The New York Times asks: are there benefits to drinking kombucha? The article explores hard kombucha and the health claims of drinking the fermented tea.  “But for those interested in integrating a variety of microbes into their diet, Dr. Emeran Mayer, author of ‘The Mind-Gut Connection,’ recommends doing so naturally. ‘I personally drink it occasionally,’ he said. Instead of using pills or supplements, he said, alternate different fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, cultured milk products, and, yes, kombucha.

Read more (New York Times)

Fewer North Koreans are making their own kimchi, opting for premade versions instead. The final days of October have traditionally marked kimchi-making season in North Korea. The kimchi-making craft was always a crucial part of prepping for winter months. The Daily NK notes that there’s no longer a need for homemade kimchi as more women join the workforce, more commercial kimchi producers enter the market and more convenient, processed food is sold in North Korean supermarkets. The final days of October have traditionally always marked kimchi-making season in North Korea. The traditionally kimchi-making craft was always a crucial part of prepping for winter months.

Read more (Daily NK)

Carbonic maceration is a high-tech wine-making technique invented in France in the 1930s. And it’s making a comeback today as more consumers crave fresher-tasting wines. From Wine Enthusiast: “Carbonic maceration can completely change a wine’s style and flavor profile. If you’ve ever tried a red wine that bounced brightly out of the glass with an ultra-fruity bubble-gum aroma or crunched lightly with cinnamon, vanilla and earthy, stemmy flavors, it’s likely you’ve encountered carbonic maceration.” In traditional wine making, the crashed grapes are transformed into alcohol by a yeast fermentation. Carbonic maceration involves adding whole, intact grapes and allowing the berries to ferment from the inside in an oxygen-free environment. The whole berries use CO2 added to the sealed vessel to break down sugars and malic acid to produce alcohol.

Read more (Wine Enthusiast

Fermented drinks are becoming a major part of the food industry, and San Diego’s Mesa College is taking notice. Mesa College is offering a new Fermentation Management Certification Program. The program aims to prepare students for a variety of careers in San Diego’s $1.2 billion craft beer industry. But the program focuses on other fermented beverages as well, like kombucha, mead, cider, coffee and tea. In the 30-unit course, students will learn the basics of brewing and learn the business side of running a brewery, from sales, marketing, law, accounting, importing, distribution and operations. “There’s so much fermented beverage going on, that there’s gotta be at least 250 companies out there looking for qualified people,” said adjunct faculty member Kevin Rhodes, who co-founded Groundswell Brewing.

Read more (NBC San Diego)

Raw, clean ingredient pet food is the fastest growing part of the pet food category. More pet food brands are inventing ways to feed their pets unprocessed, organic ingredients. A new article highlights Answer Pet Food, the first (and so far only) fermented raw pet food supplier. Answers Pet Food utilized kombucha, raw cultured whey, cultured raw goat’s milk and kefir in their pet food products. Their products include fermented chicken feet and fermented pig feet. Answers Pet Food says: “Fermentation is the most natural and effective way for us to make our products as safe and healthy as possible. … Our raw fermented pet foods are formulated to create a healthy gut. Fermentation supports healthy immune function by increasing the B-vitamins, digestive enzymes, antioxidants, and lactic acid that fight off harmful bacteria. It’s also the ultimate source of probiotics.”

Read more (Pet Product News)

Western North Carolina is becoming “a hot spot for fermented goods” thanks to female entrepreneurs. These fermented product brand leaders credit the health-conscious culture of Asheville, N.C. with helping their businesses thrive in “Ferment City.” Sara Schomber of the Buchi Mamas tells Asheville’s Mountain Xpress: “Fermentation is all about the alchemy of ingredients normally found in the hearth and home where, for centuries, women have been the keepers. We believe fermentation is the expression of a natural tendency, the human spirit’s way of giving itself permission to heal and inviting all of us to extend beyond our own immediate mortality. It’s normal and natural for humans to want to preserve, put away and celebrate.” Local brands featured include: Shanti Elixirs Jun, Smiling Hara Tempeh, Yoga Bucha kombucha, Buchi Kombucha, Sister of Mother Earth cider and honey, Serotonin ferments ferments and Fermenti Foods ferments.

Read more (Mountain Xpress) http://bit.ly/2B61p0Q

As the dairy industry declines rapidly – milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion in 2018 – fermented dairy could help dairy farmers reclaim the grocery aisle.

More Americans are turning to plant-based options, like nut, oat, rice and soy milk. The demand for milk-based alternatives from companies like Miyoko’s Kitchen (vegan, plant-based dairy products) and Perfect Day Foods (oat milk with fermented yeast) are popular with modern consumers.

But sales are not slowing for fermented milk-based products like kefir and Skyr yogurt.

