just new ideas at Cargill. It’s about converting these ideas into workable solutions by applying fundamental science, basic process engineering principles and thorough process safety expertise. For example, when tasked with the challenge of creating a label-friendly alternative to maltodextrin, our scientists pioneered the development of the world’s first truly soluble rice flour. Similarly, when we unlocked the secrets of the stevia leaf, we found two of its best-tasting components, Reb M and Reb D, were exceedingly rare, comprising less than 1% of the leaf. With an eye toward sustainable production, we turned to fermentation technology to produce these sweet compounds for our EverSweet® stevia sweetener.
Advances: Sustainability is a central pillar of your operation and the Business Intelligence Group named Cargill the 2023 recipient of the Sustainability Leadership Award and Sustainability Service of the Year. Cargill has set the standard for sustainable Stevia.
Ms. Stauffer: When Cargill first envisioned offering stevia as a commercial sweetener back in the 2000s, no stevia supply chain of scale existed. We committed to building a world-class socially and environmentally responsible supply chain from the outset, and in the process, set the benchmark for responsible business practices in the leaf-based stevia industry. In many ways, we were ahead of the times but sustainability considerations were already part of Cargill’s DNA, and with stevia, we saw an opportunity to create from the ground up a supply chain that reflected our broader priorities. In those early days, we quickly realized that one of the biggest challenges would be ensuring both the processors and the farmers in our supply network received adequate training on our sustainability standard. We invested in boots on the ground, in-country Cargill sustainability staff, who meet with our growers every spring and review agricultural best practices. And to ensure our sustainability standard is properly implemented, an independent third-party conduct a comprehensive audit with all of our grower groups each fall. Groups that fail to meet key requirements are no longer eligible to supply stevia leaf to our manufacturing partners. Our leaf-based stevia business continues to follow those practices today. Since the program’s inception in 2010, we’ve have trained nearly 800 stevia farmers across 125 grower groups. It’s a hands-on approach that differentiates our sustainability program from others in the industry.
Advances: Truvia® is a brand consumers and health professionals probably know, but sugar reduction can be complicated. How does Cargill’s Truvia® brand help consumers reduce sugar?
Ms. Stauffer: Our consumer brand Truvia® sweetener products are refreshingly uncomplicated, with a product line that makes it easy to deliver reduced-sugar sweetness in everything from morning coffees to midnight snacks. For example, our Truvia® Sweet Complete Granulated All-Purpose sweetening solution is perfect for baking cakes, cookies, muffins, or making smoothies and drinks. It’s easy to use, measuring cup-for-cup like the sugar it replaces, with zero calories per serving. Other consumer products sold under the Truvia brand include our Monk Fruit line and summer 2023 we launched new Truvia® liquid sweeteners in original, vanilla, lemon and caramel flavors, as well as Truvia® Brown Spoonable Sweetener, made with stevia leaf extract, molasses and erythritol. We also offer a full range of stevia-based solutions for food, beverage, and supplement manufacturers, and work directly with brands to solve their sugar-reduction challenges.
Advances: Cargill is helping farmers make agriculture and food production more sustainable, as well as communities become more resilient. Are you doing this in the U.S. as well as globally?
Ms. Stauffer: Yes, our commitment to sustainability is built into our purpose – to nourish the world in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way. As our climate continues to change, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our food system needs to change along with it. Climate change is causing more frequent and severe weather events, shifting growing seasons, and declining soil health. To meet the demands of a growing global population, we need to ensure that our food system can adapt to these challenges and continue to produce enough food grown sustainably and responsibly. We believe transformation starts where the food system begins at the farm. These changes, such as the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices, will help to reduce emissions, improve water quality and use, increase productivity, and build up healthy soils for future generations. Three years ago Cargill launched a regenerative agriculture program in the U.S. that pays farmers for improved soil health and positive environmental outcomes, including payment per metric ton of carbon sequestered. Called Cargill RegenConnect®, the program helps farmers scale the voluntary adoption of regenerative agriculture practices and connects them to the growing opportunities in environmental markets. Regenerative agriculture practices also offer other benefits, including delivering increased productivity, improving water quality and water use, and building soil health and resiliency. In 2023, we also expanded this program to Europe.
This is just one example of our many industry-leading sustainability programs operating around the world, encompassing cocoa, palm, soy, wheat, corn, red seaweed and more.
Advances: Cargill produces many ingredients, including options that offer health benefits. Please elaborate.
