Top 6 Food Processing Trends

Anticipating and acting on trends can make or break a company. It pays to know which ones are still in the game and which are emerging.

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It’s not just the patchouli set that sees the advantages to organic foods. Surveys show the majority of Americans are concerned about what’s in their foods, where those foods come from and potential health risks from pesticides and chemicals in the food chain.

David Johnson, president-North America commercial at Kraft Foods Inc. (www.kraft.com), Northfield, Ill, has been quoted describing the organic food trend as “a freight train that’s going to pick up steam.” As the second largest food company in North America, the company is in the position to help make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

According to a recent study by ACNielsen (www.acnielsen.com), Chicago, organic products topped the list of “best performing” items in the “good-for-you” product segments. But organic is its own trend, extending beyond foods, beverages and pet foods. The category has acquired such trendlets as environmental consciousness and sustainability, Fair Trade, local production, energy conservation and “natural,” minimally processed or stripped-down formulations. Although not making an organic claim, Cadbury Schweppes PLC (www.cadburyschweppes.com), Plano, Tex., recently reformulated and remarketed its 7Up beverage as a five-ingredient, “natural” product.

2. Get well soon

The twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes dominate the health and wellness category. No day passes without the mention of one, the other or both on television, radio or in newspapers. But in general, between one-fourth and one-third of consumers make food choices based on health for some reason.

This is a trend that plays directly to our desire to ingest specific foods or beverages for the purpose of preventing or palliating a disease or condition. The reason antioxidants, botanical extracts and the whole foods (berries, teas, soy) that contain them are critical underpinnings of this trend is because of the promise such items hold to improve how you feel and perform.

 

food label showing potential allergens
Health and wellness concerns lead consumers to read labels — not just to seek ingredients that may promote wellness, but also to check for those that could trigger an allergic response.

From an ingredient standpoint, health and wellness concerns offer the best variety of options for processors. A manufacturer developing a product in this market has literally thousands of botanical extracts, antioxidants, phytochemicals, carbohydrate compounds (such as sugars, starches and fibers), protein compounds or fractions and healthy oils from which to choose.

The trend to address health reached its mainstream “tipping point” in food processing with the decision in 2004 by America’s second largest cereal maker, General Mills Inc. (www.generalmills.com), to reformulate all of its breakfast cereals to be based on whole grains. There certainly were defining moments along the way – fortification of flour and breads with folate, calcium enrichment of juice and other “health-value added” movements all are good examples. But the Minneapolis- based company was the first processing giant to change its entire line of products in such a manner.

Meanwhile, emphasis is shifting away from dieting and related fat and calorie-count issues. In a survey by Mintel International, Chicago (www.mintel.com) although seven in 10 American adults claim to be trying to eat healthier foods, almost that many – 65 percent – say calories don’t always count, with about half of Americans finding nutritional value the important factor.

According to NPD Group Inc. (www.npd.com), a research firm in Port Washington, N.Y., obesity rates have held steady for four years now. Diet still will be big; as are more than 60 percent of Americans. But our interests will turn toward other health concerns. Allergies (including gluten and lactose intolerance), energy, immunity and the more general “feeling better” issues are moving up to occupy a growing portion of the megatrend.

Another study by Mintel notes about 36 million Americans claim to suffer from either a food allergy or intolerance. And a Natural Marketing Institute report finds two-thirds of baby boomers are most afraid of fatigue as they age, and nearly half are worried about diminished mental capacity.

From a food and beverage manufacturing point of view, all these wellness areas are showing some of the strongest growth potential.

3. Age awareness

Health is still the biggest part of the aging trend. For every age group there’s a health concern some processor is targeting. Attention is split mostly among concerns of children (see “The Kids are Alright,” Wellness Foods, June 2006), teens (see “ru communic8n w teens?” Food Processing, June 2006) and seniors.

By sheer numbers, the last group is headed for steady growth as a trend. Basically, like Dylan Thomas, we will “not go gentle into that good night.” Besides, 60 is the new 40, mirrors be damned. If a food or beverage can boast an ingredient polyphenolics, antioxidants, omega oils – to put some bloom back on the rose, then we’re going to buy it.

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