For the fifth year in a row, fermented foods again top the Today’s Dietitian annual list of superfoods.

The 10th annual What’s Trending in Nutrition survey “reveals a wave of change resulting from the pandemic.” Public relations firm Pollock Communications, who conducted the survey for the magazine, surveyed 1,173 Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) about trends for 2022. The “most surprising change from the past decade,” RDNs agreed, was “the shift from low-carb to high-fat diets…followed by plant-based eating.” 

Health- and immunity-boosting food “will be the biggest trend in the next decade that will shape changes in the food industry.” Immunity support, affordability and emotional well-being are consumers’ top purchase drivers; convenience, healthy, taste, low-cost and natural are the top label attributes.

The label attribute “healthy” first made the top three list in 2019 “as consumers began to better understand the connection between food and overall well-being.” RDNs say the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the healthy food trend.

“With the focus on health and immunity in the next decade, and the increased popularity of plant-based eating, nutrient-dense options will be an important part of consumer diets, as [consumers]embrace food as medicine to help prevent disease,” says Louise Pollock, president of Pollock Communications. “In addition, there will likely be an increased interest in functional foods containing ingredients that provide health benefits beyond their nutrient profile.”

Consumer desire for gut-boosting benefits pushed fermented foods to #1 on the list. Changes to the top 10  show salmon is out and ancient giants are in. 

“The predictions of RDNs, the frontline experts in food and nutrition, are always reliable to help food and beverage manufacturers and marketers meet the demands of consumers. Our survey has accurately tracked health and wellness trends for a decade,” says Mara Honicker, publisher of Today’s Dietitian. “We are pleased to have been able to share these insights for the past ten years and especially during this chaotic time in our lives, when food is playing such a major role in providing health, wellness and emotional support.”

The full superfoods list is:

  1. Fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir
  2. Blueberries
  3. Seeds, like chia and hemp
  4. Exotic fruit, like acai and golden berries
  5. Avocados
  6. Green tea
  7. Nuts
  8. Ancient grains
  9. Leafy greens, like spinach
  10. Kale

To read all the takeaways from the 2022 survey, check out the Pollock Communications press release.

Kombucha for the Skin

Will 2022 be the year of fermented cosmetics? Market research firm WGSN thinks so. As consumers continue to desire natural cosmetics and Korean and Japanese skincare products, fermentation is a leading trend in the cosmetics industry.

Consumers want to protect their skin from environmental stresses and restore skin’s youthful glow and use potent ingredients that last longer, both factors fermentation addresses. WGSN calls the fermented beauty trend as “kombucha for the skin”

“…fermentation releases enzymes that break down molecules so they can better penetrate the skin, delivering powerful ingredients into the very structure of the skin or hair. The process of fermentation also cultivates the growth of beneficial bacteria such as lactic, organic and acetic acids, which act as natural preservatives,” according to WGSN. “These naturally occurring bacterias prolong the shelf life of formulas, appealing to both the sustainably minded and value-focused consumer.”

Smaller, niche brands already offer cosmetics using fermented ingredients. Gallinée’s hair cleansing cream is enriched with fermented rice water and Innisfree makes fermented soy masks.

Read more (Premium Beauty News)

“Human civilization simply would not have been possible without fermented foods and beverages…we’re here today because fermented foods have been popular for humans for at least 10,000 years,” says Bob Hutkins, professor of food science at the University of Nebraska (and a recent addition to TFA’s Advisory Board). 

Hutkins was the opening keynote speaker at FERMENTATION 2021, The Fermentation Association’s first international conference. His presentation explored the history, definition and health benefits of fermented foods.  

Cultured History

The topic of fermentation extends to evolution, archaeology, science and even the larger food industry. 

“The discipline of microbiology began with fermentation, all the early microbiologists studied fermentation,” Hutkins says. 

