2018 Food and Beverage Industry Outlook

Invest in GMO labeling, not home delivery meal kits, plus five other suggestions for 2018.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Our January cover story for years has been an outlook story, a well-researched guess at the trends and other things that could impact the food & beverage industry in the new year. Not this year.

If you're looking for fascinating, trendy things that are fun to read but will never impact your business, then consider Pandan Southeast Asian cuisine, ube (purple yam) and kimchi. Want obvious, mundane ones? Use more protein, especially plant protein. Consider "mindful" consumerism. Look into high-pressure pasteurization.

There. Done.

This year Food Processing wanted to get not only a little more practical but a bit more forceful. There are some issues and pseudo-trends out there that every food and beverage processor should be addressing. So we offer you not just the trends for 2018 but suggestions on what to pursue – and a few things to avoid – in the new year. Including a little tough love. If you'd be disappointed not to see mentions of Amazon-Whole Foods, millennials and President Trump, they're in this story somewhere.

So repeat after us: "I resolve to…".

Become More Transparent

Yes, we know you've heard this one before, ad nauseum, but it had to be listed first. Of course you're doing something about it. But are you really?

It's a fine line that the industry must walk between being open and shocking consumers so much they want to become organic farmers. Food manufacturers – and maybe especially their marketers -- have shot themselves in the feet many times with packaging that has enough headspace for a small family, breakfast cereals being touted as brain food (without any clinical proof) and chocolate-covered goji berries that contain no goji. Shall we go on?

Right now, this whole country is grappling with pros and cons of transparency. The #MeToo movement is uncovering decades of sexual harassment, and police excessive force is now documented – or disproven – by police body cameras or iPhones.

We don't know if those societal trends will die down any time soon, but consumers' desire for knowledge about their food looks like it will be around for a while. How will you feed that craving?

How do you present a story consumers will accept? Are they really ready to accept what's in their food? They love sausage, but do they want to know how it's made? After all, all food is made up of chemicals (so is the human body), and most food is processed to make it more nutritious, safe, convenient, etc. But consumers are happier believing an army of chefs has personally and individually produced a meal for them, even if it retails for only $4.

You've got to start somewhere. If every food & beverage company started somewhere, we'll be having a much different discussion on this subject next year … if at all.

Embrace GMO Labeling

Depending upon how you read the law passed by Congress in 2016, USDA had until this July to either enforce national labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs) or to publish rules on how food processors should label for GMOs. If the former, it's not happening; the latter is still a possibility.

Nevertheless, GMO labeling already is under way. Forward-looking companies such as Campbell Soup and Nestle USA already have a GMO statement on their products, and we've even seen a few SmartLabels, the QR code that, depending upon your opinion, either legally hides the presence of GMOs or reports them and much more information about the product … if you use your smartphone.

Until USDA provides direction, it's not certain either approach is appropriate. Even so, you should prepare now for GMO labeling. Moreover, you should embrace it.

This fight is over, and the battle has cost you plenty already. Continuing to fight will only make matters worse. It's probably been the main cause for the resignations (technically, non-renewals) of six prominent members of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. (Campbell Soup, Nestle USA, Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods and Unilever). Maybe they didn't want to have criminal records, as GMA was found guilty in 2016 of violating Washington state’s campaign-finance disclosure laws by shielding the companies that contributed to its campaign to defeat a 2013 ballot initiative to label GMOs.

On the other hand, embracing GMO labeling might win you some points for honesty and transparency (see resolution No. 1). Do you want to do some real good, for consumers, yourself and the entire food industry? If you can't get all the GMOs out of your products, educate consumers on how beneficial and safe GMOs are. No one said you had to remove them, just label them.

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