Editor's Plate: Things everybody wants

It seems the entire country is obese, so there's probably no more critical or far-reaching issue right now than healthier foods.

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I gave a presentation in September to the annual meeting of the Food Processing Machinery Assn. The assigned subject was trends in the fruit and vegetable category. While both the subject and the audience are pretty narrow niches and may not apply to many of our readers, the four trends I came up with are universal.

Food safety. Some people call it a “what keeps you up at night” concern, but it really isn’t. I liken it more to keeping the right air pressure in your tires. You know what you need to do, you admit you should check them more often and you know the “worst-case scenario.” But have your tires ever really gotten you in trouble?

For the past three years, we’ve conducted a manufacturing trends survey late in the year (by the way, Plant Ops guys, watch your e-mail for that survey in December) and all three years food safety came in at No. 1. This past year it was named the top concern by 63 percent of respondents, nearly triple the next closest subject: labor.

As I said, I don’t think it keeps food people up at night. It’s not on their to-do list when they show up for work on Monday morning. But when it does come up in the course of doing business, it usually comes up for the wrong reason. And at the time it comes up, it’s probably already at least a near-crisis situation. A lot of little things may slowly drive food processors out of business, but they won’t do so overnight. Having a food safety problem could drive you out of business overnight.

Convenience. This has always been an issue in food, but I think it’s becoming bigger all the time as our lives get more hectic. Addressing this issue is essential to your survival, but it also has the potential to be hugely lucrative. Think of the bagged salad category, I told the audience. It came out of nowhere to become a $3.2 billion category, as of 2003.

In honor of Pack Expo, we put a lot of emphasis in this issue on packaging. Convenience is written all over the three remarkable packages on our cover, as well as the retort pouch feature and the Institute of Packaging Professionals awards coverage.

Variety. For the FPMA attendees I talked of “bundling” different types of fruits or vegetables with each other. As the American palate gets more adventuresome and more traveled, people want new and different. There will always be staples, and people will always have favorites. But I think I’m noticing more and more people like me who are eager to try something they haven’t had before, who are going to order that oddball item off the menu, even at the risk of being disappointed.

Healthier foods. This is a huge trend for the snacking categories and also for vending machines, especially with kids having returned to school. But with the tinkering going on with the Dietary Guidelines pyramid and the lingering success of low-carb diets, healthier eating is impacting every food category. Sometimes it seems the entire country is obese, so there’s probably no more critical or far-reaching issue right now.

It’s hard to argue with that list, though feel free to do so in a letter or e-mail to me. The question is: What are you doing about them?

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