Ms. Stauffer: There is growing demand for healthier, great-tasting food, beverage, and supplement products. We help companies deliver on that demand with ingredient solutions that are relevant to some of today’s most pressing health concerns, including cardiovascular health, immune support, cognition, infant nutrition, oral health, sodium reduction, sugar reduction and more. On the cognitive health front, choline is backed by years of research highlighting its role in the normal development and function of the brain and nervous system, yet most consumers don’t get enough. The 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report called out choline as a shortfall nutrient. It’s been positively correlated with cognitive performance on verbal and visual memory tasks,1 and when taken during pregnancy, shown to enhance cognitive function in childhood, adulthood and into old age.2,3,4 Plant sterols also have a significant body of clinical research demonstrating their ability to help lower cholesterol. In its review, the FDA noted “…there is significant scientific agreement that diets that include plant sterol esters and plant stanol esters may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”5 Cargill’s portfolio of 300-plus ingredients includes other health-supportive solutions, including options to help brands reduce sugar and create products with a lower glycemic response. This includes stevia, erythritol and maltitol sweeteners, which enable brands to create great-tasting products suitable for the growing number of consumers with diabetes. Additionally, we supply a wide range of fats and oils, including options that are lower in saturated fats.
Advances: Cargill features the CoroWise™ brand. What have your studies shown regarding lowering cholesterol?
Ms. Stauffer: Cardiovascular disease is the number-one cause of death in the U.S., attributed to one in every four deaths annually.6 While certain health conditions and family history can raise one’s risk of high cholesterol, health lifestyle choices like exercise and diet can help manage the risk. Cargill’s CoroWise™ plant sterols can be part of that heart-healthy lifestyle. While consumers may be less familiar with plant sterols, they are safe, effective, and easy to use. A significant body of research including more than 40 clinical trials, supports the use of plant sterols in the diet for heart health benefits. Their use is also backed by an FDA health claim and recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) of the National Institutes of Health. Just two grams of plant sterols daily, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, can help to significantly lower cholesterol. That’s a compelling message, especially as consumers increasingly look for proactive steps to take control of their health.
Advances: Made through a natural fermentation process, EpiCor® postbiotic supports a healthy gut microbiome which, as ongoing research suggests, helps to support a healthy immune system. Talk about the research and its findings.
Ms. Stauffer: Cargill’s EpiCor® postbiotic is a one-of-a-kind ingredient, with a memorable discovery story of epic origin. Factory employees at our founding company’s animal feed manufacturing facility were taking fewer sick days than their office-bound colleagues. To understand why, the company commissioned pilot studies and learned that its fermented feed product supported the immune health of the factory workers exposed to the product. The company embarked on years of clinical research to show the safety and efficacy of this postbiotic for people and EpiCor was born. This includes 12 published studies which suggest that when delivered as a dietary supplement, EpiCor supports immune health and may positively modulate gut microbiota.7 That represents a significant body of research, giving practitioners and consumers alike additional confidence in its health-supportive credentials.
Advances: Soy flour products are another manufacturing category. Please provide an overview.
Ms. Stauffer: Our portfolio includes three of the most common sources of botanical protein, soy, pea, and wheat. Each protein offers unique benefits, equipping Cargill with the solutions to satisfy consumers’ hunger for protein-rich products across an array of applications and label requirements.
Soy protein continues to play an important role in consumers’ healthy diets. Considered an excellent source of quality protein, soy protein improves foods’ nutritional profile. It remains the most used botanical protein source thanks to its established supply chain and economical cost-in-use. It is also highly functional, resulting in a softer crumb when added to baked goods or extra juiciness in meat products. Cargill portfolio includes two soy-based options: Prolia® soy flour used in bakery, meats, snacks, and cereals and Prosante® textured soy flour (used in meat and meat alternative products).
PURIS™ pea protein is a good choice for brands that want to keep allergens off their product labels. Through our partner PURIS, we offer pea protein sourced from non-GMO yellow pea seed varieties specially selected to minimize off-notes and processed without the use of hexanes to bring out the best flavor possible. PURIS even offers different pea proteins for different application needs, from highly soluble PURIS 2.0 for beverage applications to textured pea protein, developed for plant-based meat alternative products.
Nutritionally, pea protein also has a very good protein content. Our products from PURIS have a minimum 80% protein. While not a complete protein, pea protein has a high PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score) of 0.78, well above most plant proteins. However, to make a complete protein claim, formulators will need to blend pea protein with a complementary protein source such as rice, wheat gluten or soy.
Vital wheat gluten is the most recent addition to our North American plant protein portfolio. It’s a staple in bread formulations, where it offers benefits that support mixing, dough handling and finished product quality. It’s also finding a place in many plant-based meat alternative products, where it aids in cohesiveness and structure, assists with water absorption and binding, and contributes much-needed firmness as the meat alternative cooks. Vital wheat gluten brings nutritional benefits, too, as it has a high protein content. With 75% protein on a dry matter basis, a small amount of vital wheat gluten provides an affordable boost to the protein content of baked goods, snacks, cereals, pasta, sports nutrition products and plant-based meat alternatives.
Advances: Salt alternatives is also part of Cargill’s portfolio.
