Tracking trends at the Worldwide Food Expo

by Jeff Gelski
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On the exposition floor of the Worldwide Food Expo, held Oct. 24 to 27 in Chicago, processors and suppliers talked about efficiency. The higher-than-average cost of doing business has prompted many processors to seek equipment that will further improve operational efficiencies and reduce the impact of input inflation. In the expo’s education sessions, the discussion focused more on trends, specifically sustainability and the incorporation of newer milk flavors in schools.

Addressing a workshop on consumer trends on Oct. 25, Kate Peringer, marketing communications manager for The Hartman Group, Inc., Bellevue, Wash., said that in the consumer’s vernacular, "sustainable" is fast becoming the new "organic." Yet few consumers are able to give an accurate definition of sustainable or sustainability when it comes to food production and food choices.

That may mean companies still have time to control the narrative for so-called sustainable products, which are among the fastest-growing and profitable in food retailing, Ms. Peringer said, but more than marketing and pretty, environmentally sensitive packaging is involved. These wealthy, influential consumers want to see commitment.

For consumers who identify as either "Mid-Levels," those who buy sustainable products, but do not seek them out, or "Core," those who seek sustainable products for purchase, certain words carry importance, said Ms. Peringer.

"‘Local’ is key when you’re talking about sustainability with these people," she said. "And all things fresh is really resonating right now, especially for produce, meat and dairy. In fact, we looked at the center of the store and it’s kind of dying.

"You have to understand not only who is buying these products, but the occasion for their use."

She added, "The shopping experience is huge to your Mid-Level customer," pointing out that according to Hartman’s research, shoppers spend an average of 22 minutes per visit to a conventional supermarket, but 49 minutes per visit to supermarkets such as Whole Foods, even though the shoppers do not buy any more products at Whole Foods.

"They just love the experience of it, the way the produce and meats are arranged, the lighting, everything," she said. "It’s a beautiful environment that they enjoy being a part of."

Among sustainable-sensitive consumers, other key factors that go into food-buying decisions include a company’s reputation as a force for social good. Hartman’s data indicate that "globally conscious" consumers believe purchase decisions are at least as important as votes. According to the organization’s survey, 65% of these shoppers want to buy from companies that provide safe working conditions for its employees; 62% want to buy from companies striving to reduce waste and pollution; 51% will buy from companies that give good wages and benefits to their employees (with the consumers, not the companies, deciding what "good" is); and 50% will buy from companies that seek to reduce the overall environmental and social impact of their production.

At the same time, Ms. Peringer noted, consumers are slow to change.

"Many consumers are making incremental individual changes, but primarily in activities that are low-sacrifice and low-risk, that require little to no monetary investment, and that need no significant change in behavior," she said. "Changes toward a sustainable lifestyle are more about making conscious decisions and choices and investments of time rather than purchasing products."

Milk program wants more flavor options in schools

CHICAGO — Milk producers need to increase the pace when it comes to flavor formulating, according to the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), because an opportunity may exist to increase the amount of milk sold at schools.

The presentation "Flavored Milk in Schools" given Oct. 25 at the Worldwide Food Expo listed flavored milk statistics from Prime Consulting Group, Inc. and provided information on an education workshop offered by MilkPEP.

Milk lags behind other beverages in capitalizing on flavored sales. Sales of flavored products for Aquafina and Dasani grew to 8% of the businesses in 2007 from 1% in 2002, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago, and Prime Consulting Group, Bannockburn, Ill. Gatorade originally came in two flavors, lemon lime and orange. Now, other flavors make up 71% of Gatorade’s sales, said Doug Adams, president of Prime Consulting.

Sales of flavored milk grew at a less impressive rate, accounting for 8% of sales in 2007 from 7% in 2002.

Milk accounts for a 53% share of beverages sold at U.S. schools, according to Prime Consulting. In the meal line, milk accounts for 80% of the volume. Juice and water account for the other 20%. In a la carte and other school beverage outlets while milk makes up 4%. Juice, water and sports drinks are at 75%, and carbonated soft drinks are at 21%.

Students in kindergarten through 12th grade consume 3.69 8-oz servings of milk per week, according to Prime Consulting. When white milk and chocolate milk is offered, students consume 3.45 servings per week. The servings increase to 3.77 when white milk, chocolate milk and one other flavored milk is made available. When white milk, chocolate milk and at least two other flavors of milk are made available, the servings rise to 3.87.

An experiment in St. Louis gave testament to the effects of flavored milk and turned out better than MilkPEP personnel expected. Thirty school districts began offering white milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk and vanilla milk instead of just white and chocolate. Milk consumption increased to 3.44 servings per week in the spring of 2005 from 2.86 servings per week in the fall of 2004.

"Of the 30 districts involved, all 30 said, ‘You’re not going to stop, are you?’" Mr. Adams said.

By the fall of 2006, students were consuming 4.60 servings per week.

Besides flavors options, milk manufacturers should be aware of calorie amounts. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation in its school beverage guidelines says 8-oz servings of flavored milk should be less than 150 calories by Aug. 31, 2008. About 70% of flavored milk at schools currently would fail, Mr. Adams said.

Just like with flavors, other beverages have an upper hand on milk in calories. Izze brand beverages and Fizz Ed beverages sold at schools both have 90-100 calories per serving.

The MilkPEP workshop is designed to allow milk manufacturers to offer quality flavored milk products within the calorie guidelines set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The 3.5-hour workshop includes 2 hours of taste testing and working on the milk manufacturer’s plan, Mr. Adams said. MilkPEP encourages milk manufacturers to invite a flavor company to participate.

At its Worldwide Food Expo booth, Givaudan Flavors, which has a U.S. office in Cincinnati, listed different flavors of milk and a name for each of the flavors. Besides Awesome Vanilla and Screamin’ Strawberry, other flavors were Banana Bonanza, Orange Cream Extreme, The Coolest Caramel, Mixed Berry Blast and Cookies & Cream Supreme.

Tate & Lyle, P.L.C., London, provided samples of a new chocolate milk prototype designed for schools. When a stabilizer blend and a cocoa blend are used, the chocolate milk has 140 calories per 240 milliliters. When a stabilizer blend, a cocoa blend and sucralose sweetener are used, the chocolate milk has 120 calories per 240 milliliters.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, November 13, 2007, starting on Page 34. Click here to search that archive.

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