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The fermentation industry is on the cusp of a renaissance. Engaged consumers are seeking functional food and drink with health benefits. And fermented products provide the nutritional value and unique flavors today’s consumers crave.
Staff at The Fermentation Association attended Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. this month. Expo West is the world’s largest organic and natural healthy products event, and we spent four days with 88,000 other attendees listening to industry experts in education sessions and meeting fermented food and beverage brands on the show floor.
Here are six takeaways from Expo West for the fermentation industry:
- Natural Products are King. Natural food and beverages grew 6.6 percent in 2018, for a total of $152 billion in sales, according to info from the Nutrition Business Journal. The category is growing so much that organic supply is lagging behind consumer demand. Meanwhile, for the first time in history, the conventional food and beverage category began to shrink last year.
- Major Focus on Gut and Microbiome Health. Once terms only used by scientists, prebiotics and probiotics are at the forefront of consumer’s grocery list. Digestive health is critical for modern consumers, as more nutritionists focus on the gastrointestinal tract’s critical immune system support. Consumers want food and drinks that nourish their microbiome. Sales numbers show people are moving away from purchasing pills and supplements to aid their gut; they’re instead looking for prebiotics and probiotics in actual food.
- Ancient Foods are Experiencing a Revival. The future of food is in practices of the past. From turmeric, ashwagandha, ghee and fermentation, the foods of our ancestors are back on our plates. These old-world cooking styles and ingredients are standing the test of time and coming back in modern cuisine.
- Industry is Selling to Educated Consumers. Today’s consumers know more about the food they eat than ever before. Consumers are studying ingredient lists, seeking product sources and researching brands. Clean food and clean labels are not a trend; they’re a movement. People are becoming more aware of the dangers of eating processed food. They want nutritious ingredients from ethical brands. The functional health benefits of fermented products are piquing consumer interest.
- Snacking Trumps Mealtime. Snacking today is a $1.2 trillion-dollar industry. The modern consumer is busy, and convenience food readily accessible in a grab-and-go format is a grocery store staple. Snacking in 2019 is not filling up on a soda and a bag of fried chips. Consumers want healthy, fresh snacks, especially refrigerated snacks in the produce aisle. This is great news for fermented brands. Grabbing a bottle of kombucha or kefir and a bag of snacking pickles or miso soup fits into the convenient dining lifestyle.
- Brands Need More Plant-Based Products. A major shift in food philosophy, more consumers are buying plant-based products – whether or not they’re vegetarian or vegan. Plant-based options are becoming tastier and readily available. Brands are experimenting with fermenting vegetables for plant-based cheeses, spreads, sauces and drinks.
It’s an exciting time for fermented food and beverage producers. The aromatic, tangy flavors and healthy, live bacteria in fermented products are qualities propelling fermentation to become one of the most popular food categories.
The New Mainstream: Natural & Organic “Defining the Future of Food”
Once specialty items only found in small nutrition shops, today natural products are the new normal for consumers. Annual consumer sales in 2018 were $219 billion across the natural and organic products industry, a 7 percent increase.
“Natural and organic has tipped into the mainstream and is now defining the future for food, nutrition and CPG,” said Carlotta Mast, senior vice president of content and insights for the New Hope Network which. Mast shared an overview of 2018 sales and growth at “The State of Natural and Organic” education session during the 2019 Natural Products Expo West.
The 39th Expo West hosted 88,000 attendees and 3,600 exhibitors. Mast shared sales and growth numbers from the Nutrition Business Journal, research that estimates the natural products industry will surpass $250 billion in sales by 2021.
That’s rapid growth – and amazing news for the fermentation industry. Food and beverages remain the largest category for the industry (numbers include food and beverage, supplements and natural living). Food and beverage make up 70 percent of the industry.
Natural food and beverage sales grew 6.6 percent in 2018 to $152 billion in sales. Organic food and beverage grew 5.6 percent in 2018 to $45 billion in sales. Organic has burgeoned into a huge force – organic supply is lagging behind growing consumer demand. Mast noted: “That’s a challenge the industry needs to continue to address.”
