Pierce Hollingsworth

Because IFT’s annual Food Expo is the premier business-to-business food-ingredient trade show, it’s an excellent barometer of future consumer food trends. The marketing themes, prototype product samples, new exhibitors, and subtle changes in the positioning of established products all reveal trends in product development priorities.

Role of Culinary Professionals Expands
Chefs have long had an important—but limited—food product development role. That’s changing. The role of culinary professionals in the product development process has dramatically expanded in both significance and sophistication.

“There’s a change in the corporate culture of many food companies,” explained Lucien Vendôme, Senior Executive chef for Kraft Food Ingredients, during a break from his busy Food Expo schedule. “Smaller markets, greater brand segmentation, and the acceleration of the new product cycle demand that we collapse the development time frame. The culinary team must be a part of the synergy all the way through the process.”

Professionally trained chefs and their culinary teams are no longer just idea factories. They are increasingly involved in merging process technology, food science, and product concepts into cost-effective, consumer-pleasing packaged foods. In many cases, this means finding low-cost industrial formulations for expensive foodservice recipes—without eroding flavor, texture, and general appeal.

Examples include the expanding role of ginger in products such as breath mints, citrus flavors for sauces such as mayonnaise, vanilla in savory foods, and caramel in meat glazes, sauces, and barbecue, according to Vendôme. “We bring passion to the process,” he stated. And today that passion more often stays with the product from concept to completion.

Tea Becomes an Innovative Ingredient
The market appears to be entering a new phase in which tea and tea extracts are finding their way into an expanding variety of food products. A few years ago, green tea became a hot trend because this ancient beverage fit so well into the functional food boom. Numerous studies have affirmed that all teas are particularly effective antioxidants, so much that tea is becoming an innovative ingredient, not just a trendy beverage.

Aiya America, Inc., for instance, featured a powdered green tea called Matcha, designed for a wide range of process applications, including ice cream, bakery foods, confections, snacks, and beverages. It boasts far higher levels of fiber, calcium, antioxidant vitamins, and tannic acids than the conventional green tea found in most commercial tea bags.

For formulations that require tea essences or extracts, companies like Sensus, LLC, offer a range of flavors including green tea, oolong, and black.

In addition, companies like Verdu Canto Saffron Spain, SL, have capitalized on the growing popularity of tea in the United States market with products like saffron tea. According to the company, saffron was treasured in classical Greece for its coloring and aromatic properties. It also was used to remedy sleeplessness, reduce hangovers caused by wine, and perfume bathing water, and it was considered an aphrodisiac.

Collectively, these product trends reflect a growing interest in tea for a wide range of consumer product applications relating to diet, health, and lifestyle.

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Probiotics and Prebiotics Poised for Breakout
Probiotics, those beneficial bacteria that populate the gastrointestinal tract, and prebiotics, the compounds that feed them, have gained considerable consumer attention. To date, most of this interest has been focused on supplements and cultured dairy foods, such as yogurt. Now these products appear poised for a major breakout, as reflected by a wide range of innovations on display during Food Expo.

Orafti Active Food Ingredients, a leading supplier of inulin, featured a wide range of functional prototypes, as well as Stoneyfield Farms’ liquid yogurt, which is already in the marketplace. “Functional dairy beverages are the hottest trend in the dairy industry this year, and inulin is the key ingredient in these products,” stated Kathy Niness, Orafti’s marketing vice president. It adds fiber, boosts calcium absorption, and helps enhance digestive health in these types of products.” Inulin can also be used in cereal products, nutritional bars, and candy.

Imperial Sensus featured a mix of these product possibilities, such as chewing gum, low-fat hot dogs, crispy rice treats, French fries, and smoothies. Its inulin is derived from chicory root.

Among the numerous companies featuring probiotics, Biogaia touted nutritional drinks where the real action was in the straw attached to the package. Each straw provides a dose of at least one million active cells of Lactobacillus reuteri. These are automatically released and mixed with the liquid when the beverage is drunk through the straw. Since the straw is packaged separately, it can be applied to any beverage container—or sold separately. The company also exhibited a flip-top cap with the same properties.

Fruits and Berries Become Competitive
Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, figs, and all the other rich natural bounty that represented by agricultural states and grower’s cooperatives are long-time Food Expo regulars. The popularity of fruits and berries is time-less—yet the context of this popularity is changing because of a consistent flow of medical studies affirming their functional properties. In fact, the various representatives have become highly competitive in touting their respective functional properties.

“Nature’s Number One Antioxidant Fruit,” is the headline for a brochure distributed by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. In fact, wild blueberries have found their way into breakfast cereals, muffin mixes, and juice blends in recent years.

The Washington Red Raspberry Commission and several others representing this fruit might dispute the blueberry claim. They are armed with their own studies supporting the outstanding functional properties of their fruit. The same is true for blackberries, black raspberries, and boysenberries—known collectively as caneberries—as well as strawberries.

Even one of the oldest cultivated fruits, the fig, has positioned itself as a functional food, with good reason. Dried figs are an abundant source of heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they’re high in dietary fiber, and they have a high quantity of antioxidant polyphenols and other beneficial nutrients—and the California Fig Advisory Board has the studies to prove it.

Asian Savory Snacks Increase
This may be more of a footnote than a major trend, but the prevalence of Asian savory snacks was significant. This trend may reflect the growing consumer appetite for innovative, healthy savory snack foods, as well as the growing proliferation of Asian cuisine. Many of these snacks are crisped Asian-style vegetables, such as wasabi beans and horse beans. Daihachi Snacks, for instance, featured shrimp crackers, banzai mix, peanut puffs, and crispy nuggets called “curry age.” It also processes a fish jerky.

Changing the Consumer Market
Collectively, these trends provide a glimpse into the subtle, yet profound changes shaping the consumer market. Diet and health are growing priorities, and consumers are becoming more knowledgeable. They will demand products that deliver real performance without sacrificing taste and convenience.

by Pierce Hollingsworth, Contributing Editor