Louis Pasteur patented his eponymous  process, developed to improve the quality of wine at Napoleon III’s request. The microbes studied back then — lactococcus, lactobacillus and saccharomyces — remain the most studied strains.

“What interested those early microbiologists — namely how to improve food and beverage fermentation, how to improve their productivity, their nutrition — are the very same things that interest 21st century fermentation scientists,” Hutkins says. 

Hutkins is the author of one of the books considered gospel in the industry, “Microbiology and Technology of Fermented Foods.” He says that fermented foods defined the food industry. In its early days, it was small-scale, traditional food production that “we call a craft industry now.” At the time, food safety wasn’t recognized as a microbiological problem.

Today’s modern food industry manufactures on a large-scale in high throughput factories withmany automated  processes. Food safety is a priority and highly regulated. And, thanks to developments in gene sequencing, many fermented products are made with starter cultures selected for their individual traits. 

“But I would say that there’s been kind of a merging between these traditional and modern approaches to manufacturing fermented foods, where we’re all concerned about time sensitivity, excluding contaminants, making sure that we have consistent quality, safety is a vital concern and extensive culture knowledge,” Hutkins says.

Defining & Demystifying

Fermentation — “the original shelf-life foods” — is experiencing a major moment. “Fermented foods in 2021 check all the topics” of popular food genres: artisanal, local, organic, natural, healthy, flavorful, sustainable, entrepreneurial, innovative, hip and holistic. “They continue to be one of the most popular food categories,” Hutkins continues.

Interest in fermentation is reaching beyond scientists, to nutritionists and clinicians. But Hutkins says he’s still surprised to learn how many professionals don’t understand fermentation. To address  the confusion, a panel of interdisciplinary scientists created a global definition of fermented foods in March 2021

“Fermentation was defined with these kind of geeky terms that I don’t know that they mean very much to anybody,” he says. 

The textbook biochemical definition of fermentation that a microbiologist learns in Biochemistry 101 doesn’t work for a nutritionist or clinician focusing on fermentation’s health benefits. The panel, which spent a year coming to a consensus, wanted a definition that would simply illustrate “raw food being converted by microbes into a fermented food.” The new definition, published in the the journal Nature and released in conjunction with the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), reads: “Foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components.” 

Fermentation in 2022

Hutkins predicts 2022 will see more studies addressing whether there are clinical health benefits from eating fermented foods. The groundbreaking study on fermented foods at Stanford was important. It found that a diet high in fermented foods increases microbiome diversity, lowers inflammation, and improves immune response. But research like this is  expensive, so randomized control trials are few.

Fermented foods could also make their way into dietary guidelines.

“Fermented foods, including those that contain live microbes, should be included as part of a healthy diet,” Hutkins says.

FERMENTATION 2021 Wrap-Up

Nearly 300 individuals from around the world participated in The Fermentation Association’s first conference, FERMENTATION 2021. The virtual event included 35 educational keynotes, presentations, and panel discussions from more than 60 speakers over three days. Topics ranged from the science of fermentation to the art of fermenting to create flavor, from how fermented products are selling at retail to what’s next in the world of fermentation.

“I’ve been in this field for 40 years and, in all honesty, this is one of the biggest honors I’ve received, to be the speaker for this opening meeting of this really cool organization,” said Bob Hutkins, professor of food science at the University of Nebraska. Hutkins presented the conference’s opening keynote, Definition & History of Fermented Foods.

Over five years ago, John Gray, TFA’s founder, envisioned a trade show for producers of fermented foods and beverages, to make those artisanal items a more prominent part of the retail space. John connected with Neal Vitale, TFA Executive Director, and the organization was born out of their collective vision. TFA has grown, with a robust website, biweekly newsletter,a series of webinars and, now, an international conference. TFA has an Advisory Board that includes food and beverage producers, academics and researchers, and food and flavor educators and authors. TFA has formed working relationships with a number of other like-minded trade associations and organizations, and established a Buyers Council to create an active dialogue with food and beverage distributors, brokers and retailers.

