Cloudy with a chance of health
Dec. 1, 2011
by Charlotte Atchley
More than 6,000 products in 23 countries carry the Whole Grain Stamp as of October, according to the Whole Grains Council (WGC). The International Dairy, Deli,
Bakery Association (IDDBA)’s “What’s in Store 2012” reports that the high-fiber and whole-grain food market will reach $25 billion by 2015. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and the federal government’s Interagency Working Group proposal to limit marketing foods to children to “healthy” foods all contribute to increasingly health-conscious consumers.
There may not be any revolutionary trends on the horizon for 2012 quite yet, but it’s widely expected that movements toward functional, better-for-you food options and natural ingredients will gain strength in the coming year. Contributing factors to these trends include the concern over childhood obesity and an aging population. Food manufacturers also have to contend with higher commodity prices, inflationary
pressures and a lagging economy that gives little indication of picking up in the new year.
Despite experts’ assurance that the US economic recession ended in June 2009, consumers still aren’t spending like it’s over. That’s partially because painfully persistent high unemployment rates linger, and the lack of confidence in the government and the economy as a whole continues to prompt consumers to tighten their belts. When budgeting for groceries, many shoppers now look for foods that go further and do more for their bodies.
“With the economy the way it is, people are looking for good value at a good price,” said Judi Adams, president, Grain Foods Foundation. “They’re trying to make the least expensive meals possible and provide some nutrition for their families.”
With lifestyles becoming increasingly on-the-go and families trying to save a buck, the line between snacks and meals has been steadily blurring. Consumers want their snack foods to do more than just stave off hunger. Snacks need to offer some nutritional benefits as well. Baked good staples such as bread and rolls may be resistant to sagging economic times, but indulgent sweet goods can use an extra boost of promised nutrition to coax their way into the shopping cart.
Adding functional ingredients to baked and snack foods is not new, but it continues to gain traction. Functional foods provide a vehicle for nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamin D and probiotics — just to name some of the extras that will continue to grab people’s attention in 2012.
“About 10 years ago, I was promoting functional products that go beyond normal nutrition, and I didn’t get much reception,” said Craig Bair, PhD, president, Food Solutions, Inc., Greensboro, NC. “But it seems like [functional food] has garnered a lot of interest and is the way [the industry] is going now.”
Mintel analyst David Jago said at the Institute of Food Technologist meeting earlier this summer that sales of functional foods may have slowed with the recession; however, fellow Mintel analyst Lynn Dornblaser
expected sales to pick up especially in products for senior citizens. As the US population ages, experts predicted demand for extra-fiber, whole-grain, and probiotic- and vitamin D-enriched products will increase.
“There’s a huge desire for healthier lifestyles,” Dr. Bair said. “Seniors want to live longer and healthier. They want to be able to do more things.”
Fiber and whole grains, known for aiding digestive health, weight loss and heart health, easily fit into baked goods. IDDBA’s “What’s in Store 2012” report cited the 2010 DGA, and nutrition experts’ persistent push for greater consumption of whole grains will prompt consumers to keep looking for and purchasing whole-grain products.
IDDBA’s “What’s in Store 2012” reported that 52.5% of US households consume whole-wheat bread vs. white bread on a regular basis. Cynthia Harriman, WGC president, said she believes this is because of not only the well-documented health benefits but also the maturing American consumer’s palate. Consumers choose whole-wheat first for its health benefits and then find white bread to be bland in flavor once they try to go back to it, Ms. Harriman said.
Theresa Cogswell, baking industry consultant, BakerCogs, Inc., Olathe, KS, and Baking & Snack
columnist, also has noticed wider acceptance of whole-grain bread over white, not only in statistical data but in anecdotal evidence. “I talk to people whose children have never eaten white bread,” she said.
Probiotics looks like another trend that will continue to gain ground in the baking industry in 2012 with ingredient companies developing shelf-stable and heat-stable strains. Mostly used in dairy products and beverages, probiotics have been appearing in other foods such as breakfast cereals, cheese and cookies. A 2009 report from the marketing firm
Packaged Facts referred to probiotics and other digestive enzymes as “the new frontier when it comes to digestive health.”
Now probiotics and probiotic/prebiotic blends are making their way into breads. For example, at the beginning of this year, Orlando Baking, Cleveland, OH, began producing its True Grain line of wheat breads made with probiotic cultures from Ganeden Biotech, also based in Cleveland.
“The problem was probiotics had to be refrigerated to maintain viability, and Ganeden has developed strains of it that are shelf-stable and heat-stable so you can bake it,” said Steve Feinberg, owner, Mid America Food Sales, Ltd., Northbrook, IL.
In addition to seeking out foods that pack a stronger nutritional punch, consumers now look for products with fewer substances that have been linked to diseases and other health problems. It doesn’t appear that experts or the public will grant sodium a reprieve for contributing to rampant cardiovascular damage throughout the US. The American Heart
Association and American Medical Association have both called upon the food and restaurant industries to reduce sodium in their products by 50%. In its report “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the US,” the Institute of Medicine asked the Food and Drug Administration to regulate sodium reduction.
However, despite warnings and pressure from the government, reducing sodium is tricky business. Remove too much, and taste — which is always No. 1 in consumers’ minds — goes out the window. Mr. Feinberg recalled Campbell Soup Co., Camden, NJ, attempting to reformulate its soups to reduce sodium only to have soup sales plummet.
“Campbell’s tried to make a conscious effort to do what was right, and the consumer rebelled,” Mr. Feinberg said. Campbell Soup’s experience serves as a warning to other companies: Just because healthy is trendy doesn’t mean consumers won’t respond negatively to changes in taste, texture and mouthfeel.
Furthermore, in breads and other yeast-raised baked goods, salt plays a critical functional role that often makes reducing it difficult — or possibly more expensive — to do.
Ingredient companies have bakers and snack manufacturers covered when it comes to filling their products with more fiber and recent developments have made probiotics shelf-stable for use in baked goods. However, consumers are flipping over packages and reading ingredient lists and demanding food companies give them products that not only are rich in nutrition but meet those needs naturally.
“I think the focus for the coming year is really going to be on using natural nutrients versus fortified,” Dr. Bair said. “I think the savvy consumer is tired of seeing these nutrients flashed up on the package.
It’s a little overwhelming and confusing, so if food companies can use naturally nutrient-dense foods or ingredients, I think the reception is going to be far greater from the consumer.”
Ms. Harriman said she agreed but sympathized with food companies that need artificial ingredients to meet processing efficiency requirements.
“I have been in enough bread factories and talked to enough companies who make bread that I’m very sympathetic to the challenges of making any bread,” she said. “To meet the needs of a factory environment, they’ve had to add dough conditioners or whatever to make it all move through the system in a way that’s economically feasible for them.”
Increasing childhood obesity rates also have parents becoming more aware, for better or worse, about the things they pack in their kids’ lunchboxes and put on the dinner plate. Parents desire products with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and natural ingredients when shopping for their families.
“Parents are taking a look at how they feed their kids,” Ms. Cogswell said. “They’re more educated, or at least they think they’re more educated, so they’re trying to makebetter decisions.”
Dr. Bair said the childhood obesity epidemic will continue to be a primary issue and will be addressed by the industry through the addition of more fruits and vegetables, specifically legumes, in snack foods.
More education and awareness about the ingredients in food, whether the education is good or bad, leaves consumers searching for foods with specific positive and negative nutrients as well as natural or “real” ingredients vs. artificial preservatives and colors.
That is, of course, if the price is right.