IFT Wellness 14: The Food Processor's Dilemma

At almost 600 registered online comments – and nearly all of them negative, David Freedman's article from the July 2013 issue of The Atlantic, How Junk Food Can End Obesity, won't likely give food processors a warm, fuzzy feeling. The article, which questions the perception that processed food can't possibly be healthy, could be considered a mark in the 'win' category for food processors; however, the comments are a reminder of the consumer perception of processed food.

Freedman, who opened up IFT's 2014 Wellness Conference, spoke to nearly 300 food and beverage professionals in R&D, sales/marketing, and nutrition from top consumer packaged goods and ingredient supplier companies. The conference, which took place March 20-21 in Chicago, included industry experts speaking in one of three tracks of sessions: Sodium Reduction, Protein Enhancement, and Sugar Reduction.

Freedman, who is a contributing editor for The Atlantic, opened the conference with his session, The Loud, Confused Enemies of Processed Food. Adopting a similar message, Trevor Butterworth, Editor-at-Large for STATS.org, took the podium for a second opening session, Know Your Food Science History and Overcome Your Public Trust Issues.

Both Freedman and Butterworth noted Michael Pollan's best-selling book, The Ominvore's Dilemma, paints a completely unrealistic picture of food consumption for the majority of consumers. Therein lies the food processor's dilemma: How to convey the message that processed food does not always equal unhealthy.

Freedman encouraged manufacturers to create narrative about their work and products that resonates with consumers, while Butterworth advised food scientists to make food technology exciting and show the positive impact of the profession.

Attendees were also treated to a consumer panel as well as two days of informative break-out sessions on topics such as Acceptability of Low Sodium Foods; Selecting Proteins for Taste and Efficacy and Labeling and Regulatory Considerations for Sugar.