BEST VANTAGE Inc. associates have been devoted attendees of the international Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meetings & Expos (IFT EXPO), held this year in Chicago (July 14-16). This year as in others, our members diligently covered the expo floor, gathering information to discern the consumer and technological trends that shape our food industry. Attendance at this year’s meeting was at a record high, so we were told. Here is a quick summation of this year’s major trends observed:
Clean labels were a dominant theme at this meeting. Food companies are gravitating to ingredients that read well on package labels and avoid ingredients that sound complex and artificial. So, definitely, anything “natural” is “in”. As one of our researchers put it, this means that ingredients such as gluconate, for example, could be in trouble, due to the word’s phonetic resemblance to “gluten” or “glutamate”. Food ingredient companies may want to revisit their marketing materials and reposition their narratives. Incidentally, Global Food Forums will highlight an applied R&D-focused conference on “Clean Labels” October 29-30, in Oakbrook, Illinois. Don’t miss it.
Gluten-free is hot…very hot! We knew that, as we have been doing a fair amount of work in gluten-free R&D. The art and science of gluten-free product development are still new, so opportunities abound. As per earlier posts, BEST VANTAGE believes that the gluten-free market projections provided by product-scan market research firms are way-too low: we project the market value at $70b by 2020. If you doubt us, call us or email us.
Natural colors everywhere. This is definitely a big push, in line with the food industry’s segue into clean label, sustainable and other consumer-friendly narratives. Even flavor companies (such as FONA) are jumping on this trend. There’s a lot of money to be made in this category and, as far as the technical challenges involved…well, that just looks like the color of opportunity. We aren’t there yet, but there has been quite a bit of progress
Proteins and more proteins. Surging cost-and-demand pressures on animal protein ingredients (e.g., egg, dairy), largely from Asia, are stoking interest in new sources of plant proteins. Pulse proteins (peas, chickpeas) are just now coming onto their own, with companies such as Allied Grain Traders (AGT) of Bismarck, North Dakota and Harvest Innovations (Indianola, Iowa) introducing new ingredient offerings. Burcon Nutrasciences Corp. (Vancouver, British Columbia) offered a pea protein isolate technology for licensing, with good flavor. Burcon has also developed a canola protein technology. Up-and-coming in the food industry: oat and potato proteins.
Pulses. Full disclosure – the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council is one of our clients and pulse ingredients have figured prominently in some of our gluten-free work and webinar presentations. Once derisively dismissed as “poor man’s meat”, pulses are now quite culturally chi chi, offering compelling culinary narratives with respect to variety, nutrition, label friendliness, allergen aversion and sustainability. We remain great fans! Prior to the IFT-EXPO, we participated in “Culinary Tour” of the Chicago restaurant scene, sponsored by the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council. The tour featured wonderfully innovative renditions of pulse foods and food ingredients. A wasabi-flavored hummus…fabulous! We have seen the future. Go forth in peas!
Blended natural sweeteners. Two years ago, at the IFT-EXPO in New Orleans, the U.S. food industry witnessed a full-court press (using American basketball terminology) of stevioside, rebaudioside, luo han guo fruit (mogrisides) and other natural sweeteners that promised to sweep the industry. The only problem was that, with the exception of agave, they generally tasted, well…awful! This year these same ingredients were back, blended with other natural sweeteners. They were also very, very credible. Blends of natural (caloric) sweeteners with low or non-caloric sweeteners likely represent the future of our industry.
Sodium reduction. This trend, in our estimation, has peaked and now flat-lined. Companies now have a good understanding on the opportunities and limitations of sodium-reduction alternatives.
For the past six years, BEST VANTAGE Inc. has formulated and tracked technical developments in this category. This year, we noticed a marked flip from sodium reduction to potassium awareness (i.e., potassium is good!), which makes much more nutritional sense. The U.S. population is not so much over-sated with sodium as it potassium deficient. It is also deficient in two other critical nutrients that affect hypertension: calcium (/ vitamin D) and magnesium. It appears as if the food industry and consumer have both caught-on, which should spell excellent opportunities for new food product development. A major wild card that was thrown into the mix was the recent (May, 2013) statement, by the U.S. National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine (IOM), that questioned about the skewed focus of U.S. public health authorities and nutrition nags on the overall public health benefits of dietary sodium-reduction. http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2013/Sodium-Intake-in-Populations-Assessment-of-Evidence.aspx. Let’s see what transpires.
Ethnic flavors. One of the appealing attributes of the U.S. consumer market is its incessant demand for innovation and variety. Combine: the competitive drive for innovation in the American food manufacturing and restaurant industries; heavy influxes of immigrants from the around world, and the peripatetic wanderings of American tourists, and what do you get? Not confusion, but cultural food fusion. This year, Caribbean and South American influences predominated (e.g., Puerto Rican, Peruvian), but we also saw a flowering of East Mediterranean (Turkish, Middle Eastern) flavors and hints and glimmers of African and South Asian cuisines on the horizon. In many of the foods and flavors offered on the IFT-EXPO floor, East met West and South merged with North in ethnic interminglings of exciting new eating sensations. Fusion!
This really is an industry worth celebrating.