Sales for conventional food and beverage products began to shrink for the first time in history in 2018. Major conventional food brands – like Kraft Heinz – are reporting losing billions in sales.
Consumers are looking for functional ingredients in their food and drink. They’re viewing their food as medicine, and they want health benefits from the food and beverages they consume. Functional food and beverage sales grew 7.5 percent last year to $68 billion in sales.
Great news for fermentation producers: probiotics are of the fastest growing functional ingredients. And consumers are moving away from supplements and pills. They want their probiotics in food and drink.
“The growth in probiotic food and beverages, this represents the continued blurring of the line between dietary supplements and food and beverages as consumers show a growing preference for non-pill and non-capsule delivery form for function products,” Mast said.
Mushrooms, Hemp and CBD and ashwagandha are other growing functional ingredients categories.
Though e-commerce is currently driving less than 5 percent of industry sales, those numbers will flip. Growth of e-commerce sales are outpacing brick and mortar sales.
E-commerce is the ideal platform as the “launch pad” for new brands and products, Mast said. Half of all new natural companies that entered the market between 2015-2018 started selling online before moving to retail. Mast notes: “That’s a huge shift for our industry.”
Mast outlined seven “staying trends to shape the industry.” She noted these are not fads, but “big shifts that are shaping who we are and what we sell and how consumers are driving what’s happening in our industry.”
The macro forces and trends include:
- Plant Wisdom. Mast: “This is one of the most powerful macro forces in our industry today as consumers are waking up to the social, environmental and health benefits of plant-based foods. And natural and organic brands are meeting this growing interest with innovative products that make is easier, healthier and more delicious than ever to ditch traditional meat and dairy, even if it’s only temporarily.”
- The World is Fat. Brands are “responding in creative ways to changing consumers perceptions around nutrition, including the growing appreciation for healthy fats,” Mast said. Consumers are realizing sugar is dangerous for health and weight management.
- A Life of Vitality. Mast: “Amidst the pressure of modern life, consumers are seeking out diets to help stave off and prevent disease, treat conditions and perhaps most important optimize how they feel today and every day. This is leading to many opportunities for innovative products that support a healthy microbiome.”
- Modern Pantry. “Today’s pantry looks very different than perhaps the pantry that our parents have.” There are opportunities for brands to update stale product categories, meeting the need for convenience with the need for nutrition and taste. Modern pantry products incorporate more veggies and less sugars.
- The Power of Science. “Science and technology are improving nearly every category in our industry,” Mast says. Science is connecting consumers with “science-based products and values-driven innovation that has the potential to change the world for the better.”
- Material Optimization. Brands are looking at ingredient waste, creatively reinventing packaging in creative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
- Inventive Business Models. Companies are running mission-driven brands that work for a higher purpose.
The natural and organic industry is shaping the future of consumer’s diets and lifestyle. Fermented food products – which are full of functional nutrition and science-backed microbiome benefits – are a major part in the industry’s growth.
More consumers are eating at home, a food industry movement that has remained unchanged for nearly 10 years. Today, 82 percent of American meals are home cooked, according to research by the NPD group. Restaurant sales are in their worst slump since the Great Recession. Today’s diners eat out 185 times a year now, compared to its peak in 2000 at 216 times a year.
Numerous factors are kindling the drop.
- High cost of restaurant meals. Eating out is expense — restaurant meals are almost three times as expensive as a home-cooked meal. And the cost for a restaurant meal is likely to increase as the minimum wage across the country increases.
- Convenience of streaming from home. Diners would rather eat in their own space watching a favorite show rather than eating in a public space with strangers.
- Comfortable home surroundings. Diners are practicing “Hygge,” the Danish art of coziness. Americans want to stay in their house “to find comfort and shelter from the maddening crowd,” the study notes.
- More people work at home. The American workforce is increasingly based at a home office, dropping the amount of workers who grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant on their lunch break.