“I have to tell you what a thrill it is to have you all here to witness and to participate in the beginning of a dream coming true,” added Gray in his welcoming remarks. Gray is the chairman and CEO of Katalina Holding Co., a food incubator and parent company of Bubbies Pickles.

FERMENTATION 2021 content paralleled TFA’s primary missions: first, help consumers better understand fermentation and its potential health benefits; second, work to improve health and safety regulations as they pertain to fermented products and third, connect the science and health research communities with producers, supporting scientific research and for a better understanding of the “state of the art.” 

What made FERMENTATION 2021 unique is that it was the first event to bring together everyone involved in the world of fermentation — producers, retailers, chefs, scientists, authors, suppliers and regulators. The conference was not a how-to fermentation education event, as TFA feels there are numerous, effective resources for the person looking to, for example, make kimchi or learn about using koji. 

“”We were delighted with how well FERMENTATION 2021 met — in fact, exceeded — our goals,” said Vitale. “While we were disappointed that the continuing impact of COVID-19 kept us from meeting in person, we were gratified by how all the participants responded, interacted, and engaged during our three jam-packed days. And, with recording of all our sessions now available online for our registrants, we expect that energy and excitement to continue.”, 

“Fermentation is experiencing a major surge of interest in restaurants and kitchens around the globe,” says Amelia Nielson-Stowell, TFA Editor. “Our conference was a major milestone for the industry and we are already in the planning stages for FERMENTATION 2022 next summer. And, assuming we will be able to meet in person once again, we plan to host a tasting and sampling event for consumers alongside our conference.” 

Food Technology’s latest issue features an article entitled “Not Just A Gut Feeling” which details how and why more consumers are buying and making fermented foods and drinks. Spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is growing interest in the gut microbiome and healthier food options.The curiosity around fermentation is buoying the retail category.

“It checks off all the boxes — artisanal, local, natural, sustainable, innovative,” says Bob Hutkins, food science professor of food science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (and a recent addition to TFA’s Advisory Board.) “People are making sourdoughs at home; they’re making kimchi at home; they’re going to kombucha bars. It’s definitely got the Gen Xers and the millennials intrigued.”

Included in the article are many insights from TFA — Advisory Board members Alex Lewin and Kheedim Oh, Executive Director Neal Vitale, and Editor Amelia Nielson-Stowell are all quoted.

Read more (Food Technology Magazine)

Sales of natural and organic products grew nearly 13% to $259 billion in 2020 , “despite the pandemic and, in some ways, because of the pandemic.”

“It’s very strong and, in many ways, it’s never been stronger,” says Carlotta Mast, senior vice president of the New Hope Network (producers of the event). Between pandemic-driven pantry loading, new brand exploration and the drive to purchase healthier, natural products, “people tried those new brands and, in many cases, they stuck with them, especially across the food and beverage categories.”

Mast shared these stats during the State of the Natural & Organic presentation at Natural Products Expo East. But forecasts show sales growing at a slower pace this year, to $271 billion. By 2023, sales are projected to surpass $300 billion.

Natural foods and beverages (including most fermented products) account for 70% of all natural product sales (the rest includes items like supplements and home and pet care products). Natural products are growing three times as fast as their mainstream counterparts.

“Not only were we growing quickly, we were outpacing the rest of the store…not only did our sales accelerate, they drove the whole (food) industry forward,” says Kathryn Peters, executive vice president at SPINS (a data provider for natural, organic and specialty products). “We’re finding consumers are coming and staying and continuing to buy more.”

Expo East Returns In-Person

Expo East is the first major food trade show to meet in-person since the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered events in March 2020. New Hope Network used a hybrid virtual and in-person model to produce the show, live-streaming the conference portion to virtual attendees.

