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Consumer tastes shape natural food trends

By Jenni Spinner+

10-Jun-2014
Last updated on 11-Jun-2014 at 04:29 GMT

Lentils are among the top natural/organic food trends, according to Sterling-Rice Group.
Lentils are among the top natural/organic food trends, according to Sterling-Rice Group.

Foods pinpointed as emerging hot trends in the natural and organic arena range from familiar, to unusual and beyond.

Sterling-Rice Group (SRG), a consumer-insights firm, has released a list of foods, beverages, and ingredients poised to become the next blockbusters at retail. The list is designed to enable food professionals across the supply chain to plan ahead and anticipate consumer demand.

Changing tastes

Kara Nielsen, culinary director for SRG, told FoodProductionDaily keeping on top of emerging trends in the natural and organic food arena can arm brand owners and processing operations with the knowledge necessary to launch products with potential.

Brands need to consider what trends will appeal most to their consumers,” she said. “Are they seeking more protein in everyday meals? Think about the toppers for inspiration or drinkable grains. Does a brand want to win over those shoppers concerned about GMOs? Then explore that certification for a product.”

Competitive advantage

Nielsen added by knowing what’s emerging as the next hot ingredient or flavor, food and beverage brands gain an edge.

By considering the key drivers and ingredient benefits, a brand can find their niche among these trends and offer new healthful benefits to their consumers,” she said.

Nielsen said the SPG list pinpoints what consumers are looking for, regarding specific products as well as different health and nutrition benefits.

For example, we know (based on the trends around lentils, gut health, and drinkable grains) consumers are demanding products high in fiber,” she said. “Protein is also still a hero in consumers’ minds, as evidenced by the protein-fortified sauces cited in Top Notch Toppers [see below], as well as the lentils and grass-fed dairy products."

From strange to familiar

SRG culinary strategist Christie Wood told FPD while some of the trending natural/organic trends might sound out there, many products consumers currently consider stand-bys and staples once seemed wacky, too.

The first non-dairy milk alternatives seemed pretty weird when they first hit the shelves in the 1970s, but now they’ve gone mainstream and have exploded in number and variety,” she said. “Even tofu used to seem ‘fringe’ to many Americans, but when sushi became more popular in the early 1990s, we became more open to other contributions from Japanese cuisine.”

Wood added current produce favorites like avocado, mango, and kale were edgy just a few years ago. Additionally, ancient grains like quinoa, spelt, and amaranth have surged from obscurity to popularity rapidly.

Top ten trends

SRG culled the list by checking in with chefs, restauranteurs, and other food professionals. Here are the top 10 trends the research unearthed.

  1. Lentils: consumers hungry for plant-based protein are reaching for this ingredient, found in pasta, waffles, and other foods.
  2. Biotics: Digestive health is getting a lot of attention, increasing interest in foods containing pre-, co- and probiotics.
  3. Beets: The root vegetable is expanding from the produce and canned-vegetable section, showing up in juices, yogurts, and other unexpected products.
  4. Grain drinks: Whole grains aren’t just in breads and cereals; now, they are popping up in a range of beverages.
  5. Bee-less honey: With concern about the dwindling bee population at top of mind, researchers are coming up with stand-ins for honey made from fruit-based formulations.
  6. Nutritional sauces and dressings: Not just for added flavor anymore, producers are adding nutrients like calcium and protein to everything from chocolate sauce to salad dressing.
  7. Humane meat: With sales of grass-fed beef increasing, consumers also are looking into pork from pen-free pigs, and poultry from pastured chickens.
  8. African superfoods: The continent is the source for unfamiliar yet increasingly popular ingredients like baobab fruit snacks and moringa-leaf snack bars.
  9. GMO-free certification: According to SRG, the GMO-Free Project Verified seal is gaining on the organic badge in popularity on food and beverage packaging.
  10. Interesting dairy alternatives: Beverage producers are going in new directions for milk alternatives, trying sources like algae and other novel plant sources.