This year, we’re moving beyond the “what’s in/what’s out” predictions typical of the past. There are too many overriding themes driving consumer demands in food product development.
For one, fully 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. For another, the National Diabetes Statistics Report released last June showed the number of people with diabetes in the U.S. rose from 28.8 million in 2010 to 29.1 million in 2012.
According to at least one report, the global spread of both conditions has coincided with increased consumption of meats, “empty calories” (refined fats, oils and sugars) and total calories, according to a December 2013 article, “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health” in the journal Nature. The research, led by David Tilman and Michael Clark, compared modern dietary patterns of developed countries to several popular alternatives with regard to health, sustainability and carbon footprint.
The article portends that these three converging forces will ultimately shape food demands. Agriculture contributes at least 25 percent of greenhouse gases and is an unavoidable complicating factor when looking to upcoming food demands. We can see much of this future will playing out in predictions of food trends for 2015.
Innova Market Insights, based in the Netherlands, analyzed global developments affecting food and beverage markets and has an excellent accuracy record for predicting markets. The organization’s recent release of the top 10 trends reflects the basic themes of health and environment. Topping Innova’s list of developments is that of clear labeling, along with marketing to millennials — the 15 to 35 year old set.
Millennials are increasingly uncertain about vague terms such as “natural,” and are seeking clarity and transparency. “Millennials are exerting their influence; they want more information about their food — where it comes from and what’s in it,” says Jennifer Lindsey, regional marketing director for DuPont Nutrition & Health Inc., New Century, Kan. “As a result, we believe we’ll see more health-conscious product development, with thoughtful ingredient choices. While weight management will be addressed, it won’t be in terms of ‘diet’ products. Instead, we’ll see products focused on delivering satiety, energy and positive nutrition, without empty calories.”
Millennials tend to be tech-savvy, well-informed, mobile and anxious to try new things. Innova’s research predicts expanding choices for healthy snacks and convenience foods will be another trend, one that many ingredient providers already are gearing up for.
“Consumers have come a long way in their understanding of the role that proper nutrition plays in long-term overall health and wellness,” says Patrick Morris, communications manager for the Fortitech Premixes division of DSM Nutritional Products Inc., Schenectady, N.Y.
“Because our fast-paced lifestyles in many cases leave little time to regularly sit down for a well-rounded meal, fortified, functional products are an ideal vehicle to help fill the nutrient gaps most of us have,” Morris continues. “Increasing health and wellness concerns have moved functional foods and drinks from a niche segment to a mainstream product now readily available in one’s local supermarket.”
According to Morris, since baby boomers are the largest consumer segment, the products that will be of interest to them include those addressing the areas of bone and joint health (including osteoporosis) and cardiovascular health.
“The ingredients I believe will continue to be most in demand are glucosamine and chondroitin for bone/joint health, along with calcium, vitamin D3 and magnesium for osteoporosis,” he continues. “For heart health, nutrients like CoQ10, resveratrol, omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols and stanols … address these health concerns.”
Heading the list of ingredients for the healthy snack and convenience food categories is protein. “Consumers’ changing snacking habits will continue to fuel demand for protein and fiber in nutrition bars, beverages and dairy,” says DuPont’s Lindsey. “In dairy, the protein trend will mature beyond Greek yogurt into other areas, such as cottage cheese, ice cream and frozen yogurt. And carrying the protein trend a step further, we’ll likely continue to see a focus on meat alternatives in a meat-like format.”
Protein presently is the centerpiece of most modern dietary regimens. While soy protein is now considered mainstream and whey continues to grow in popularity, the hunt is on for new sources that can reduce cost and environmental impact.
According to Tilman and Clark, production methods have a powerful effect on greenhouse gases. For example, catching fish by dragging nets across the ocean floor produces greenhouse gases at three times the rate of traditional fishing.
“We continue to see a demand from consumers for clean and sustainably caught — and 100-percent traceable — seafood, such as albacore tuna that are troll-line caught, one at a time, by Pacific Northwest fishermen,” says Mike Babcock, owner of Oregon Seafoods Inc. (www.oregonseafoods.com), Coos Bay, Ore. (also doing business as Sea Fare Pacific -- www.seafarepacific.com). “Food trends for 2015 will continue to be food that is produced by local or U.S. manufacturers, packed in BPA-free packaging, free of preservatives and additives, non-GMO and gluten free.”
Tilman and Clark also point out that raising and processing meat from ruminant animals (beef and lamb) contribute greenhouse gases at a rate 250 times that of legumes (beans, peas and lentils). This is one reason for the rise in popularity of legume proteins. However, when animals are sustainably grazed on land not suitable for growing crops, they provide environmental benefit by cycling nutrients.
Two other trends to look for, according to Innova, are more algae protein applications and the use of alternative high-protein sources that include several species of insects.
Also in the new year, there will be increased interest in so-called “good fats” and “good carbs,” according to Innova. With regard to healthy fats, this trend translates to a rising interest in sources of omega-3 fatty acids as well as a return to naturally occurring fats like nuts, including coconut and eco-friendly palm oil, along with butter as a replacement for margarines other sources of hydrogenated oils and trans-fatty acids.
“The increase in demand for palm oil has also meant an increase in demand for more farm and plantation land,” says Courtney LeDrew, marketing manager for Cargill Inc. Cocoa & Chocolate, Lititz, Pa. “This has raised environmental and social concerns, including forest and habitat conservation, peatland conversion, the need to protect waterways and the rights of indigenous communities.
"Cargill has made a commitment that the palm oil products we supply to our customers in Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand will be certified according to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil standards this year, and for all our customers worldwide by 2020.”
