Wellness and Environmental Responsibility

This adjunct piece to December’s annual All Trends issue focuses on a growing aspect of foods and beverages targeting wellness – that of environmental responsibility.

By David Feder, editor

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According to Mintel, ethical positioning, especially fair trade and sustainability, has become continued to grow rapidly into an even more important issue than it was six months ago. “Fair-trade certification continues to grow,” the report states unequivocally. “The beverages category is forecast to see 56 percent growth in new fair-trade product introductions in 2007, despite the fact that beverages represents the largest and most mature segment for fair trade.” Mintel estimates fair trade-designated food introductions rose by around 150 percent by the close of this year, with growing numbers of new products in every category.

The momentum of food labels such as “free-range,” “organic,” “cage-free” and “humanely raised,” shows no indication of slowing, according to a recent study conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the Denver-based American Humane Assn. (www.americanhumane.org). Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they are more likely to purchase a meat, poultry or dairy product if it is labeled as humanely raised.

Meanwhile, according to research provided by Lu Ann Williams, senior analyst for Innova Market Insights (www.innovadatabase.com), Duiven, Netherlands, since last year more than 300 products were launched with a “sustainability” hook – about 3 times the total of the previous three years together.

On numerous food and beverage products in Europe, labeling already is in place to display a product's environmental impact. Such corporate ecosense is making an impact here, too. Pepsico’s Frito-Lay Co. (www.fritolay.com), Plano, Texas, is planning to alter the way it produces potato chips   a process that uses large amounts of energy and creates waste   by running its Casa Grande, Ariz., plant on renewable fuels and recycled water. The plan, scheduled to be completed by 2010, should reduce electricity and water use by 90 percent and natural gas by 80 percent. the company said. The effort is part of PepsiCo's “net zero” concept, in which it strives to reduce costs and benefit from marketing green products through its environmental efforts.

Mintel’s report from late last year, “Green Living – U.S.,” shows how mainstream “green” or environmental issues have become in this country, and how awareness among consumers over these issues continues to grow. This is reflected, Mintel notes, by the “buoyancy of a number of markets – primarily organics and Fairtrade – and high demand for these.”

“Terms such as ‘biodegradable,’ ‘environmentally-friendly’ and ‘green’ feature widely in today’s product marketing, and are generally used to describe a range of ‘ethical’ products that have little or no negative impact on our ecosystem,” according to Mintel’s report synopsis. “Moves to use compostable packaging are in evidence in North America, with biodegradable containers made from corn,” the consumer research group also notes.

Picture of Organic

Last year, we reported on the mainstreaming of the organic trend. A picture of the past five years of data from Mintel International Group Ltd. shows organic food sales have grown 132 percent since 2002, and organic beverage sales grew 97 percent in the same period. Together, the organic food and beverage markets have reached almost $6 billion dollar annually.

“This isn’t a niche market full of environmental health nuts and affluent yuppies anymore,” says Marcia Mogelonsky, senior research analyst at Mintel. “Organic is now part of the picture for everyone. With health issues and food contamination cases in the news, many people have begun looking for safer, more natural food and drink.”

Although the controversy of whether organic foods are actually healthier foods persisted throughout the first couple of decades of organic’s steady upward climb, new research might vindicate those who claimed in favor of the connection. Recently, Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Assn. announced findings from a four-year study indicating some organic foods are more nutritional than their conventional counterparts.

Preliminary results from the study, part of the EU-funded Quality Low Input Food Project, show organic fruit and vegetables have up to 40 percent more antioxidants than non-organically grown produce, while organic milk contains up to 60 to 80 percent more antioxidants than conventionally produced milk in the summer, and 50 to 60 percent higher levels in the winter. Organic milk also was found to contain higher levels of vitamin E. In related news, the Senate Agriculture Committee recently approved its version of the Farm Bill that included funding and direction for key organic priorities. For more information visit www.ota.com.

Mintel’s research shows 52 percent of Americans purchased organic foods in the past year, while 26 percent chose beverages with organic certification. Moreover, 32 percent of adults now report purchasing organic products “as often as possible” according to the research group. By the end of last year, nearly 1,600 new organic food and beverage products were launched in the U.S. – more than twice the number in 2002.

Mintel expects strong, consistent growth for the organic food and beverage market, even if the rate of growth begins to decline. Organic food sales are expected to rise 59 percent by 2012, while the organic beverage market is projected to grow by nearly two-thirds 65 percent in that time.

Stricter Supervision

In other “spiritual wellness” categories, kosher and halal continue to grow at record, double-digit paces. Many kosher food and beverage processors are taking further advantage of kosher’s perception as “better for you” by seeking organic certification as well.

This aspect of spiritual wellness is expected to continue trending up well into the next decade. “Kosher processors are offering many new and re-formulated products that are much healthier, such as gluten-free and low calorie, and combined with organic certification," explains Vicki Garfinkel, PR director for Kosherfest/Cultural Food N.Y.

The annual trade show and conference, usually co-located with the International Hotel Motel Show, drew more than 10,000 food industry professionals this year at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in N.Y. The fest, which now includes Expo Comida Latina and All Asia Food, has also added heavy emphasis on the organic subcategory of each of these ethnic categories. “The surge of attendance confirms the ever-growing demand for these important categories of food and beverage for kosher, Hispanic, Asian and organics,” emphasized Brian Randall, director.

Whether a food product makes you feel good because it’s good for the body, or for the planet or it just makes you feel right because it fulfills a religious need, the “good for the soul” factor is a level of proactive empowerment consumers are aggressively pursuing at all levels. And, as long as a processor stays true to the principle behind it, that makes it good for business, too.

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