“It was really exciting and satisfying to be back on a live show floor, interacting with people again. There was a real buzz,” says Chris Nemchek, TFA’s buyer relations director. “On day 1, you could tell there was a lot of pent-up demand.”

Health precautions were increased. Attendees had to show a Covid-19 vaccination card or a negative Covid-19 test administered within 72 hours. Masks were mandatory. Badges were no longer distributed to all attendees, only being printed upon request.

Food sampling, too, was much different than at a typical pre-pandemic trade show. Samples were only given by a gloved brand representative at an exhibitor’s booth. Food was stored behind sneeze guards, and surfaces were wiped down frequently.

“Exhibitors gave away less product, but the product they did give away was for more productive reasons — the people who took the sample really wanted it,” Nemchek notes.

“It was a good step back towards normal, but it wasn’t normal,” he adds. The size of the crowd at the show was not close to pre-pandemic levels (attendance numbers have not been released). But Nemchek notes that New Hope should still be pleased. “There’s now more confidence in the industry in putting on a food show again.”

Immune Health Driving Purchases

The natural and organic industry’s most popular products continue to be ones supporting immunity, health and wellness. Those attributes were consumer’s top purchase priorities in 2020, and remain strong in 2021.

Paleo (+25%), grain-free (+17%) and plant-based (+13%) foods and beverages registered the strongest sales growth. Plant-based products have seen especially strong sales over the past two years.

“Covid was a major driver for this boost in sales growth,” Mast says. Now “it’s our opportunity to keep those consumers.”

Consumers are exploring how they can use their diet as the first line of defense against illness, Peters adds. Immunity-related ingredients traditionally found on the supplement aisle, like cider vinegar, collagen, elderberry, moringa and ashwagandha,are now in grocery and refrigerated products.

“It’s revolutionizing the aisles in the store,” Peters says.

Changing Grocery Store Shelves

The U.S. is diversifying faster than predicted as well, and those demographic changes are influencing what’s selling. International foods are outperforming in grocery sales, growing at a 21% rate (compared with U.S. food at 16%).

“This is a huge shift for our country,” Mast says. “We’re seeing that, across our industry, more consumers are looking for that multicultural food.”

Mast notes, though, that leadership of the natural and organic products industry does not reflect the U.S. population.More BIPOC representation is needed on i company boards and leadership teams.

Shopping with Values

Consumers’ social and environmental values are also driving purchasing behavior. A survey by Nutrition Business Journal and SPINS found 76% of natural shoppers pay more for high-quality ingredients, 57% avoid buying food grown on industrial feedlots or chemical-intensive farms and 53% will pay more to support businesses that are socially- or environmentally-responsible. Consumers want companies to take social and political stances that reflect their own values.

“Our industry, because of our size, our scale and our influence, we could truly help create solutions to these problems and be part of building that new future,” Mast adds. “Think about the changes that we could help create for people, animal, planet — but it’s if we chose to do so.”

This is the first in a series of articles that TFA will be releasing over the next few months, analyzing trends from our Member Survey

Though fermentation brands overwhelmingly reported substantial sales gains during the Covid-19 pandemic, they’re not breaking out the champagne. Now, nearing fall 2021, many are starting to see sales flatten. This trend is consistent with sales for the food industry at large, which started to plateau in March 2021.

Most fermenters reported struggles meeting demand — packaging shortages (38%), costly and time-consuming Covid-19 sanitation protocols (30%), distribution delays (29%) and ingredient and labor shortages (both 28%). Then there’s the challenge of keeping a fermented product in stock with constantly changing sales demands.

Jared Schwartz, a TFA Advisory Board member, is founder of fermented sauce producer Poor Devil Pepper Co. and director of operations and quality for Farm Ferments (a facility in Hudson, N.Y., that is home to Hawthorne Valley Farm). He says forecasting has been especially difficult for a refrigerated fermented food with a processing cycle more delicate than that of its shelf-stable counterpart. 

