By Karen D. Crowdis
The food manufacturing industry will see many 2015 themes hang over into 2016 as the food trend pendulum continues to hover over them. Trendy 2015 ideas will be solidified as staple expectations with consumers. That will influence reformulating top performers and how new products are created to meet consumer demands.
Manufacturers have to balance the evolving tastes and preferences of consumers with the bottom line of production and that involves more than just looking at fads. Cost of inputs, discounting and sales initiatives, regulatory compliance and employee training all threaten profits creating a balancing act between moving on the latest trend and identifying solid strategic directions to take their products.
Lead with Safety and Quality
Food safety continues to weigh on the minds of consumers due to media coverage, even making the list of Mintel’s recently released Global Food and Beverage Trends 2016 report. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reports an average of 3,000 complaints annually, so manufacturers should continue keeping production lines inspected and maintained.
More consumers are questioning the qualifications of employees handling the food supply. In June of 2015, CFIA launched the Safe Food Canada Learning/Training program seeking to standardize industry training going forward. Food Manufacturing, a United States industry group, indicates employee training needs to be a primary concern for processors in 2016.
Consumers are educating themselves about all things food and labels top the list. Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) has partnered with Health Canada to teach Canadians how to read food labels to make healthier choices, meaning producers will need labels with plain language ingredient lists as well as the nutrition facts that already appear on labels. Packaging changes beyond regulatory compliance can be costly, but are an opportunity to secure consumer loyalty.
Ingredient quality is paramount. According to Mintel’s report, ‘Artificial Ingredients’ are public enemy number one. Consumers are looking for more “natural formulations with recognizable ingredients” Mintel says and products will be under more scrutiny for what they contain. Agriculture Agri-Food Canada concurs that Canadians are more educated and concerned about additives, particularly artificial ones that may be acting solely as filler. The Mintel report also notes that verified claims and knowing the origin of the ingredients are important to consumers. Organic ingredients are not necessarily what consumers are looking for, though. Many are simply looking for what they recognize.
Edith Bienvenue, business development manager with BSA Food Ingredients Inc., agrees saying that “processors are working to modify their ingredient lists to meet this goal. It is not always possible due to the functionality of the original ingredient and costs. We are working to find alternative ingredients.”
She adds that, “consumers read labels and research ingredients for their well-being.” Clean labels and free from claims will continue to be priority for industrial processors as they modify ingredients. FCPC members grew their plain-language ingredient offerings by 48 per cent since 2011. While shelf-life enhancers like antimicrobial agents and antioxidants are still necessary, processors are looking for less artificial agents and are reducing the use of hydrogenated oils.
Jordana Rebner, culinary specialist with Aliments ED Foods Inc. says: “New products are offered with less artificial ingredients. We are eliminating unnecessary ingredients as we go. Looking for better flavour and less filler and higher concentration with just the essential ingredients. We aren’t going to change everything, but we change what we can. Overall it is a very good step forward for processors and consumers.”
Processors also need to consider culinary attributes of taste, aroma and mouth texture in addition to the ingredient lists, indicates Bienvenue. Consumers are insisting on healthier versions of their favourite foods. They want it all according to Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada. Convenience is no longer a trade off for quality. They want it fresher, more nutritious, great tasting and in convenient packaging.
However, Rebner cautions that consumers also expect it to taste the same as the original, which can be a challenge. “If we are revamping a product or line, we work to have the taste remain as close to identical to the original or we make it a new flavour.”
A big influence on culinary attributes continues to be healthy choices. Mintel lists four trends that directly relate to the health implications of processed foods. First, is the ‘Inside Out’ notion of foods formulated to help physical appearance as well as personal wellness from increasing ingredients like probiotics. The trend ‘For Every Body’ refers to consumer’s increasing knowledge of sports nutrition like energy boosting items, hydration and protein. It ties with their ‘Diet by DNA’ trend of getting back to basics and a continued consumer desire for ancient ingredients. ‘Fat Sheds Stigma’ indicates an understanding that fats can be good and bad, but will no longer be the first consideration of healthy status for a product. These all indicate the healthy choice trend remains entrenched in consumer behaviours.
