When Harry Balzer, vice president NPD Group, discusses the latest findings of the company's National Eating Trends, audiences listen. As he pointed out in his presentation "Consumer Trends: What America Eats and Drinks," consumer behavior doesn't change dramatically, it changes slowly and manufacturers should attempt to sort out trends from fads.
"‘If I show you what's in the product, you'll change your behavior,' was the goal when the Nutrition Labeling & Education Act was passed in 1990," says Balzer. Was the goal reached? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), among adults aged 20-74 years, the prevalence of obesity increased from 15 percent (in the 1976–1980 survey) to 32.9 percent (in the 2003–2004 survey). On the positive side, obesity and overweight statistics are flattening out, as Americans attempt to get fit. In contrast, the hottest menu items in restaurants are snack wraps and fried chicken sandwiches, rather than last year's favorite -- salad.
Checking out labels has become a national obsession. Balzer says consumers consider calories (49.2 percent), total fat (46.5 percent) and sugars (41.7 percent) the most important things to monitor, and they are also concerned about trans fat.
Also on the plus side for food manufacturers, consumers give positive marks to foods containing whole grains/dietary fiber, antioxidants, omega-3s and yogurt. And some 24.5 percent of the population says it buys organic products occasionally. After a decade of decline, preparing meals at home rose from 850 in 2006 to 861 in 2007, says Balzer. More men are wearing the toque (12.6 percent) compared to 11.3 percent in 2006. Part of that can be attributed to working moms. In 1950, 33 percent of moms worked outside the home, but in 2006, a whopping 59 percent of moms were in the workforce.
Today's moms are feeding their kids nearly identical foods for breakfast as moms did two decades ago. "New moms today are asking the same question their moms asked when deciding what to feed the kids, ‘What is the easiest way to get this job done?' " says Balzer. "Often times, it's the way their mom did it." Convenience and portability reign with mom, so bacon and eggs breakfasts are being replaced with frozen waffles (up 19 percent from 20 years ago), yogurt (up 15 percent) and toaster pastries (up 12 percent). The big loser is toast, down by 20 percent.
Balzer concluded by saying Americans like to try new things … "but don't mistake this for a trend." Other findings include: It takes generations to change what we perceive tastes good; Convenience is No. 1, we always move to easier ways to prepare food; and Cost is key. "Never let food costs rise faster than incomes."
Meanwhile, out there on the show floor:
Paperboard packaging continues to put up a good fight for packaging, even outside of the dairy category. Rank Group, an investment firm from New Zealand, has acquired and combined SIG Combibloc, Evergreen Packaging and Blue Ridge Paper Products. They were all together in a large display at the show, offering packaging materials and equipment in both fresh and aseptic packaging.
Tetra Pak Inc. (www.tetrapak.com) took center stage on the sustainability front with its showcase of eco-friendly packaging. Ed Klein, the company's vice president of environmental affairs, presenting on the topic during one of the expo's Dairy Tech sessions, demonstrated how "going green" involves more than recyclability and reuse. Klein explained how eco-friendly materials must be coupled with package design to reduce weight, damage and transportation costs. He also explained how energy expenditure to produce and use the materials for packaging makes "going green" a cradle-to-cradle process to ensure effective environmental benefits.
Engineers from architectural-engineering-construction firm Stellar (www.stellar.com) took in the show to discuss with potential clients what they think will be 2008's top manufacturing trends: lean manufacturing, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and automation strategies.
Among products introduced at Worldwide Food Expo:
The Cryovac packaging division (www.cryovac.com) of Sealed Air Corp. introduced a novel package that holds meat and a marinade separately but them combines them with a little squeeze. The Marinade on Demand package keeps the two components in separate pockets of the thermoformed rollstock package. But a little pressure pops a seal on a channel that joins the two. The marinade can be added to the meat at any desired time, all the while keeping the contents sterile. While foodservice is the initial target market, Cryovac foresees retail packages down the road.
G&K Services (www.gkservices.com) promoted its ProSura line of uniforms and towels. In particular, the Biosmart fabric from Milliken Chemical is a patent-pending textile technology that binds chlorine molecules to the surface of fabric. Chlorine on the fabric will continue to kill germs long after the fabric has been washed.
Multivac (www.multivac.com) introduced the R535 line of thermoform packaging machines. The horizontal form-fill-seal machine has an enhanced hygienic design, built with a foamy clean-in-place step built into the program that cleans both the inside and outside of the machine. Successive models in this line will arrive next year.
APV Invensys (www.apv.com) introduced a stainless steel version of its V2 pump. This is a simplified, maintenance-friendly and efficient centrifugal pump featuring a four-blade, fully open, non-clog impeller. It's engineered for CIP cleaning, comes in five seal types and meets 3-A sanitary standards. Also new are the MS4 aseptic valve for dairy and beverage applications, the thin NR5 heat exchanger and a redesign of the Paraflow heat exchanger.