“While these spikes in sales are incredible, they also depleted our on-hand WIP [Work-In-Progress],” Schwartz says. He would project barrels of fermenting vegetables to provide adequate inventory for a certain length of time, but peak pandemic demand depleted stock. Finding new ingredients is difficult because everything is sourced locally. “With fermentation, there is of course a much longer lead time on a finished product as the process can’t be rushed. So these challenges left us extending our production season and looking to source from the spot market, which is generally out of our norm. We generally source 95% of our ingredients from New York State and base our projections around the trajectory aforementioned.”

Sales Flatten After Record Year 

While predicting sales has been difficult — especially as many states are again increasing Covid-19 restrictions because of the Delta variant — some brand leaders were prepared for a decrease in sales in 2021. 

Kheedim Oh, founder of Mama O’s Kimchi (and also on TFA’s Advisory Board), said sales doubled in 2020. But, this summer, they fell dramatically from that peak. “July was terrible,” Oh says, but they “anticipate a boost in the fall since summer months are typically slower.” 

Revenue almost tripled in 2020 for hard kombucha brand Dr. Hops, but sales have since started to flatten. The company had secured new distribution before the pandemic, then redesigned their product line this year. “We would have likely done much more… if we had been able to do all the field sales and marketing we had planned,” says Joshua Rood, co-founder and CEO of Dr. Hops Real Hard Kombucha, 

Hawthorne Valley is seeing a similar downturn. Sales from March to April spiked about 50%, with overall year-over-year growth at 46%. But “things have definitely plateaued for now,” Schwartz says.

Supply Chain Nightmares 

Small packaging supplies — like the tiny plastic caps for glass kombucha bottles — caused huge production issues. Hannah Crum, president of Kombucha Brewers International, says this was the biggest challenge for brewers. “It’s had a massive impact,” she says. 

Twenty-four percent of survey respondents said they anticipate production constraints will continue to be a challenge throughout 2021.

And though sales remain strong for Bubbies pickles according to John Gray, owner of Bubbies (and TFA Advisory Board member), “glass shortages have affected the entire industry. Sales are strong, but shortages persist,” as he describes the pandemic’s double-edged sword facing many fermented brands.

Production and distribution issues hit frozen pizza brand Alex’s Awesome Sourdough, too — packaging costs went up 10%, and freight expense nearly doubled. But these didn’t slow the company’s growth. They expanded massively in 2020, from 100 to 1,500 stores. An overall uptick in frozen food sales helped them as well, especially as competing pizza brands went out of stock.

“Sales are strong as pizza is a seasonal category and the end of summer and early fall are the beginning of peak season,” says Alex Corsini, founder of Alex’s Awesome Sourdough (and another TFA Advisory Board member). “We anticipate sales being even stronger if Covid protocols remain strict and restaurants continue operating at a limited capacity. Restaurants definitely take a piece of our pie (pun intended).”

Tequila sales last year were 60 million gallons, 800% higher than two decades ago. This agave-based spirit has become so popular that distillers are “selling it at the price of gold.” What caused the boom? Celebrity endorsements.

From George Clooney to Arnold Schwarzenegger, LeBron James to Nick Jonas and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Kendall Jenner, celebrities have made billions off their tequila brands.

A Los Angeles Times article highlights the pros (a booming local economy in Mexico,  tequila being introduced to more people) and the cons (environmental concerns, agave plants harvested too young, diverse crop fields and forests turned into monocultures of agave, foreigners taking over a traditional drink) of this growth. The article continues: 

“Pre-Hispanic Indigenous groups in Mexico had been fermenting agave into a viscous alcoholic drink known as pulque for centuries when Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century and first distilled tequila. It has since evolved into an $10.8-billion-a-year industry.”

Read more (Los Angeles Times)

In America, where 40% of the population identifies as nonwhite, why do grocery stores still have an ethnic aisle? The outdated aisle initially began after World War II as a way for soldiers to buy the food they ate while in Italy, Germany or Japan. But the European foods, like pasta sauces and sauerkraut, eventually became integrated with the rest of the store, while foods from BIPOC countries stayed put. 

