BOULDER, COLO. — Bee-free honey, algae milk and African superfoods are among top natural and organic food trends compiled by Sterling-Rice Group, a Boulder-based consulting firm.
“Certainly as you would expect in this space, health is a driver for almost every one of these,” said Christie Wood, culinary strategist for the firm. “Sourcing also is very important.”
The group collected expertise from food industry experts, publications and trade shows to identify emerging trends within the segment. Ms. Wood and Kara Nielsen, culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group, discussed the trends with Food Business News.
“We always try to identify trends that have the potential to go mainstream,” Ms. Wood said. “Everything we identified has the potential to manifest in mainstream products. Certainly, algae milk is far out, but it’s not hard to imagine Kellogg doing a line of cereal with plant-based protein.”
From snack chips to pasta to waffle mixes, the versatile legume boosts the protein and fiber content in a variety of products.
“We know consumers are looking for plant-based protein and fiber, and there’s also an increasing amount of concern around soy and for some people, an avoidance of gluten,” Ms. Wood said. “So, anything that can deliver on those multiple fronts is rising to the top, and lentils are one of those key products right now. And what we’re finding especially interesting about lentils as opposed to other legumes like beans and chickpeas is the breadth in how they are being used. It’s not just appetizers, spreads or dips; it’s really across all day parts.”
With digestive health at top of mind for many consumers, prebiotics and probiotics are popping up in tea, breakfast cereal, even cookies.
“Understandably, manufacturers are looking to provide all types of products to address those desires on the part of the consumer,” Ms. Wood said. “To find an ingredient like that in a format as familiar as a cookie is a rather fun delivery system, much more so than a pill or other supplement from the medicine cabinet.”
The beet goes on
Beet has taken root in such recently launched products as Lifeway beet kefir, Blue Hill beet yogurt, and Veggie-Go’s Cinnamon Spiced Beet fruit and vegetable strips.
“Beets are really leaving the salad bowl,” Ms. Wood said. “What is interesting is they are being incorporated into products that are traditionally sweet: yogurts, fruit leather snacks, juices. Beets are becoming more versatile and really expanding consumer perception of how they can be used.”
Sip your cereal
From quinoa smoothies to multigrain milks, a crop of whole grain beverages has emerged, offering on-the-go nutrition to busy consumers.
“What we found in these grain drinks is they’re formulated to still offer the fiber and protein and some of the vitamin E and other things that traditional whole grains do, but in a form that can be on-the-go, maybe different day parts, so it just expands the versatility of consuming whole grains,” Ms. Wood said. “And we’re also very comfortable now drinking our nutrition, whether that’s through a protein shake or a juice, so this is a vehicle that consumers are very comfortable with.”
Formulated with fruit, a new line of bee-less honey called Bee Free Honee shares a similar texture and taste as the traditional sweetener.
“We have only seen one example of bee-free honey, but we think the drivers behind this trend are so important and so lasting that these may be the first of multiple products that fit within the trend,” Ms. Wood said. “Certainly one driver is that there are a growing number of people looking for vegan options in their diet. Also there has been a lot of press in recent years about colony collapse disorder and the various challenges that our pollinating pals, if you will, are facing. One of the results of that is a lot of honey sold in the U.S. is being imported from China, and there are other concerns that come out of that.”
Toppers up the ante
Food makers are adding a nutritional punch to products traditionally designed to deliver flavor, such as sauces and dressings. Made with whey protein, a four-tablespoon drizzle of Tru Table dressing adds 10 grams of protein to a bed of kale.
“If you may have felt the need to add some kind of meat or other protein to make your salad more substantial, there is now a dressing that can do the job for you,” Ms. Wood said. “The driver behind this is consumers are looking for protein, which explains the success of Greek yogurt, and this is just building on that same desire.”
Expect to see high-protein cake frosting or calcium-enriched caramel ice cream sauce, Ms. Wood said.
“I think consumers want good flavor and still want to indulge, but they feel all the better about it if there’s a health halo to the product that they’re using.”
As consumers become more aware of the natural diets and lifestyles of protein- and dairy-producing animals, food marketers are pushing the message of humane treatment in products like pastured eggs, pen-free pigs and wild-caught fish.
“There’s definitely an animal welfare angle, but there’s also an extremely compelling health angle to that, too,” Ms. Nielsen said. “When animals are grass-fed and living the natural diet they’re supposed to, the meat and milk have more nutrition.”
A taste of Africa
Baobab, moringa, peri peri peppers and teff are appearing in such products as nutrition bars, tea and fruit snacks.
“Africa is viewed as an all-natural untouched hotbed of pure ingredients and pure sourcing,” Ms. Wood said. “If you can say it’s an African superfood, then inherent in that is a health halo of being very pure and natural and likely very nutrient dense.”
Kuli Kuli Moringa Superfood bars contain moringa oliefera, a plant sourced in West Africa and rich in protein, potassium, calcium and vitamin A.
“We’ve seen a parallel with the exploration of all of those Amazonian superfruits; this is the next area of exploration for secret health food that have been keeping native people alive for generations and millennia,” Ms. Nielsen said. “We’ll be watching to see if Africa becomes a new source of culinary trends as well as new ingredients.”
As consumers increasingly avoid bioengineered ingredients, more food makers are branding products with a Non-G.M.O. Project stamp.
“Certainly I think a driver of this was Whole Foods’ announcement a couple of years ago that they were going to make sure that every product in the store that they would carry would be labeled in the coming years, and I expect other retailers will follow suit as consumer pressure mounts,” Ms. Wood said.
A G.M.O-free verification is easier and quicker to obtain than a U.S.D.A. organic certification, she added.
“A lot of consumers coming into the space maybe don’t realize the finer points of organic labeling, but G.M.O. is going to speak to them very clearly,” Ms. Nielsen said.
From the sea to the cereal bowl, algae milk may be the next big drink in non-dairy, boasting such benefits as fiber, omega-3s, protein and a non-vegan source of DHA. Solazyme, a San Francisco-based biotech firm, unveiled the beverage at Natural Products Expo West in March.
“This product interested us for several reasons,” Ms. Wood said. “It’s got some impressive nutrition facts. It’s free of gluten, lactose, soy – all the things folks with allergies are looking out for. And it has this amazing sustainable production story. The taste is mild, not offensive at all.”
Algae milk also may be part of a bigger culinary trend in sea vegetables, including seaweed, kelp and spirulina, Ms. Nielsen said.“I think with the juicing trend, something like this would easily translate into that space,” Ms. Nielsen said. “If you put it in the context of this bigger notion of sea vegetables and also sustainable sources of good nutrients, you’ll see a longer story, which is why we feel this is very strong.”