As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, be prepared for the Big Merge.
Just think of it: A few years ago, the food and beverage trends capturing our attention centered around exotic, antioxidant-rich “superfruits” such as açai and pomegranate. Then, the necessity of providing solid reasoning behind marketing such cutting-edge items to a smarter generation of consumers led to both closer investigation and employment of other health ingredient-based products, and “health condition” marketing in combination. Heart health began to share space with memory and cognition, osteoporosis, eye health and energy issues plaguing the captive market of aging baby boomers (visit Wellness Food Trends for 2009).
This also fed into interest in new (to processors) ingredients, such as resistant starches, agave and proanthocyanidins, and to renewed interests in known ingredients such as omega oils and soy (visit Ingredient Trends to Watch in 2009). As incentive poured into research, the efficacy of purported health benefits from early investigation gained increasing solidity, allowing for more effective marketing of health and wellness foods and beverages.
Best of all, demand led to a burst in supply that, in spite of normal fluctuations based on economy, made the cost of turning a food or beverage into a healthy food or beverage more than worthwhile. The end result is a mainstreaming of health unlike anything the food manufacturing business has seen in the past.
Another driving force is the green/sustainable/fair trade movement. In the past year or two, we’ve reported on this as a growing and separate movement. This coming year will very likely mark a tipping point in which all these factors merge into one “super” movement wherein a product touting one purpose — say, health — without some sort of ecosense will find itself quickly outmaneuevered by a competitor with all bases covered.
Overall, the trends we’ve reported for the past two to three years are still climbing. But for every up you need a down, and some areas look as if they’ve hit a plateau or even are headed for a decline.
As covered last year, gluten-free still isn’t the explosive category anticipated. Look for the gluten-free label to hang around, but be less of a selling point with the now-pervasive awareness that proponents were trying to make this narrow category fit far more than the 2-3 percent of the population who are diagnosed with gluten intolerance.
The wave of enhanced waters has likely crested. Following the torrent of protein-, fiber- and, of course, vitamin-enhanced water products that washed over the market in recent years it’s safe to declare the category saturated. Any new entries will be in danger of finding themselves drowning in competition and sinking fast. And then there’s the eco problem of all those empty bottles.
Unless, of course, someone starts making omega-3 water. Technology and research are through the roof when it comes to this amazing ingredient. It’s probably the only one nutraceutical that has lived up to its silver-bullet hype, helpful for fetal brain development, cancer protection, heart health, brain health, nerve development, eye health, memory, cognition, mood. The research is good.
All three major sources of omegas — plants, fish and seaweed — had issues until nanotechnology made it possible to purify, concentrate and deodorize, allowing very wide applications, as often reported in these pages. Still, with ocean sustainability and ecology issues figuring large these days, look for lots more plant-derived omegas.
And really look for them, because they will be the folic acid of the next decade. Within five to 10 years, omega-3 fortification will be de rigueur in the same way folate is for some products.