Heads of ethnic food brands and grocery chains have been pushing for a change, but it’s been a hard sell. Doing away with the aisle is a layered problem — and still not the most popular approach with food professionals.

“Several food purveyors of colors see the aisle as a necessary evil — a way to introduce their products to shoppers who may be unfamiliar with, say, Indian food — though a barrier to bigger success,” reads an article in The New York Times

Some ethnic brands come to store buyers with little capital to get their products on the shelf, so the only spot for them is on the ethnic aisle. They will never break out unless they’re acquired by a larger company. Larger corporations, like Pepsi or Nestlé, can afford to pay stores to put their products on shelves with prime product placement. And large ethnic brands (like Goya beans and Maruchan ramen) are placed on both ethnic aisles and their respective traditional product section because they’re considered broadly recognized.

But many products with international flavors made by nonwhite brands are not placed on the ethnic shelf. The Times shares the story of Toyin Kolawole, who runs the African ingredients brand Iya Foods. Kolawole tried to get her cassava flour into the flour aisle with a Midwestern retailer with no success. But when cassava flour began trending as a substitute for traditional flour, bigger companies launched their own cassava brands — which were put in the flour aisle. 

On the flip side, other food professionals note that consumers turn to the ethic aisle in search of international flavors. Customers like the convenience. There is a fear that unique ingredients (like tamarind or pomegranate molasses) without a clear spot in a grocery store would get lost in a conventional aisle. And, even worse for some brands, integration in an American grocery store means being “divorced from its cultural background.”

Read more (The New York Times)

The Fermentation Association recently surveyed our community to better understand who has engaged with us, how their businesses are doing and to gauge the impact of the pandemic. We want to share the very interesting results.

A few qualifying comments first, however. This survey should not be interpreted as producing a profile of the fermented industry — it reached only those with whom we have connected since TFA was launched in 2017. This group is heavily weighted to Food and Beverage Producers and those in the Science, Health and Research fields. And, even as we note surprisingly high response rates below, the quantities of responses to certain questions were small and would not meet standard analytical thresholds of statistical significance. So please treat the comments and conclusions that follow as directional rather than definitive. 

We received 450 full or partial responses — nearly twice the number we had expected and what we would have considered “good.” Not surprisingly, the bulk of these were from Food and Beverage Producers — just under half — with a strong representation of the Science, Health and Research community, a little less than one-fifth. The balance of the respondents were classified as Supplier or Service Provider (9%); Chef/Writer/Educator (8%); Retailer/Distributor/Broker (3%); Food Service/Hospitality (3%); or fell into a miscellaneous Other category (12%).

We will be presenting further analyses and follow-up discussions in the coming weeks. This article focuses on the two largest segments: first, Food & Beverage Producers; then, Science, Health, and Research. 

