Fermentation intersects several major food movements – it’s natural, artisanal, sustainable, innovative, functional, global, flavorful and healthy. Now is an ideal time in the food market for fermentation producers.
“Fermentation is not a trend. It’s experiencing a resurgence, a renaissance,” says Amelia Nielson-Stowell, editor of The Fermentation Association. “Fermentation never went away. It just became less of a common type of food craft, especially in the U.S. where Americans became accustomed to other types of food processing.”
Nielson-Stowell was a speaker at the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas. Her remarks touched on growth opportunities and challenges for the fermentation industry. It was well-received by the audience. Two food business news magazines wrote articles about it. The show’s keynote speaker, author Paco Underhill, was also in attendance and brought up Nielson-Stowell’s presentation during his keynote.
Fermentation is a growing industry, slated to reach $846 billion in global sales by 2027. Kvass, pickles, kimchi and hard cider are the products experiencing the largest growth.
There’s no denying fermentation’s popularity – “there’s widespread scientific agreement that eating fermented foods will help the microorganisms in your gut,” Nielson-Stowell explains. But reputable clinical trials proving the health benefits of fermented foods are few and far between because they’re incredibly expensive to conduct. There are plenty of studies on the health benefits of yogurt because there’s a lot of money in the dairy industry. Other ferments don’t have the monetary backing, she adds.
Nielson-Stowell points to the 2021 Stanford study as a “watershed moment” in fermentation. It’s one of the first clinical trials proving diet remodels the gut microbiota. The research, published in the journal Cell, found a diet high in fermented food like yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, kimchi, kombucha, fermented veggies and fermented veggie broth led to an increase in overall microbial diversity.
“This microbiome world we are in right now is a real opportune time to talk to consumers about fermented foods and health,” Nielson-Stowell said. “Humans have long consumed fermented foods for thousands and thousands of years, but now we have the scientific techniques to dive into fermented foods and analyze their nutritional properties, their microbial composition and better understand how they may improve a person’s health.”
Educating consumers is another major challenge. Nielsen-Stowell encourages brands to focus on simple messaging, then delve deeper into the science on their webpage for consumer’s that want to know more about the intricacies of their food.
“Many consumers are confused about fermentation. They know it’s good for them, but they don’t understand why or what products are fermented,” she said.
Tradition, too, should be shared.
“Fermented foods have a unique story to them compared to other foods,” she adds. “Every culture in the world has a traditional ferment. We are here today because, thousands of years ago, our ancestors fermented.”