- Healthy food is trending. Clean and healthy lifestyles are topping food prediction lists, like vegetarian meals, vegan milk and probiotic-packed everything.
- Popularity of pre-made meals. Meal kits continue to dominate the market, generating $1 billion in revenue worldwide in 2015. Predictions show meal kits will hit $10 billion by 2020.
- Ease of online grocery delivery. Fast, home grocery services are available nationwide now, with some retailers offering same-day delivery.
- Consumers changing preferences. New generations of diners prefer cooking at home more than their elders. And if they’re going out to eat, they prefer fast casual over a sit-down restaurant, another change from their parent’s generation.
This creates more opportunities for food companies, though. Today’s home cooks are itching for unique, healthy food — a niche fermented product fills. Here are five ways fermented food producers can capitalize on the growing eat-at-home trend:
1. Advertise Quality and Health Benefits
Health and wellness are leading the food industry — natural, organic, whole, gluten-free, preservative-free, sugar-free and clean are all buzzwords visible on labels at grocery store shelves. According to a Forbes article, this healthy eating trend is not slowing down. Eighty-eight percent of consumers say they’d be willing to pay more for healthier foods.
Fermented food producers must actively promote the health benefits of fermentation. Consumers are craving the probiotic-packed, nutrient-dense ingredients in fermented foods. Advertising a product’s health impacts will attract consumers.
2. Partner with Meal Delivery Service or Ready-to-Eat Meal Producer
According to Nielsen data: “ While the food retail landscape isn’t one that sees an over-abundance of frequent, market-shifting innovation, meal kits are proving to be just that. In just a few short years in fact, they have carved out a unique — and profitable — niche in the U.S. grocery landscape.”
About 9 nine percent of Americans purchased a meal kit in the last six months, totalling 10.5 million households. And 25 percent say they would consider buying a meal kit in the next six months, totalling more than 30 million households.
Fermented food producers who get their products into ready-to-eat meal kits will see big returns. David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of “Eating Patterns in America,” says: “We don’t look for this trend to change anytime soon and operators and foodservice manufacturers can take advantage of the stay-at-home movement by offering at-home eaters with innovative ready-to-eat meal solutions and a greater degree of convenience.”
3. Post Recipes Online
Don’t tell consumers why your product is so great — show them. Post recipes and an accompanying enticing finished meal picture on your website regularly. These recipes should feature your food product as a key ingredient. The internet is a powerful tool for promoting food — “food” was the second most searched category on the internet. Consumers are looking on the internet for recipes rather than relying on family favorites. A study found 40 percent of consumers learn about food via websites, apps or blogs, and half use social media sites to find recipes.
4. Share Quality Product Pictures or gastroporn
In the food industry, presentation is everything. Sharing a quick, blurry photo snapped in poor lighting will not appeal to consumers. Use “food porn” tactics. The term (meaning a glamourized image of food) is changing food advertising. A study found the most attention-grabbing shots feature:
- Moving food. A picture of a glass of orange juice being poured is more appealing than a picture of a static glass of orange juice. This is because, to viewers, it implies freshness. “Protein in motion” is another term used to capture successful food photography, like oozing egg yolk, melting cheese and steaming meat.
- First-person perspective. Feature food as if the viewer can pick it off their screen and eat it rather than a picture from a third-person perspective of someone else eating the dish. Adding a spoon approaching from the right, for example, results in a consumer being 15 percent more willing to buy the product than if the spoon approaches from the left.
- Healthy food. The food porn movement is famously dominated by unhealty eats, like pizza and desserts. But a study by university researchers called “Fetishizing Food in the Digital Age” found that healthy food garners more “likes” than unhealthy food.
- Market to Right Audience
The population segment most often eating at home: families and groups of five or more people. Single adults with incomes above $100,000 drive restaurant sales. It’s no major surprise — it’s much cheaper for one person to eat out than a family — but should be noted in marketing plans. Cooking at home is still synonymous with cooking for a group.