A study from The Nutrition society published in the Cambridge University Press found multiple health benefits of fermented milk drinks like kefir. Fermented dairy improves digestion, produces anti-inflammatory effects, increases colonization of good gut bacteria and stimulates antioxidants, researchers found. Fermented dairy is high in protein, high in live probiotics and improves lactose digestion.

“Consuming fermented dairy can [help] the digestive system because it actually adds more beneficial bacteria to the system,” said Nicole Dynan, a dietitian with gut health expertise. She spoke to Dairy Australia in an article about the power of fermented dairy. “If we put it in simple terms, most of our bacteria live in the large intestine and can assist that existing population of bacteria to balance out the good and bad. Fermented dairy can contain microbiota that make by-products called short-chain fatty acids that can help release anti-inflammatory benefits into the body.”

“Fermented dairy can also represent a precious source of other nutrients and vitamins such as C and E, while balancing out the ‘bad’ bacteria that can lead to common digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhea, pain and gas,” she says.

Dairy Alternatives Full of “Frankenfood”

Today, 19 percent of yogurt varieties are plant-based. Christopher Malnar, vice president of marketing for Stonyfield, says the ingredient lists on dairy-free yogurts are often alarming. They’re highly processed, full of sugar, chemical stabilizers and what he called “frankenfood.” Organic dairy, meanwhile, is a clean ingredient list with no high processing.

Brands can create demand for dairy again by raising awareness, Malnar said. They can educate on the benefits of dairy and organic products.

“How can we be more innovative as an industry?” Malnar said. “We understand where the market is going [but Stonyfield is] staying true to our core in dairy, recognizing that there are some needs out there.” Stonyfield is currently testing a fruit and vegetable pouch.

Malnar spoke at a panel on organic dairy in September during Natural Products Expo East. When educating consumers on dairy, the panel of organic dairy leaders said it’s important to highlight proper animal treatment. Fairlife Dairy recently came under fire after a video was released of employees abusing calves and cows in a processing facility. Tim Joseph, the founding farmer at Maple Hill Creamery, said he thinks brands lose consumers when they educate them with scientific facts “because it’s just too much information.” Animal welfare is a major consumer driver.

“It’s not whether we think it is right or wrong in the end, it’s what the consumer is looking for,” Joseph said. “Animal welfare is I think the next biggest areas consumers are focusing on.”

Not all Milks Are Equal

A major consumer for plant-based milk: new moms. Mothers, many who adopt a healthy, organic lifestyle once they have children, are turning to dairy alternatives because they believe it’s the healthiest option for their child.

“We’re feeling like we have to go back in time and educate on the value of dairy,” said Melissa Hughes, chief mission officer and general counsel for Organic Valley. “It’s not necessarily to say that plant based isn’t the right thing, but especially for a lot of young moms, make the choice based on good science and good understanding of what the nutritional value is for your child.”

American dietary guidelines dictate that, besides water, milk is the only other drink recommended for children.

Jessica Shade, the director of science programs for the Organic Center, presented findings of a study on modern milk in today’s grocery market, comparing organic and conventional milk. The biggest takeaway: Americans should be choosing dairy milk for the nutritional benefits, and organic milk to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals.

Shade said she was surprised testing milk that non-organic varieties test positive for antibiotics, high levels of growth hormones and pesticide contaminants. “…it is much more ubiquitous than previously thought,” Shade added. Many of these are illegal residues are banned by the Food and Drug Administration. They concentrate highly in cow milk, and research shows they can lead to a wide array of health problems in humans. Allergies, hypersensitivity, rashes, headaches, birth defects, hyperthyroidism are all linked to consuming contaminants in milk.

Organic milk, meanwhile, did not test for any illegal residues.

“The findings about conventional milk are really concerning,” Shade said. “That’s the question that needs to be asked and needs to be addressed – how are these chemicals getting into the milk supply when they shouldn’t be there? The difference between organic and conventional are extremely significant…the easy way to avoid all of these residues is by choosing organic.”

The American dairy industry is in a period of oversupply, hurting farmers especially who are forced to throw out milk. On average, it takes three years to transition a dairy farm from conventional to organic.

“The challenge with any dairy, whether it’s organic dairy or conventional dairy, is balancing this perishable product that’s coming out of the cows and making sure you put it into the system as quickly as you can in order to return a value,” said Hughes.

“We’ve seen the slowdown. For Organic Valley, we’ve seen the slowdown of consumption in fluid milk. For us, quality really becomes a very important thing. Volume becomes a very important thing, and how do you control that when most of your volume is folks drinking milk? But at the same time we’ve seen an incredible increase in the consumption of butter. Everyone loves butter and fat. It’s really pushing some pressures on our supply chain to make that all work together. We’re starting to see more opportunity.”

Though overall U.S. yogurt sales fell 6%, the average U.S. supermarket carries 306 different yogurt varieties. Consumers are embracing new flavors and vegan, plant-based yogurt styles.