In its long term consumer trend report, Agriculture Agri-Foods Canada indicates the healthy choice trend will continue into 2020. It says people will continue to increasingly choose foods for health benefits. Processors should focus on revamping products to fit that niche. FCPC statistics show that 90 percent of its members introduced ‘better-for-you’ products and half of new food or drink products in the last three years were ‘better-for-you’ options.
“They are not going away,” agrees Rebner. “Everything in moderation, people are beginning to understand that. A focus for 2016 will be low sodium,” she says, indicating that the health care market regularly requests gluten free and lower sodium.
Bienvenue notes that the 2016 Health Canada target to reduce the sodium in processing food is the main charge for the industry in 2016. FCPC members indicated a 68 percent increase in products introduced with lower sodium since 2011. Bienvenue says, “BSA expects that sugar will be the next reduced ingredient.” Something processors should keep in minds as modifications are made.
Taste of Home
Alternatives are another focal point of Mintel’s report. Driven by price increases, the search for alternative proteins will continue to drive consumer buying. “The growing ranks of novel protein sources and potential replacements appeal to the everyday consumer, foreshadowing a profoundly changed marketplace in which what was formerly ‘alternative’ could take over the mainstream,” they assert.
Food Manufacturing trends suggest rising prices for proteins also buoy up under utilized meats like stewing cuts, organ meats, and fish. This elevates ‘peasant fare’ to desired fare in meatballs, sausages and items like pierogis and buns from processors. ‘Flexitarian’ refers to people choosing specialty diet items in addition to staples. Vegan, gluten free and other restricted diet components continue to be incorporated into mainstream buyers’ grocery baskets offering a cross-over purchasing boon to processors.
Flavour trends are likely most readily and cost effectively incorporated. Agriculture Agri-Food Canada notes in its report that the changing face of Canada will continue to influence processed food products for the foreseeable future. Essentially newcomers settling in Canada bring and share their cultural food preferences, opening new markets for those flavours.
Indeed, comfort foods and flavours are also trending still with some modification indicates Rebner. “There is more global influence, international influence as immigrants seek their staples and introduce them to Canada. It’s influencing flavour combinations that can be modified to fit the market and offer efficiency in the kitchen.”
In 2016, many of the flavour pallets from 2015 will continue. “Hot chili peppers, Spanish and Asian cuisines are going strong,” says Bienvenue, “while Middle East cuisine is emerging. Smoke and grilled natural flavours are added to all types of food as well.”
Other trends manufacturers should consider include the expected changing consumer meal patterns as Canadians age and household size changes. Aging populations will influence type and quality of food demanded, including portion sizing for single serve according to Agriculture Agri-Food Canada. Mintel refers to it as a ‘Table for One’ trend that suggests single serve packaging will not only be a demand, but become the norm starting in 2016. ‘Eco is the New Reality’ indicates food waste is an increasing concern causing processors to continue with resealable packaging trends from zipper to adhesive closures.
Another trend frequently mentioned fall into two of Mintel’s categories; ‘E-Revolution’ and ‘Good Enough to Tweet’. Simply put, social media will increasingly influence food preferences as people share their choices more frequently which could generate increased sales for processors.
Food Manufacturing takes that to the next level, suggesting processors should also be aware of alternative delivery methods. The click and collect retail delivery method will become increasingly popular as people become more detached from the preparation of their food going forward.
While the pendulum can swing wildly with consumer behaviour, projected trends for 2016 indicate some moderation. Carry over of 2015 trends will offer processors some breathing room to meet consumer and regulatory demands without exhausting resources. Focusing on easy to implement trends, reformulating favourites and balancing resource allocation will enable Canadian food processors to ride the trend pendulum without breaking the bank.