Photo from: Foodies Feed
When in doubt, throw it out? Smell check? Taste test? Eyeball it? Food date labels have become so confusing that many consumers use their own sensory check to decode food expiration dates.
The food industry noticed. “Use By” dates are becoming uniform, with nine in 10 grocery store products now printing consumer-friendly labels. By 2020, all products will carry a simplified date. The 10 date-label categories will pair down to two – “Best if Used By” and “Use By.”
From Farm to Trash
Critical to food product relabeling is curbing massive amounts of food waste. A study by Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council found more than 90 percent of Americans are throwing away food before it goes bad because they misinterpret the food label.
“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist. “Phrases like ‘sell by,’ ‘use by,’ and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended but wildly ineffective food date labeling system to get a makeover.”
Over 40 percent of the American food supply doesn’t even make it to a plate. That amounts to $165 billion worth of food that’s thrown away annually. Food waste has become the single largest contributor of solid waste in U.S. landfills. The USDA and EPA set the first national food waste reduction goal in 2015: 50 percent less food waste by 2030.
The product labeling initiative was launched in 2017 by the two largest grocery trade groups – the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. Geoff Freeman, GMA president and CEO, called it a “proactive solution to give American families the confidence and trust they deserve in the goods they buy.”
The standardized labels are not mandatory. They are voluntary.
The USDA Food Inspection and Safety Service made the recommendation in 2016 for food manufacturers to to apply “Best if Used By” to product label. But the industrywide label standardization is not government mandated.
“Virtually every discussion included concerns regarding waste generated as a result of consumer confusion about the various date labels on foods and what they mean,” said Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman. “I am pleased to see the grocery manufacturing and retail industries tackling this issue head on. Not every issue warrants a legislative fix, and I think this industry-led, voluntary approach to standardizing date labels is a prime example.”
Dozens of consumer packaged goods brands and retail companies voted unanimously to change expiration dates exclusively to “Use By” by January 2020. Major brands like Walmart, Campbell, Kellogg and Nestle all spearheaded the change.
The 2020 date was set to give companies time to change dates on their packaging. It also coincides with the release of the new FDA nutrition facts panel.
The old labels – which included options like “Sell By” and “Display Until” – left consumers in a guessing game. Most products don’t include an explanation of the date, like whether it’s a descriptive feature for the store or the consumer. Even grocery store workers were confused. Employees were polled and reported they, too, cannot distinguish dates on food labels.
The new labels mean:
- “Best If Used By” – quality designation. This is the date the food manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.
- “Use By” – safety designation. Perishable food is no longer food after this date.
Legal Change on Horizon
Is a government mandate likely?
Currently, the only product federally regulated for expiration dates is infant formula. There is no legal definition for food expiration dates in most states. And state food labeling standards vary widely – 20 states restrict stores from selling products after the expiration date, while 30 states don’t enforce such a rule.
The Food Date Labeling Act was introduced to Congress in 2016, but no further action has happened. The act would legally require food date standardization, and require the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services to educate consumers on date label meanings.
Interesting, the proposal also questions the subjective nature of expiration dates. It states no one could “prohibit the sale, donation or use of a product after the quality date for the product has passed.”
Food Industry Lessons from the Great Recession: How Will Food Spending Change in an Economic Crisis?
Fermented food producers, it’s time to be vigilant. Economists predict America is on the cusp of a recession. Thankfully, sectors of the food industry remains strong in an economic downturn. Food is a basic necessity consumers won’t cut out of their budget.
But that’s no reason to wait out a recession without caution. That recession-proof statistic only applies to select parts of the food industry. During the Great Recession of 2007-2010, household food spending declined by 7 percent. The United States Department of Agriculture reported it was “the largest inflation-adjusted decline in food spending that accompanied a recession since 1984.” Food purchase patterns also changed, as budget-conscious consumers focused on money-saving methods.
Based on food spending data, there are key lessons fermentation leaders can use to prepare for an impending economic downturn. Here are five ways consumer food spending will change in a recession.
