Consumer food preferences and trends drive the manufacturing industry and impact all facets from supply chain management to in-plant processes and distribution. So what trends are we seeing for 2015? To come up with our Top Trends list, we reviewed and compiled predictions from some of the top forecasters, including Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert, working with ConAgra Foods; Sterling-Rice Group (SRG), a brand-development company; Technomic, a food research and consulting firm; Mintel, a market-research firm; and our own recent Trend Impact presentations. Following are the results.
Top 4 Food Trends that Will Impact the Food Industry
1. Healthy Eating. Some food trends come and go, while others—such as healthy eating—seem to just continue to evolve and grow. While seemingly a good thing, this evolution, however, has not always been positive. This is primarily due to the many definitions, conceptions, and misconceptions about healthy food. Organic, natural, and local have all moved into the spotlight of “healthy” without any real consumer understanding of what these really are. And for good reason—with natural and local having no real federal definitions, products can be labeled as such with little validation.
While organic labeling is controlled by USDA’s National Organic Program, there is still a great deal of misconception, in that nowhere in its definition does USDA require, or even state, that organic is healthier, yet consumers are willing to pay more than twice the price for organic over conventional believing it to be more nutritious and better for them.
Labeling also is going past the package, with innovative apps becoming available that calculate nutritional content of meals. A quick scan of the bar code of the items used and input of additional required information brings up a computation of the carbs, fats, proteins, and calories of the foods on the plate.
Interestingly, the trend toward healthy eating has impacted younger generations much more than ever in the past. In particular, “Generation Z” (those born after Millennials) seem to tend toward simplicity and health in their food choices—both in the foods themselves and in the preparation methods. While previous generations thrilled to the convenience of ready-to-eat, microwavable foods, Gen Z often selects stove-top cooking and fresh ingredients, adding their own spark to flavorize the foods.
At the other end of the age spectrum is the increased “grazing” by Baby Boomers. However, this snacking is not based on traditional chips and pop, rather it focuses on nutritious foods that are rich in protein, fiber, Omega3, etc.
2. Global Adventuring, With a Focus on Asia. Consumers are inundated with new and adventurous foods from the food and cooking TV shows to Internet blogs and recipes—many of which include exotic ingredients that can only be sourced from outside the U.S. As such, U.S. food companies are increasing their global sourcing which brings with it food safety and quality challenges, such as those discussed in this month’s special section on China (beginning on page 12).
In this global growth is a particular emphasis on Asian foods, which has been trending for years, but is beginning to bring an added complexity and a focus on true-to-region foods which are spicier and less Americanized. Additionally, cuisines from less-prevalent countries are now becoming popular, such as those of Korean, Northern Vietnamese (Issan), Thai, and Filipino foods.
This rise of Asian foods, many of which are grilled, has also brought an increased interest in smoked and charcoaled foods. One of these, based on an ancient style of cooking is the use of Thai or Japanese charcoals. These woods burn odorless and smokeless at very high heats enabling the food to cook quickly while retaining natural flavors. At the other end of the grilling spectrum are the smoked foods that use the smoke and odor to impart flavors to foods that you may never have thought to smoke, such as butter and cocktails, along with the standards of meats and vegetables. This increased focus on smoking foods is occurring in homes as well as in restaurants—year round.
An additional interesting factor in the rise of Asian foods is the “upscaling” of ramen noodles, long an Asian (and U.S. college) staple food. In today’s foods, as Technomic noted, there’s just something about Asia.
3. Gluten Free—Plus. An off-shoot of healthy eating, gluten-free has become a buzzword today—and not just for the celiac or gluten-sensitive consumer. Rather, with nearly one-fourth of consumers currently said to be following a gluten-free diet, sales and product availability have increased well past the 1% of the U.S. population estimated to actually have celiac disease. In fact, the gluten-free market is estimated to reach $8.8 billion for 2014—which is an increase of more than 60% over 2012.
From this growth, along with that of probiotics, forecasters are predicting that these same gluten-free-focused consumers will be turning their attention to fermented foods that either have live cultures or are preserved in bacteria-boosting liquids (e.g., yogurt, sauerkraut) to further improve their digestive health. This also will impact their food preparation, with such foods moving from side items to main-plate staples.
On the downside of this healthy eating, like the #1 trend (page 34), are the misunderstandings and misinformation on gluten-free and similar limited-option diets. While these can have health benefits, focusing too intently on any single food group can negatively impact health instead. In fact, recent research has focused on healthy eating’s trending toward orthorexia nervosa—that is, having an unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating. As explained by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), it begins as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully; the person then becomes fixated on food quality and purity, and this limits food choices further and further, in both variety and calories; then the person’s health suffers. While gluten-free is a necessity for some, the single-minded focus on or elimination of a food group can cause a lack of intake of vitamins, fiber, or other needed nutrition.