FOOD & BEVERAGE PRODUCERS

  • We found that over 80% of our Producers are small businesses with 25 or fewer  employees, and 65% had 2020 sales of less than $500,000. That said, over 11%  of the companies represented are toward the other end of the spectrum, with 100 or more on staff, and 13% with revenue of over $10 million.
  • We reach a lot of Owners/Founders/Senior Executives, over 70% of respondents. The next most well-represented functional areas are Operations and Product Development.
  • These businesses are spread across the developmental timeline — a little over 40% are selling at the local level, or earlier in their growth cycle (selling at farmers market or still in testing/pre-launch mode). Yet 45% are selling regionally, nationally or internationally.
  • Retail is still the largest (45%) channel of sale for these producers, but Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) is just slightly behind at 40%, with the remaining 15% through Food Service/Hospitality.
  • Sauerkraut/Kimchi, Pickles, Condiments/Sauces and Kombucha were the most frequently-listed product categories, each mentioned by more than 20% of the producers. Kefir, Vinegar/Shrubs, Wine and Miso also were mentioned often. Of the 25 product categories listed, we had respondents involved in every one — except poor, slimy, and unrepresented natto.
  • Nearly half of producers selling at retail and/or DTC had sales gains in 2020 and another third maintained their revenues. Not surprisingly, nearly 40% of producers selling into food service saw sales take a hit — only 15% reported gains. 
  • The Covid-19 pandemic caused a host of issues for producers, though their prevalence seemed to vary depending on the size of the company. Among larger producers, over 90% had issues meeting demand, with the primary problems being shortages of raw materials, packaging and staff, as well as distribution delays. Fewer of the small producers reported issues, but their problems fell into the same categories. Financial difficulties were cited more often among small producers.
  • Nearly 30% of producers took advantage of the government’s Payroll Protection Plan.
  • This year appears to continue or build on the sales levels achieved in 2020 for most producers. Nearly 40% report first quarter 2021 sales at the same level as last year, and nearly 50% reported further increases. And producers are optimistic about continuing these trends, with a mere 5% anticipating sales declines.  
  • Most (nearly two-thirds) of responding producers did not participate in tradeshows and conferences, and therefore felt no business impact from show cancellations in 2020.
  • The producers that did participate in events favored the Natural Products Expos, Fancy Food Shows and IFT Show. While some felt that they lost short-terms sales and their future growth was hurt by the shows being cancelled, nearly 30% noted that they saved money and time by not attending. Some of those savings were reinvested in increased marketing, DTC sales and virtual events.
  • Interestingly, half of the producers plan to continue their involvement as events resume at the same level as before the pandemic, and fully one-third plan to increase activity.
  • Looking ahead, producers see numerous challenges on the horizon, led by a need for expanded distribution. They expect many of the recent shortages to continue to challenge, compounded by production, facility and financial constraints. While Covid protocols and food safety concerns persist, they are joined by the need for product development, e-commerce skills, and consumer marketing
  • The clearly-articulated top priority for producers is a better-educated consumer. When asked what would foster increased consumption of fermented foods and beverages, the top item for nearly 70% is consumer education as to the nature and benefits of fermentation. The next highest priorities all support this same goal — more research into health impact (+40%), greater familiarity with flavors of fermentation (+40%) and more exposure at retail (+30%).

SCIENCE, HEALTH & RESEARCH

  • The bulk — nearly 75% — of these respondents work in an academic environment, with very small clusters in government and medical/health organizations. It’s a well-educated group, with over half holding doctorates, plus another quarter with Master’s degrees. Roles are split quite evenly into thirds — professors, science/technical support and students/postdocs.
  • Over 60% of these respondents are looking into connections between fermentation and health; roughly half are specifically focused on gut health and the human microbiome. Overall, three-quarters are currently researching fermentation and fermented products. Their activities, though, span the full spectrum of product categories. All the key categories among our producers — Sauerkraut/Kimchi, Pickles, Condiments/Sauces, Kombucha and Kefir — were well-represented in research. But they were joined by meaningful work across the board — Yogurt, Beer, Cheese, Alternative Proteins, Koji, Wine, Sourdough, Tempeh, Tea — even Natto!
  • Slightly more than a third of this group is involved with fermented alternative proteins – an important, emerging category.
  • Funding for research showed more declines (30% of respondents) than gains (under 15%) over the last year. But half of our sample expects funding to increase in the coming 12-18 month.
  • Our Science, Health & Research respondents were split in how they viewed the interest in fermentation research — 60% felt the focus was increasing, but the topic was not yet a top priority. Yet a third saw fermentation as a hot topic, with more emphasis and activity than ever. 
  • Respondents in this group shared the views of producers that the key activities that would drive increased consumption of fermented products are:
    • Consumer education about fermentation
    • More research into health benefits
    • Greater consumer familiarity with fermented flavors