Nuts are healthy sources of fatty acids that also contain protein and a wide variety of micronutrients. Walnuts continue to be popular, as they are a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and even peanuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. This is the same healthful fatty acid dominant in olive oil, a prominent feature of the popular Mediterranean diet. For the upcoming year, nuts fit well into every category of modern health solutions and figure prominently in most healthy eating plans.
Grains of change
The term “good carbs,” which has become interchangeable with “low glycemic index,” might finally begin to lose clout as more studies show that this highly variable measure has little predictive or therapeutic value.
Whole grains — ingredients that better constitute healthy sources of carbohydrate — will be in greater demand in 2015. There simply is no practical way to feed a large population healthfully and sustainably without the use of whole grains, although method of preparation is certainly important. The simpler, the better.
The earliest cultivation of grains goes back about 11,000 years, although this is by no means the first use of grains as food. It only marks the beginning of their cultivation. Unquestionably they were important sources of food for tens of thousands of years before domestication as were other foods, vegetables, nuts and animal products. In fact, we have a difficult time tracing the first use of grass seeds from which we have derived modern grains.
Most Americans fail to meet fiber recommendations despite the science that demonstrates the benefits of a healthy diet that includes fiber and whole grains. “Fiber continues to be an important trend, both for people who are actively seeking it in a variety of foods and for those who don’t think about it very often,” says Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills Corp. (www.ardentmills.com), Denver.
“Fiber will play an increasingly important role in snack foods," he continues. "Data show Americans are snacking more, and many food companies are making these foods healthier and more satisfying. This is particularly important in K-12 school foodservice, where all snacks, even those sold in vending machines, now must comply with USDA guidelines.”
Studies related to the gut microbiome and its many connections to health are increasing in number and will continue to drive interest in dietary fiber and its expanded applications this year. “Although the growth in snacking has been a powerful driver for extruded foods, one area that hasn’t kept pace has been the nutritional profile of many items, particularly with regard to whole grains and fiber,” says Zachery Sanders, also a director of marketing for Ardent Mills.
“Continuing improvements in technology and formula optimization make extrusion a new frontier for whole grains," he continues. "Ancient grains such as amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum, teff and buckwheat, as well as custom multigrain blends can be used in crisps and flakes to add whole grain nutrition, exotic interest and culinary authenticity.”
Most ancient grains also are gluten free, another theme that will continue in popularity in the near future, as will sprouted grains. “Sprouted grains are another fast-growing category also on-trend with consumers,” adds Sanders. “Sprouted White Spring Whole Wheat Flour can be used in a number of ways in a variety of applications, from breads to breakfast cereals. Additionally, whole grain and seed mixtures can add texture and visual appeal to a wide range of popular foods.”
Grains fit well within the predictions by the Sterling Rice Group (www.srg.com), Boulder, Colo., for an increased presence of “advanced Asian cuisine,” a category that includes Thai, Japanese and Filipino foods. Rice is the most dominant grain worldwide.
Something sweet this way comes
Naturally occurring sugars are expected to compete favorably with added sugars and artificial sweeteners. For example, sugar derived from coconut is gaining interest because of its more natural appeal.
“Consumers want to reduce sugar consumption, but are shifting away from traditional, artificial low- and no-calorie sweeteners in favor of alternatives such as stevia and erythritol,” says Scott Fabro, global business development director for Cargill Inc.’s Corn Milling North America (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis.
“Nowhere is this more evident than in beverages, where the use of these low- and no-calorie sweeteners has doubled in the past six years. Increasingly, consumers recognize products such as stevia sweeteners, as healthy and good tasting.”
Expect to see more real fruits and vegetables of all kinds on the market to meet the increased demand for natural colors and flavors. Fruits and vegetables convey a healthier image to products.
Popular new items in these related categories include ready-to-eat steamed and peeled organic baby beets, baby Brussel sprouts, steamed garbanzo beans, steamed lentils and steamed artichoke hearts, according to Robert Schueller director of public relations for Melissa's/World Variety Produce, Los Angeles.
Sterling Rice Group adds so-called “ugly” fruits and cannabis to future fruit and vegetable trends. About the former: "In line with growing concerns over food waste, this French-born trend gives misshapen and funny-looking produce a place at the table and in recipes where looks don’t matter." Despite some interesting press about the latter, we have our doubts whether marijuana will work its way into mainstream foods.
The debate over the impact of genetically modified foods and whether they will get mandatory labels is by no means decided. Even though a November 2014 ballot initiative in his home state failed (by just 0.06 percent), “The non-GMO movement and debate will continue to be on the forefront of the political and food industry agendas,” predicts Domonic Biggi, CEO of Beaverton Foods Inc. (beavertonfoods.com), Hillsboro, Ore.
Biggi also predicts, “Consumers want affordable and locally produced foods, as well as healthy specialty products with unique and innovative flavor profiles."
At the very least, the continuing GMO debate will shape how we see the future of food and spur more interest in organic foods and organic food research.
“The next year promises to be an exciting year for science supporting the benefits of organic,” says Jessica Shade, director of science programs for The Organic Center (organic-center.org) Washington, D.C. “2015 is the International Year of the Soils, so keep an eye out for more research showing organic farming’s benefits to soil health."
The Organic Center, for example, is collaborating with the National Soil Project to test organic matter on organic versus conventional farms to quantify the extent to which conventional fertilizers have degraded soils. "We will be collecting samples throughout the year with a project completion estimated date of mid-2016,” she explains It’s important to recall that one recent research study suggested that organic foods indeed are richer in important phytochemicals than their conventionally-grown counterparts.