The health attributes and unique flavors of fermented food and drink are becoming increasingly more important to consumers. But, for fermentation brands to succeed in the food industry, they must prioritize their labeling and marketing, and focus on their environmental impact, says international food industry expert Lisa Moeller.
“Hopefully, it will be as advantageous to attach ‘Fermented’ as it is ‘Fresh Pack’ to shelf stable pickle products at some point in time,” says Moeller, speaking at a recent TFA webinar: Global Fermentation: Today & Tomorrow. “Never in our history has the power of positive change been more possible and necessary. I think there is an inherent history with fermented vegetables and a trajectory that can only take them higher going forward.”
After receiving her master’s degree in food science, Moeller spent 25 years working with Mount Olive Pickle Company in North Carolina. She later started her own company, Fashionably Pickled, where she consults to food brands on methods – such as assisting with traditional fermentation technology – for crafting better products.
Fred Breidt, microbiologist with USDA-ARS and a TFA advisory board member, called Moeller “one of the premiere pickle people in the United States,” and praised her for working around the world on a variety of fermentations.
Moeller shared three forecasts for fermented foods.
- Health Concerns Become More Important
Consumers are more concerned about their health during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Folks are looking to boost immunity, reduce their weight and they’re looking for nutritious options,” Moeller says.
People are also cooking more at home during the pandemic. Restaurant dining had continually increased over the previous two decades and, in recent years, only half the food eaten in the U.S. was purchased from a grocery store. But when COVID-19 hit, “this 23 year trend was blown out of the water,” says Moeller. By April 2020, 65% of the food consumed came from a grocery store, with less than 35% from restaurants.
“I think this trend gives the fermented vegetable arena great potential,” Moeller says. “Fermented vegetables can increase the shelf life of produce, they’re nutritious, and they can be turned into a wide variety of flavors. And I think for a time, people are going to be more interested in having a supply of things in their pantry when they don’t feel comfortable going to a grocery store.”
Increased research will help promote fermentation as a viable health food. There are still consumers who are off-put by fermentation, leaving room for brands to educate.
“Though a large part of the pickle industry is still involved with fermented cucumbers, it is not the leader in the retail category at this time,” Moeller says. “We don’t label ‘fermented’ in America. Lots of times with the cucumber industry, the fermented kind of becomes the offshoot. It’s kind of the have-to-do so you can produce all the fresh pack that you want and still have a home for others.”
- Labelling and Marketing Are Crucial
Food product labels and marketing must adapt to their local markets. Brands must create different labelling, packaging and marketing plans, depending on the country.
“There truly is no such thing as global tastebuds. But there are successful product adaptations,” Moeller says.
Consider Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) as an example. There are over 23,000 KFC locations in 140 countries, and the restaurants adapt to regional flavor preferences, selling different styles of food depending on the location. Coca-Cola is another example. With 500 brands in 200 countries, a can of Coke will taste different depending on the country where it was sold.
“Labelling is even more important when selling your brand. Know what is important to the folks that are going to make the decision to add you products to their store shelves. Whole Foods is different than Walmart,” Moeller adds.
She advises to never make a label too complicated. Yogurt sales are projected to drop by 10% by 2024 “and this is partially because there are too many choices and the category has gotten too complicated.”
- Environmental Concerns Lead to Upcycllng
The environment is a big topic of concern worldwide, Moeller says.The global food system accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of the food produced is never consumed and 78% of global consumers are concerned about the environment.
Upcycling will be the new food trend. Brands like Toast Ale (beer made from old bread) and RISE + WIN Brewing Co. (who recycle grain scraps to make granola and sweets) are already making waves in the industry. During the pandemic, chefs reported using fermentation more than ever before to make use of uneaten produce.
“There’s not a vegetable out there that could be turned into something else,” Moeller says. “Turning food waste into alternative products…I think it’s one of the most wonderful ideas, (brands) need to partner with the folks that they want to get these byproducts from.”