07 September 2009
Some of the current food trends are a continuation of what has been evolving over the past few years, while others are relatively new. "Functional foods" (add-ons for health) such as omega three's, probiotics and antioxidants will continue to be buzz words in food circles. Surveys tell us that the top reasons today's consumers choose foods are because of taste, price, healthfulness, and convenience - in that order. Food manufacturers and restaurants will need to be attentive to these as they compete for consumer dollars.
By Pamela StuppyMore and more consumers are trying to improve their health and counter their increasing waistlines, so some of the newer trends will be based on these goals. As a response, food suppliers have already started marketing "superfoods." These are natural or supplemented food products that contain higher levels of nutrients for the number of calories. These products address the "quick fix" mentality rampant in today's culture.
Many grocery store chains and food producers are trying to assist shoppers in making wiser food choices by implementing systems that identify foods that are more nutrient rich. The higher ratings are usually based on greater nutrient content and lesser amounts of saturated and trans fats, sodium, and sugar. In most cases these systems are helpful, but because there are a number of different systems rather than one universal one, initially it may add more confusion in some cases. In the future, this could evolve into a more singular standardized system.
Because of consumer interest in the health benefits of foods or food ingredients, food labels increasingly tout claims or partial claims to attract buyers. The definitions of many of the terms used on the labels are often not clear to consumers. An example might be "low sodium" as compared to "reduced sodium." Fortified foods can seem like a good purchase at first glance, but not if the basic food is a less healthy choice to start. Consumers still need to look at the nutrient analysis and ingredient list on the label to decide if the food item is really a healthy choice.
Consumers are also trying to be more environmentally friendly. This means they are purchasing food based on where it was grown, how it was raised, how far away it was grown, how it is packaged, and what impact it has had on the environment. Symbols are appearing in the produce section of the grocery store to identify in what country the fruit or vegetable was grown. Because of increasing demand, organic foods have come down in price compared to a decade or so ago. Consumers and restaurants are increasingly taking good advantage of foods grown locally and sustainably.
Concern for food safety has also become an issue. Because of the global food market, there is increased potential for contamination. Technology, however, has helped in more timely responses to large-scale outbreaks. Sources of contamination are more easily identified and communication to the public more rapid.
The shift in the financial picture has stimulated some trends as well. Until recent years, eating out was done only for special occasions. Because of a number of factors including more family members being in the work force and the desire for convenience, eating out became more the norm. It has not been uncommon for meals eaten out to outnumber those eaten at home. The result has meant increased consumption of less healthy foods, distortion around individual portion sizes and more money spent on food.
So for health and financial reasons, people are starting to eat more meals at home rather than eating out or doing take out. Unfortunately, many of today's consumers have limited cooking skills. Cooking shows on TV and local cooking classes have become increasingly popular. Consumers are looking for recipes online, subscribing to cooking magazines, and seeking ways to use convenience foods from the grocery store for fast and easy food preparation. Although available in the past, food manufacturers are producing more health-related convenience foods (lower fat, lower sodium, lower calorie, etc.) as a response to consumer preferences.
Batch cooking (making enough at one time for several meals) has become a way to save time and effort. Bag lunches and home-packed healthy snacks allow consumers to control the nutrition and quantity of foods eaten away from home, as well as to save money.Restaurants have also tried to meet consumer preferences for lower cost meals, smaller portions, and healthier choices. Many now offer tasting menus or "light" options, which mean more reasonable portions. A few are even using smaller plates. Some offer bite-sized desserts so that consumers can have a taste without adding on the calories. Others serve organic and locally grown food, more entrée salads, and foods without trans fat.
In general then, in the next few years, consumers are going to be looking for tasty, healthy foods that are quick and easy to prepare at a good price. They will be eating more at home, doing a little more preplanning of meals and snacks, adding shopping and cooking skills, and trying to consume more reasonable portions both at home and when eating out. They will be taking better advantage of local foods and have greater awareness about food safety. Restaurants, food producers and suppliers will be trying to better meet consumer preferences as they compete for food dollars.