LAS VEGAS — There is a gap between what most people in the food industry know about fermentation and what the average consumer knows. The Fermentation Association is striving to narrow that gap by promoting the process’ health benefits and its contributions to flavor and innovation.

“We really see fermentation as having a resurgence,” said Amelia Nielson-Stowell, editor of The Fermentation Association, during a Jan. 15 presentation at the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Jan. 15-17 in Las Vegas. “It is experiencing a renaissance right now.

“Fermentation never went away. It just became less of a common type of food craft, especially in the US where Americans became accustomed to other types of food processing.”

Founded in 2017, The Fermentation Association boasts approximately 400 members across a diverse range of product categories, including alternative proteins, beer, cheese, chocolate, coffee, kombucha, pickled vegetables, wine, yogurt and others.

During the presentation, Ms. Nielson-Stowell said fermentation checks a lot of on-trend boxes for consumers, including natural, sustainable, healthy and new flavors.

“Those last two are where we see people coming into the category,” she said. “They either are trying a new food and they like the flavor, or they are trying a fermented food, because they have heard about the health benefits.”

But standing in the way of promoting the health benefits of fermented foods is a lack of clinical research.

“One of the challenges of fermentation is there really is not enough research demonstrating the health benefits of the process,” Ms. Nielson-Stowell said. “There is a lot in yogurt, a lot in dairy, and part of that is the dairy industry has a lot of money to conduct clinical trials into yogurt and its health benefits.”

On the positive side is publications like Today’s Dietician, which is read by registered dietitians, continue to list fermented foods as a leading source of nutritious foods.

Globally, the market research company Technavio predicts the market for fermented foods will reach $846 billion by 2027. The Fermentation Association partnered with Spins Data to take a deeper dive into the US market for fermented foods, excluding sales of beer, wine and cheese, and found sales reached $11.33 billion in 2022.

“We wanted to take a dive into the smaller segments of fermentation,” Ms. Nielson-Stowell said. “It's exciting to see it’s growing without those major players from alcohol and cheese products.”

Categories seeing growth included fermented vegetables, frozen yogurt, condiments and kombucha.

Pickles still dominate the fermented vegetable space, but the Spins study found kimchi made up 16% of the category in 2022, up from 7% in 2021. In condiments, soy sauce is the leader, but demand for more international flavors have supported growth in gochujang, tamari and natto.

To bring momentum to the fermented foods market, The Fermentation Association is focused on consumer education.

“How can we educate consumers?” Ms. Nielson-Stowell said. “One of the main tips is simple messaging.

“With fermentation we are eager to say lactic acid comes in, it eats carbohydrates and there are these metabolites and flavors involved. We offer up so many details, and we are met with a blank stare.”

Simple messaging may involve explaining that a shelf-stable pickle is not produced using fermentation, she said. Fermented pickles will be found in the refrigerated case. It also may involve explaining the differences between kombuchas made with juice concentrate and those fermented with a scoby.

There is a desire to promote the health benefits, specifically digestive health benefits, of fermentation, but options are limited without the clinical data to support any claims or programs.

“This microbiome world we are in right now is a real opportune time to talk to consumers about fermented foods and health,” Ms. Nielson-Stowell said. “Humans have long consumed fermented foods for thousands and thousands of years, but now we have the scientific techniques to dive into fermented foods and analyze their nutritional properties, their microbial composition and better understand how they may improve a person’s health.

“There is widespread scientific agreement that eating fermented foods will help the microorganisms in your gut. Now the industry needs to prove it.”