1. Grocery Store Spending Remains Fairly Steady
When the economy is bad, more consumers cook their own food. Spending at grocery stores dropped minimally during the Great Recession, falling only 1.3 percent from 2006 to 2009. The number of home-cooked meals increased, as did the amount of meals eaten in the home with family members.
2. Restaurant Spending Plummets
Restaurant spending rises and falls along with income levels. Dollars spent on food away from home declined 18 percent ($47 billion) during the Great Recession. This large dip in restaurant sales didn’t recover for 10 years. Restaurant sales began decreasing in 2006, and didn’t return to pre-recession levels until 2016. Restaurant Business Online said 2009 and 2010 “would prove to be the
worst two years in the modern era for the restaurant industry.”
3. Consumers Focus on Health
During an economic crisis, consumers are not turning to cheaper, unhealthier food options. USDA data shows adults had “increased concern” for their nutrition during the Great Recession. When the economy was at its worst, more adults were rating their diet as excellent, very good or good as compared with fair or poor. Food quality also improved. Total calories from fat and saturated fat declined; cholesterol content dropped, while fiber intake increased. More adults were also using the Nutrition Facts Panel on food packaging, too.
4. Discount Retailer Sales Rise
As consumers cut their budget, they trade high-end stores for discount, big-box retailers. Sales at Costco, Wal-Mart and Target all climbed 15 percent from 2007 to 2008. Economists point to the purchasing power of big-box retailers. Big-box prices help the retail giants outlast luxury stores and small shops during a recession. Natural supermarket Whole Foods, once criticized for premium prices, shed their “Whole Paycheck” reputation after the recession decreased their sales. In 2008, they began offering discounts, adding store brands and emphasizing value in their marketing.
5. Cost-Cutting Methods Reign
Consumers eliminate discretionary spending in a recession. They clip coupons, watch food sales, shop for generic brands and buy items in bulk. Interestingly, the average number of shopping trips to the grocery store increased during the latest recession, but the amount paid per transaction was 12 percent less. Private-label products (or generic or store brands) expanded faster than well-known, national brands during the recession. A record number 810 new private label food and beverage products was released during the recession, seven times more than the amount released in 2001.
(Photo: Foodies Feed)
Business advice from the No. 2 pickle brand in the nation: hire the right high-level people, use creative marketing and sell a fresh product rather than one packed with preservatives. Grillo’s Pickles owner Travis Grillo talked with Yahoo Finance about growing his business from humble beginnings as a pickle street cart in Boston to a brand now sold in Whole Foods and Target, netting $25 million in sales a year. Travis said some of the most well-known pickle brands are made with chemicals for a long shelf life. But Grillo’s is made fresh with an all-natural, fourth-generation family recipe.
Read more (Yahoo Finance) (Photo: Grillo’s Pickles)
Fermented food and drink products are the next big thing in the food industry. How does your product stand out in the marketplace? The Fermentation Association (TFA), getting more people to enjoy fermented products. Join us at fermentationassociation.org
Food venture centers are proving a valuable resource for fermented food startups. The Cornell Food Venture Center is helping aspiring food entrepreneurs in the Northeast with business development, product safety and commercialization. New York-based Perfectly Pickled Products (P3) shares their experience going from an idea to an agribusiness with the food venture center. They sell pickled eggs, sausage, beans and, of course, pickles. Many customers are drawn to the nostalgia, remembering eating these fermented favorites at their grandparents table.
Read more (Cornell Chronicle)
As fermented foods become mainstream, more products are launching and “each new brand is having to work even harder to capture consumers’ attention,” says the managing director of Carter Wong design studio. Kefir drink brand Nomadic (formerly Bio Green Dairy) is launching a new line of drinks. Their unique packaging labels were designed by the studio as part of Nomadic’s acquisition and rebrand. The aim of the packaging was to stand out on a supermarket shelf and include typography with an “authentic eastern European feel.”
Read more (Packaging Today Magazine)