April 10, 2012
by Jeff Gelski
Consumers may want to know how their processed foods and beverages are prepared and what ingredients are in them, which may encourage companies to be more transparent. Difficulty may arise, however, when the companies attempt to explain such complexities without confusing consumers even further.
“Transparency flies in the face of simplicity,” said Linda Eatherton, partner and director, global food and nutrition practice for Ketchum.
She spoke during the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 12 held March 28-29 in Rosemont, Ill.
Several sessions analyzed ways to tell consumers how the food and beverage industry works. Consumers even spoke at a March 28 morning session. The panel featured four baby boomers (ages 56 to 66) and four millenials (ages 26 to 29) who shop regularly in the Chicago area.
The issue of lean finely textured beef (L.F.T.B.) came up and showed how little the panel members knew about it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes the safe food consumption of L.F.T.B., a meat product derived from a process that separates fat from lean beef protein to reduce the overall fat content.
The shopper panel members at Wellness 12 knew L.F.T.B. by another term used often in media reports — “pink slime.”
“It’s like a long, long hot dog or something,” Beverly, age 66, said. “What parts of the animal are they putting in that ground beef? That’s scary.”
Jeff, 56, said he might compare how L.F.T.B. is made to how hot dogs are made. “I don’t want to know,” he said.
The U.S.D.A recently gave school meal programs the opportunity to use meat products with or without L.F.T.B. The action will raise the cost of beef and might lead school meal providers to seek alternative protein sources such as soy and yogurt, said Clare Keating, executive director of account management at Pre-ferred Meal Systems, Inc., a school meal provider based in Berkeley, Ill.
Speaking at a session on school feeding programs March 29, she said the L.F.T.B. controversy was “hysteria” over a product school children have been eating for years.
Speaking at another March 29 session, Ms. Eatherton of Ketchum said as transparency increases consumers may hear issues about the food industry out of context. Consumers may label and condemn a practice without understanding the science.
Explaining plant benefits
During the session with the panel of consumers, both millenials and baby boomers had no clear definitions for terms such as probiotics and antioxidants. Beverly said she viewed probiotics as something that keeps the body’s system running smoothly and that it may be in yogurt. David, 29, said he wonders if antioxidant is just a marketing buzzword.
“How do you put antioxidants in cereal?” he said. “I didn’t see any.”
Might consumers see phytonutrients in plants? Phytonutrients are plant-based components that are thought to promote health. They are typically found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and teas.
Scientists have much to learn about phytonutrients and their effect on human health, said Rashmi Tiwari, Ph.D., principal scientist for PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y. She said in a March 28 session that genotype, agronomic practices, climate, post-harvest conditions, product matrix, processing, storage, packaging and shelf life all may affect phytonutrients.
For example, many phytonutrients are found in an orange peel, which people do not eat, and resveratrol is found in grape skins, which people do eat. Processing also plays a role. Lycopene is more available in tomatoes that have been heated. In contrast, fresh tea leaves are 30% to 40% flavonoids while black tea leaves that have undergone fermentation are less than 10% flavonoids.
Instead of complexity, consumers want to hear a “magic bullet” answer to health questions, said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, while speaking at the same session. Until scientists understand the amount of phytonutrients in items and the source of the phytonutrients, the food industry should stick to a clear message that plant foods as a whole have health benefits, she said.
“It’s time we get back to food,” Ms. Diekman said.
Besides speaking to consumers, food and beverage companies should practice “continuous listening” with them, Ms. Eatherton said. A 2011 Ketchum survey found 68% of consumers worldwide want to recognize all ingredients on a label and 40% want food made with as few ingredients as possible. Companies reducing the use of chemicals also interest consumers.
“This comes up over and over again,” Ms. Eatherton said.
She gave examples of what consumers may want from food companies in 2020. The technology of virtual R.&D. centers may empower consumers to provide their views on a company’s R.&D. efforts. A food value index may involve an individual ranking algorithm for each company. For example, a consumer interested in solving the world’s hunger problems may check out the food value index and buy products from a company that is active in the hunger issue.
At the same session, Christopher Wyse, vice-president of communications for PepsiCo Americas Foods, spoke about how his company listens to consumers. He said some consumers did not like a Doritos commercial during the Super Bowl that showed a dog covering up the death of a cat.
“For the cat lovers in the audience, we heard you loud and clear,” he said.
To provide more transparency on how foods are made, Frito-Lay North America, a business of PepsiCo, ran a commercial that showed farmers that grow potatoes for potato chips. PepsiCo invites members of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration into plants. Consumers also are invited into PepsiCo plants and test kitchens.
Ms. Wyse used another word to describe what PepsiCo was trying to do — demystify.
Lawyer says tea case may affect health claim opportunities
ROSEMONT, ILL. — A U.S. Court for the District of Connecticut ruling that involved a tea company may provide some leeway for companies making health claims, said Tony Pavel, a partner with K&L Gates, Washington. He spoke in a March 28 session at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 12 in Rosemont.
The case involved a qualified health claim for Dr. Lee’s TeaForHealth from Fleminger, Inc., Trumbull, Conn. The claim said, “Green tea may reduce the risk of cancer of the breast and prostate. The F.D.A. has concluded that there is credible evidence supporting this claim although the evidence is limited.”
The Food and Drug Administration did not agree the tea claim met its criteria, Mr. Pavel said. The F.D.A. modified the claim to say, “Green tea may reduce the risk of breast or prostate cancers. F.D.A. does not agree that green tea may reduce that risk because there is very little scientific evidence for the claim.”
Fleminger, Inc. then sued the Department of Health and Human Services, including the F.D.A. Mr. Pavel said the company alleged the F.D.A. violated its constitutional rights by prohibiting truthful statements in its qualified health claim regarding green tea and the incidence of breast and prostate cancers.
The court in Connecticut ruled against the F.D.A. disclaimer. Mr. Pavel said the court ruled the disclaimer was impermissible restriction of speech and that it effectively negated the claim. The court said the disclaimer might be changed to: “Green tea may reduce the risk of breast or prostate cancer although the F.D.A. has concluded that there is very little scientific evidence to support the claim.”
The court remanded Fleminger’s qualified health claim back to the F.D.A. for further action consistent with the court’s opinion.
Mr. Pavel said the court’s decision may represent an avenue for companies to use qualified health claims in the future. He also said he wonders how likely consumers are to read disclaimers.
“Responsible companies need to be responsible with this,” Mr. Pavel said.