-Nielsen Data

Good news for fermented food and drink brands. Today’s increasingly disruptive, consumer-driven economy is favoring brands that are craft and artisanal, source responsibly, reduce waste, nourish their microbiome and aim for better treatment of the planet. These are already core operating values for many fermentation brands.

“Consumer values are shifting in the marketplace; businesses are working hard to find ways to use their business as a force of good. Consumers are increasingly engaged in supporting the businesses that are looking to disrupt the status quo, that are looking to change,” said Eric Pierce, vice president of strategy and insights for New Hope Network. “Our market is moving in this direction with more innovation, with more access, with more options for consumers that are easier for them to get a hold of…we will find more and more people opting into the products we are bringing to the marketplace.”

The top trends driving the natural products industry were shared at a “What’s Next” session for industry leaders at Expo East. Here are six trends the fermentation industry can use to grow their company.

1. Brands Supporting the Planet

From the treatment of animals on the farm, the soil used to grow the vegetables and the type of packaging used, the environment is on the top of consumer’s minds. Consumers want to support brands that practice regenerative farming, zero waste production and responsible supply chain sourcing.

 “The top three trends fell under purpose-driven commerce,” said Amanda Hart, market research manager for NEXT Data & Insights. She said consumers want brands to be more mindful, proactive and “really dive in and solve for community health and issues where government regulation is lagging or lacking.”

2. Selling Outside the Health Food Crowd

Since the start of the natural food industry, natural and organic foods were mostly purchased by a demographic of shoppers SPINS market research defines as “Core Natural/Organic.” These “true believers” and “enlightened environmentalists” make up the majority of natural industry shoppers.

Meanwhile, the mainstream consumer has traditionally been a harder group for brands to reach. These “indifferent traditionalists,” “struggling switchers” and “resistant non-believers” make up the smallest part of natural product sales.

That gap is closing – today 92 percent of all households buy organic products, and 99 percent buy natural products.

Pierce noted he was surprised when studying these groups that the reason they purchase natural products is now the same.

“What this means to us is their level of commitments to products in the industry, their level of commitment to brands is dramatically different,” Pierce said. “But consumers across our economy value similar things what it comes to what they’re looking for from us.”  

“Increasingly, these products are resonating with mass retailers,” he continued.

The findings also showed the food trends that resonate with consumers were not influenced by their political leaning. Whether Democrat or Republican, consumers care about the same food values.

The top five food trends these groups care about: waste reduction, responsible sourcing, responsible meat and dairy, craft and artisanal and responsible packaging.

3. Expanding Knowledge of Microbiome

Probiotics – which has topped SPINS trend lists for years — is no longer claiming a top spot. This doesn’t mean consumers don’t care about gut health, though. Consumers are looking at different beneficial options for their microbiome.

“How can consumers cultivate a health microbiome, to make us our strongest selves as we navigate the forces of modern life?” Hart said.

There is lots of research on nourishing a healthy microbiome. Brands should market gut health to consumers, especially with scientifically-backed claims on how fermented foods aid the gut bacteria.

4. No Added Sugar

Sugar – especially added sugar – has long been the nemesis of natural food shoppers. But consumers now want blatant communication from brands on product flavoring.

“Sugar and sweetener are different, so some brands now are starting to leverage both of those terms and really communicate how they’re adding a sweet flavor to their product – or not adding,” Hart said.

Botanical flavoring is starting to become a sweetner alternative for brands.

5. Alcohol-Free Drinks

Concerned with their health and focused on mindful drinking, Americans are purchasing less alcohol. Data from industry tracker IWSR found that U.S. alcohol volumes are dropping every year. Beer was the lowest, with volumes down 1.5 percent in 2018 and 1.1 percent decline in 2017. Growth in wine and spirits also slowed. This is especially true among younger, millenial consumers.

The taste for a fermented craft beer or cocktail is not waning, though.

This trend was seen on the show floor, where more and more alcohol-free brands are marketing alcohol-free drinks, like non-alcoholic beers, sugar-free mocktails and sparkling vinegars.

6. DIY Rules

Consumers want to be part of the creative process, “like they’re building products for themselves,” Hart said. Pierce added: “consumers value innovation efforts…that engage their sense of adventure and exploration.”

Fermentation brands are catering to consumers DIY nature by offering recipes to experiment with their product, like kefir smoothies, kombucha cocktails or sauerkraut omelets. Some fermentation brands are even selling fermentation kits for home use.

A Los Angeles brewery has created an iconic California beer: avocado ale. The beer has a creamy texture Angel City Brewery makes through a process they call “dry-guacing.” Similar to dry-hopping — a term used to describe adding hopes to a beer after it’s already fermented — dry-guacing adds guacamole to the top of the tank, then it ferments for another two weeks. The process adds flavor to the beer. Avocados, lime juice and fresh cilantro are added to the mix. The brewery produces about 1,000 gallons of avocado ale a year, only available for a limited time at the end of the summer.

Read more (The Insider)