4. Local and Micro-Local. The “Buy Local” movement has been on an increase and is now impacting everything from house-purified water to regional seafood to locally manufactured products such as craft beers and liquors. To ensure they are not left out of the trend, some large and national companies have taken a regional approach to certain foods, purchasing local ingredients, creating their own “craft” products, or simply highlighting the production of regional manufacturing facilities. While this can provide some inroads, the “Know Your Farmer” trend has turned many consumers toward farmers’ markets and similar local purchasing options … though the limited growing season of many regions of the U.S. obviously create some difficulty for purely local.
The trend is amplified by the anti-processed foods activists, and, possibly in reaction to that, has moved beyond “Buy local” to “Make it yourself” (as also noted in the Gen Z trends of #1), through the availability of products such as craft-beer and home-soda machines, ingredients, and kits, as well as classes in all types of food and beverage prep and creation.
4 More Trends to Watch
5. Online Ordering/Home Delivery. As the old saying goes, “Everything old is new again.” A year ago, we thought of the milkman as a quaint old-world tradition we’d never see again. Today, you can have your milk delivered to your door along with your lettuce, orange juice, and ice cream—at a similar, or sometimes lower, cost than by standing in line at the grocery store. Today’s online grocery shopping may be completely different than leaving a note on the door for the milkman, but it is fast becoming a shopping convenience. Not only are local distributors providing the service, but national online systems, such as Amazon, are offering everything from yogurt to bananas. With the number of shopping and delivery service companies vying for homeowner’s grocery dollars, it is expected to continue to expand in both urban and rural areas; and the products are expected to evolve to cater to this new style of shopping.
6. Kosher. Both the food industry and the Jewish consumer are driving an increase in kosher foods. With consumers seeking these foods as a sustainable, culture-conscious option, the industry has stepped up with more variety and higher quality to fulfill the niche. The wave is bringing about new products and small businesses, such as artisan Jewish delis and handcrafted bagel shops, as their seeming purity appeals to the health-conscious consumer—Jewish or not.
7. Social Responsibility. Consumers are looking beyond food products to the way a company conducts business and impacts its environment, society, and the world as a whole. No longer can companies use child labor in other countries without dealing with backlash from concerned consumers; Fair Trade has become big business; and the demand for transparency in ingredients and production is only going to increase.
8. Cannabis Cuisine. Recreational use of marijuana may be legal only in the states of Colorado and Washington today, but it is unlikely to stop there, particularly with nearly half the states and Washington, D.C. allowing medicinal use. And once it became legal, it started getting infused in everything from beverages to chocolates to body lotion. Keep an eye on this budding trend as it works its way through the challenges and potholes of a new, growing industry. (See QA September/October 2014 for a profile on cannabis-infused foods.)
The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Food Safety Trends
The industry is continuing to evolve in food safety as well as other food trends. Keri Dawson, vice president of industry solutions and advisory services at MetricStream, expects 2015 to see the industry:
1. Preparing for FSMA implementation. With the final rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) expected in 2015 and 2016, food and beverage organizations will be putting increased focus on preparing for compliance. Organizations are expected to increase their investments in risk-based preventive approaches to food safety and quality, with some already in the process of assembling their internal teams, hiring external consultants and experts, identifying the associated risks, and working toward creating a more pervasive culture of food safety. The majority of organizations will look to adopt and follow this approach throughout 2015.
2. Integrating food safety initiatives with enterprise governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) programs. Today’s rapidly changing risk and regulatory landscape has led organizations to integrate their oversight functions, such as enterprise risk, compliance, and auditing, with their quality and safety compliance programs. In 2015, more and more companies are expected to integrate these functions and programs to gain a more unified view of their real-time risk and compliance profile, better understand the impact of quality risk on enterprise risk, and harmonize their enterprise-wide compliance management efforts.
3. Establishing a culture of quality and safety across the supply chain. Given the reputational and financial damage associated with food safety incidents and recalls in 2014, organizations are expected to focus on improving their supplier quality and compliance management programs in 2015 by adopting industry standards such as GFSI, to help increase reliability and efficacy. By driving a culture of quality and safety across the supply chain, organizations will benefit from greater collaboration across multiple tiers of suppliers, and be better poised to build more loyal relationships with their customers. In the year ahead, organizations also will focus more on driving forward sustainability initiatives that make more efficient use of energy and natural resources, with a focus on minimizing their environmental and societal impacts.