Ms. Stauffer: Diets high in sodium have been associated with increased risk of developing high blood pressure, a major cause of stroke and heart disease. To address the concern, the FDA has issued draft voluntary guidelines for the food industry to gradually reduce the amount of sodium in prepared, processed, and packaged foods. Cargill offers two key ingredients to help brands on this journey – Potassium Pro® potassium salt and Alberger® salt. We’ve found potassium salt is one of best tools to help food manufacturers meet their sodium targets because it does a good job of replicating salt’s sodium chloride functional roles in foods. Another benefit of using potassium salt for sodium reduction is its ability to increase the potassium content in food. With the mandatory declaration of potassium content to the Nutrition Facts Label and the recent decrease in the Daily Value for sodium from 2,400 to 2,300 milligrams per day, potassium salt is an effective option to improve the nutrient profile of many foods in both areas.
Alberger® salt is a tool which can assist with sodium reduction. Its multi-faceted, pyramid and cubed-agglomerates and unique crystalline shape provide more surface area than native cubed-shaped salt crystals or table salt. As a result, it delivers a more intense salty upfront flavor and enables brands to use lower amounts of sodium chloride, without impacting consumers’ salty taste perceptions. Consumers perceive it to be saltier than it actually is!
Advances: From a brand marketing perspective, what is Cargill’s strategy to promote its brands to consumers? Health professionals?
Ms. Stauffer: While most of our ingredient portfolio is marketed to food, beverage and supplement manufacturers, there are a few exceptions, such as Truvia® stevia leaf extract. From a marketing perspective, in addition to having a full portfolio of products to meet consumers’ sweetening needs and preferences, we provide product information and a recipe library on our website, Truvia.com. We offer our products on retailer shelves and online through our Sweet Somethings direct to consumer store, and our Amazon store front. In addition, we connect with our consumers through social media channels. The Truvia brand has communities on Facebook, Instagram, X, and Tik Tok, plus we partner with influencers on those channels to provide recipe ideas and inspiration.
With health professionals, our focus is providing them with the information they need to support their clients’ health and nutritional needs. For example, at the recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE), our nutrition scientists were there to answer questions and present recent research on stevia-based sweeteners. This research found that consuming stevia before a meal reduced appetite and energy intake, without raising glucose levels.8
Advances: What does the future of health and wellness look like to Cargill and what might its role be to further build vibrant global communities?
Ms. Stauffer: Cargill plays a unique role in the food system connecting farmers to markets and bringing food to family tables around the world. For more than 155 years, we have helped the food and agriculture sector address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Today, we are applying our expertise and innovation toward sustainably feeding a growing population with evolving nutrition needs and increased food insecurity. We are committed to providing our customers and consumers with the foods and ingredients they want, while evolving those products to meet their changing needs. And we are doing this through innovation. In health technologies, we are finding new ways to support the immune system through supplements like EpiCor®. At our Food Innovation Centers, we have reduced the sodium, sugar, and saturated fat content in existing ingredients, added whole grains, vitamins, and other additives to food, and adopted more sustainable sourcing and packaging practices. Innovation is how we are helping customers deliver healthier options to consumers around the world.
- Yuki D, Sugiura Y, Zaima N, Akatsu H, Takei S, Yao I, Maesako M, Kinoshita A, Yamamoto T, Kon R, et al: DHA-PC and PSD-95 Decrease After Loss of Synaptophysin and Before Neuronal Loss in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Sci Rep 2014, 4:7130.
- Wallace TC, Blusztajn JK, Caudill MA, Klatt KC, Natker E, Zeisel SH, Zelman KM: Choline: The Underconsumed and Underappreciated Essential Nutrient. Nutr Today 2018, 53:240-253.
- Zeisel SH: Choline: Critical Role During Fetal Development and Dietary Requirements in Adults. Annu Rev Nutr 2006, 26:229-250.
- Wallace TC, Blusztajn JK, Caudill MA, Klatt KC, Zeisel SH: Choline: The Neurocognitive Essential Nutrient of Interest to Obstetricians and Gynecologists. J Diet Suppl 2019:1-20.
- “Food Labeling: Health claim; Phytosterols and risk of coronary heart disease; proposed rule,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Dec. 8, 2010). Available at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-12-08/pdf/2010-30386.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heart Disease Facts,” updated September 2020.
- Abstracts of EpiCor® postbiotic research available at https://www.cargill.com/supplements/epicor-postbiotic-ingredient#research.
- Stamataki, Nikoleta S.; Scott, Corey; Elliott, Rebecca; McKie, Shane; Bosscher, Douwina; McLaughlin, John T. “Stevia Beverage Consumption prior to Lunch Reduces Appetite and Total Energy Intake without Affecting Glycemia or Attentional Bias to Food Cues: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial in Healthy Adults.” The Journal of Nutrition, 2020 May 1;150(5):1126-1134. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa038