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.”
Kimchi, fermented sauces and tempeh are driving growth in the fermented food and beverage category, a $9.2 billion industry that’s grown 4% in the last year.
“We’re excited about the growth potential for fermented food. While fermented food represents about 1.4% of the market today, there are segments that are tracking well above the growth of food and beverage [overall] that are poised for disruption in the future,” says Perteet Spencer, vice president of strategic solutions at SPINS. Spencer shared this information in a recent webinar hosted by The Fermentation Association. “There’s a ton of opportunity to scale and increase the footprint of these products.”
SPINS spent weeks working with TFA to define the fermentation industry’s sales, drilling into 10 fermented product categories and 57 product types. Wine, beer and cheese sales were excluded from the data — those categories are very large, and would obscure trends in smaller categories. (All three are also well-represented by other organizations.)
Pickles and fermented vegetables “is a space that’s seen [a] pretty explosive uptick in growth over the past year,” Spencer says. Every segment is growing — kimchi, sauerkraut, beets, carrots, green beans, sliced and speared pickles and all other vegetables — with pickles the largest, nearly 60% of the category.
The biggest growth, though, is coming from products other than pickled cucumbers. Kimchi is at the center of numerous consumer retail trends. Consumers are purchasing healthier food made with fewer ingredients, and they want food with international flavors. Kimchi makes up only 7% of the category, but sales are increasing at an explosive 90% growth rate.
More people are experimenting with fermenting while they’re at home during the coronavirus pandemic, but these kitchen DIYers do not appear to be detracting from sales.
“The more people make fermented foods, they appreciate what’s available in the store that maybe didn’t exist five or 10 years ago,” notes Alex Lewin, author and TFA advisory board member who moderated the webinar. “Anyone who has made kimchi knows it takes a lot, it makes a big mess, you get red pepper powder stuck under your fingernails and onion in your eyes. I can make kimchi (at home), and then once I’ve made kimchi, I’m like ‘Ok, maybe next time I’ll buy it.’”
Fermented sauces are also growing, up 24% in 2020. The largest segment in sauces is, of course, soy sauce, almost 85% of the category. But gochujang, less than 2% of the category, is increasing at over a 56% growth rate.
Versatility is helping sauces, pickles and fermented vegetables, Spencer says. Any food product with multiple uses is selling well. The condiments and sauces can be used as a topping on eggs, hamburgers or pizza, or mixed-in a salad, rice dish or soup.
Sake, plant-based meat alternatives and miso had combined annual growth of $75 million in 2020. Sake grew 16%, and both plant-based meat alternatives and miso each grew 26%.
Yogurt and kombucha still dominate the fermented food and beverage market. Yogurt is 81% of the market; if yogurt is removed, kombucha is 51% of the remainder.. Both have experienced slowdowns in sales from their peaks. Kombucha sales have slowed recently, as grab-n-go opportunities have shrunk during the pandemic.
Yogurt giant brands Chobani, Yoplait and Dannon still dominate the category, as do GT Kombucha, Health-Ade and Kevita reign for kombucha.
Spencer notes the 4% growth rate of fermented products overall would be higher without yogurt. It’s a large category that — despite an uptick in 2020 during the pandemic – has been fairly flat in recent years. Core (traditional) yogurt has been growing at a 1.6% rate; Greek yogurt, at about twice that pace. Those two segments account for roughly 80% of the category.
“This is an opportunity for disruption for emerging brands,” Spencer says. “We’re already seeing some of the legacy segments start to get disrupted by new innovation, so I’m excited to see the evolution of that innovation and where that goes and kind of what opportunities peek out of that.”
“Overall, we’re seeing historically small segments gaining traction in the marketplace,” Spencer adds. “The pandemic has brought a renewed consumer focus on the fermented space.”
Though fermented products have an added healthy benefit, customers are looking for delicious flavor first.
“In these fermented categories we covered today, taste first is always really important. I think people are going to these categories for different taste experiences,” Spencer says. “If you can level up with a functional benefit, that’s fantastic, but we have to balance the taste first. If it’s highly functional but doesn’t taste good, it just doesn’t have the same success.”
More Americans are purchasing premium foods during the pandemic. Growth is fueled by Millennial consumers looking to have an “experience” from home, eating fancy food from their kitchen table during the pandemic rather than going out. Many fermented products are considered premium. According to market research firm IRi, five of the top 15 food categories with a “premiumization” effect are fermented products: spirits, beer/ale/cider, wine, coffee and yogurt.
Read more (IRI Worldwide)
Scientists in Italy have discovered lactic acid bacteria in fermented food transfers to the gut microbiome. Though this is a widely accepted health benefit of fermented foods, there is little scientific research linking fermented food and the microbiome. The study looked at distribution of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) in humans based on location, age and lifestyle.
LAB genomes were reconstructed from about 300 foods and nearly 10,000 human fecal samples from humans from different continents.
The most frequent LAB food in the human feces: streptococcus thermophilus and lactococcus lactis, commonly found in yogurt and cheese.
“Our large-scale genome-wide analysis demonstrates that closely related LAB strains occur in both food and gut environments and provides unprecedented evidence that fermented foods can be indeed regarded as a possible source of LAB for the gut microbiome.”
Read more (Nature Communications)
Yogurt’s evolution in America mirrors the country’s food culture. From the sugar-filled yogurt of the 80’s to the fruit-on-the-bottom cups of the 90’s to protein-heavy Greek yogurt of the 2000’s to artisanal styles (Icelandic, French, Australian) of the early 2010’s to the non-dairy varieties of the late 2010’s and to the current trend of low-carb, high-fat, keto-friendly yogurt. Americans used to scoff at tart-tasting yogurt — now it’s embraced and sugar-filled yogurt is shunned.
“With yogurt occupying more and more shelf space in grocery stores — and tracking so closely with American diet habits — companies are constantly trying to figure out what’s going to be big in yogurt,” reads the article. Experts are betting on yogurt made with cold-brew concentrate and protein-rich, dairy-free yogurt made with with synthetic proteins.
Continues the article: “(Frank Palantoni, former vice president of marketing for Dannon) compares what has happened with American consumers and yogurt to what happened with wine. ‘Americans have a very limited receptivity of their palate to new flavors,’ he says. But once given options, with different tastes and textures, ‘you will eventually develop your palate and it will get more sophisticated.’ The variety in yogurt has made many people more adventurous eaters. As packed as the yogurt aisle seems, expect even more wide-ranging offerings in coming years. And that, he adds, is a good thing.
Read more (Vox)
In a matter of days, the novel coronavirus outbreak dramatically changed grocery shopping. Empty grocery store shelves have become a ubiquitous symbol globally of home quarantine.
Sales exploded for pantry staples like dried beans (62.9%), powdered milk (126.3%) and rice (57.5%). But another grocery quarantine must-have item is emerging – fermented food and drink. Sales are up for kombucha (10.1%), natto is selling out in Japan, yogurt is selling out in Europe and pickle and sauerkraut sales in Russia are up 79%. Fermentation brands are reporting some of their biggest sales during the month of March, as much of the nation was forced into self-isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“For fermented food, it’s an interesting time. We’re an immune boosting type of food, so our sales are skyrocketing. We’ve had the best month we’ve ever had in business,” says Drew Anderson, CEO of Cleveland Kitchen and TFA board member. Cleveland Kitchen makes sauerkraut and fermented dressings and marinades. “It is bittersweet. Obviously, we want this virus to go away. But we’re seeing the fermentation industry as a whole, the one benefit is it’s driving a lot of trial. People say ‘I heard fermented food is supposed to be good for you, I’m cooking more, why not grab a pack of kraut.’”
Though sales are high, brands are changing their operation model. Rather than running two shifts of processing at Cleveland Kitchen, they’re down to one. Employees must take daily temperature readings before work, stop for mandatory handwashing breaks and use new Purell hand sanitizing stations.
“Sales are up overall, but we have had to implement our emergency sanitation protocols to continue production,” says Meg Chamberlain, CEO of Fermenti, LLC. The North Carolina-based brand sells a variety of vegetable ferments, teaches fermenting workshops and hosts annual the annual WNC Fermenting Festival. Their staff is under voluntary home quarantine – which means staff only goes from work to home. “Overall our company is proving resilient and we are hopeful to continue to provide Fermenti to our community.”
Because food production is considered essential business, licensed fermentation companies have not been forced to stop working during the coronavirus outbreak.
Aneta Lundquist, CEO of 221 B.C. Kombucha, has been posting videos to her Instagram stories of the Florida based kombucha processing facility. Lundquist says employees are working overtime to deliver orders.
“Our orders during the global pandemic have spiked. Consumers have gone full blown ‘healthy’ food during this health crisis,” she says. “Now is the time to make a switch from over-processed and denaturalized pseudo foods to real, natural and unprocessed foods that nourish our body, mind and spirit and help building a strong immunity.”
Lundquist adds customers need to “think of kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and other fermented fruits and vegetables as microbiome rock stars!…Always choose wildly fermented foods.”
“Remember it is about diversity and the quality of microorganisms, not just quantity. You can only achieve this by fermenting traditionally.”
Keenan Smith, CEO of Goodwolf Kefir in Portland, agrees. He says: “The probiotic and fermented space will increase as people have an increase in health awareness and want a better functioning immune system.” They are home delivering their kefir, and donating a
Brands are getting creative with their marketing, too. Goodwolf Kefir is home delivering kefir to the Portland area and donating a proceed of sales to their local food bank. Cultured South and Golda Kombucha have setup a pick-up fridge at their Atlanta location where customers can prepay for an order online, get a secret code to unlock the fridge and grab fermented food and drinks. Wild Kombucha in Baltimore is offering free, local, “no human touch” home delivery for their 12 pack bottles. 28 Mile Vodka & Distillery in Illinois have converted their distillery to make hand sanitizer that they call “Fool’s Gin.” The CEOs of Miyoko’s Creamery and Lifeway Kefir are both using the brands Instagram accounts to share recipes using their product.
Outside the U.S., though, different government rules are restricting fermentation brands from operating during the global outbreak. In India, Mountain Bee Kombucha has halted operations during a 21-day lockdown.
“There is no question that our business is impacted immensely, one for the fact that we are still quite small-scale which supplies directly to a handful of local grocery stores. Currently those grocery stores have been working at limited capacity and/or temporarily shut,” said founder and head brewer Honey Islam. “Another reason for lesser business in these times is due to the lack of awareness in the Indian market about fermented foods, especially kombucha. We are engaged in educating our customers as well as spreading awareness in the community via workshops, classes, 101 sessions, pop-ups, all these channels are education are currently disrupted which stalled our efforts in bringing kombucha awareness to the masses.”
Mountain Bee Kombucha is focusing on educating through Instagram videos and YouTube tutorials.
Americans are hearing the term “microbiome” a lot lately. It’s become a common phrase in health food marketing. But the microbiome is still uncharted territory in science.
Dr. Shilpa Ravella, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, says a large army of trillions of bacteria lives on or in us, and we can alter that bacteria by fueling it with the right (or wrong) foods.
“There are also ways of preparing food that can actually introduce good bacteria, also known as probiotics, into your gut. Fermented foods are teeming with helpful probiotic bacteria, like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria,” Ravella says.
Fermented food and drink are critical to caring for gut bacteria. Because fermented products are minimally processed and provide nutrient-rich variety to diets, she adds.
But that doesn’t mean all fermented products are created equally. Yogurt is a beneficial food, for example, but some brands add too much sugar and not enough beneficial bacteria that the yogurt may not actually help.
Ravella shared her insight in a TedED talk. As the director of Columbia’s Adult Small Bowel Program, she works with patients plagued by gut issues.
“We don’t yet have the blueprint for exactly which good bacteria a robust gut needs, but we do know it’s important for a healthy microbiome to have a variety of bacterial species,” she adds. “Maintaining a good balanced relationship with them is to our advantage.”
Gut bacteria breaks down food the body can’t digest, produces important nutrients, regulates the immune system and protects our bodies from harmful germs.
Though multiple factors affect our microbiome – the environment, medications and even whether or not we were birthed vaginally or through a C-section – the food we eat is one of the most powerful allies for the microbiome.
“Diet is emerging as one of the leading influences on the health of our guts,” Ravella adds. “While we can’t control all these factors, we can manipulate the balance of our microbes by paying attention to what we eat.”
In addition to fermented food and drink, fiber is also key. Dietary fiber in foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grain are scientifically proven to colonize the gut.
“While we’re only beginning to understand the vast wilderness inside our guts, we already have a glimpse of how crucial our microbiomes are for digestive health,” Ravella says. “We have the power to fire up the bacteria in our bellies.”
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to put health on the forefront of consumer’s minds, the sales of probiotic products are rising. GlobalData, an analytics company tracking grocery sales, notes that natto (fermented soybeans) were out of stock in Japan consistently since the outbreak. Sales of yogurt are also increasing.
“Consumers are more actively buying probiotic products. There will not be natto panic buying in Europe, but probiotic products claiming to improve the immune system are likely to grab consumers’ eye,” said Mitsue Konishi, senior innovation analyst at GlobalData.
For the third year in a row, fermented foods tops Today’s Dietitian list of the year’s No. 1 superfood. The annual “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey reveals the hottest food and nutrition trends to look for in 2020.
“The 2020 survey results send a clear and consistent message. Consumers want to live healthier lives,” says Louise Pollock, president of Pollock Communications. “They have access to an incredible amount of health information, and they view food as a way to meet their health and wellness goals. Consumers are taking control of their health in ways they never did before, forcing the food industry to evolve and food companies to innovate in response to consumer demand.”
Consumers are using fermented products as “powerhouse foods,” foods that boost gut health and reduce inflammation. Some nutrition experts recommend fermented foods should be included in national dietary recommendations.
In April, Today’s Dietitian published an article “The Facts About Fermented Foods.” In it, Dr. Robert Hutkins, a researcher and professor of food science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, shared his expert opinion on fermentation. Hutkins wrote what many in the field consider the most exhaustive textbook on fermentation, “Microbiology and Technology of Fermented Foods.” He explained how fermented foods have a long history in the human diet.
“Indeed, during much of human civilization, a major part of the human diet probably consisted of bread, yogurt, olives, sausages, wine, and other fermentation-derived foods,” Hutkins told Today’s Dietitian. “They can be considered perhaps as our first ‘processed foods.’”
Hutkins, who studies the bacteria in fermented foods, said researchers like himself “are a bit surprised fermented foods suddenly have become trendy.”
“Consumers are now more interested than ever in fermented foods, from ale to yogurt, and all the kimchi and miso in between,” he says. “This interest is presumably driven by all the small/local/craft/artisan manufacturing of fermented foods and beverages, but the health properties these foods are thought to deliver are also a major driving force.”Fermented foods first appeared in the survey of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) in 2017, where it was the 4th most popular superfood.
The full superfoods list includes:
- Fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir
- Exotic fruit, like acai, golden berries
- Ancient grains
- Non-dairy milk
- Green tea
Health and wellness professionals are recommending food and drink to aid chronic health conditions with a centuries-old cooking legacy – fermented dairy.
“Fermentation is back. In fact, we have over 10,000 years of fermentation history and we aren’t done because, right now, it is a hot culinary and nutrition topic,” said Andrew Dole, chef, dietitian and owner of BodyFuelSPN. “Today, fermented foods have found a resurging popularity. The combination is based in the unique taste profile, the artisan aura, and the health benefits that have secured fermented foods in the top spots with trend spotters.”
Dole spoke at the “Get Cultured on Fermented Dairy Foods” webinar with National Dairy Council representatives Sally Cummins and Chris Cifelli. Using independent, clinical studies, the trio highlighted how fermented dairy – especially dairy with the “nutrition powerhouse” of milk – can boost gut health, decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Fermented Food Just as Important as Fiber
Fiber is the shining star of the health world to aid the complex gut microbiome, but fermented food and drink are equally as important said Cifelli, PhD, vice president of Nutrition Research for the National Dairy Council.
“When we think about food, we think about fiber and we know the benefits of fiber in terms of helping our microbiota, but we also don’t think about getting those live and active cultures the same way and we really should,” he said.
The microorganisms that come from fermented foods are just as critical as fiber. He pointed out the Live & Active Culture seal as an important indicator of how to find dairy products with good bacteria. That seal – a voluntary seal by the National Yogurt Association – identifies a yogurt product that contains at least 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacturing. Some yogurt brands are heat treated after fermentation, killing any good bacteria. The seal is “the industry validation of the presence and activity of significant levels of live cultures,” according to the National Yogurt Association.
Fermented Dairy as Preventative Food
The human digestive tract contains 100 trillion bacterial cells. But modern practices like sanitation, antibiotics, processed food, c-section births and baby formula use have altered microbiota composition. Cifelli said scientists still don’t understand whether disease is a cause or consequence of an imbalance of good and bad bacteria (known as dysbiosis).
Fermented dairy foods, though, are linked to numerous positive health benefits. As plant-based milk products become increasingly popular, Cifelli noted the research all studied dairy milk products. He called milk “a foundational ingredient in all fermented dairy.” The essential nutrients in milk give it a unique health profile, the reason the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three daily servings of dairy food.
Diabetes and cardiovascular disease – two of the major disease plaguing Americans today – both have beneficial health outcomes when a patient consumes fermented dairy products.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Consuming more dairy products reduces risk for Type 2 Diabetes by 7%. Eating 80 grams of yogurt daily compared to 0 grams of yogurt daily reduces risk for Type 2 Diabetes by 14%.
- PLOS One (Public Library of Science): Eating 30 grams of cheese daily and 50 grams of yogurt daily reduces risk of Type 2 Diabetes by 6%.
- BMC Medicine: One serving of yogurt a day is associated with a 17% reduced risk for Type 2 Diabetes.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: A high daily intake of regular-fat cheese for 12 weeks did not alter LDL cholesterol levels of metabolic syndrome, both risk marks of cardiovascular disease risk.
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Cheese consumption reduces the risk of: cardiovascular disease by 10%, coronary heart disease by 14% and stroke by 10%.
- Journal of Hypertension: Higher total dairy intake (3-6 servings a day), especially in the form of yogurt (at least 5 servings a week), associated with a lower risk of incidence of high blood pressure in middle-aged and older adult men and women.
- American Journal of Hypertension: Hypertensive men and women who consumed 2 servings per week of yogurt, especially while eating a healthy diet, were at a lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Cifelli called the studies “significant. He added: “there’s been a huge body of evidence looking at dairy guidelines and (diabetes and cardiovascular disease) risk. … We’re really scratching the surface of what (fermented foods) means for health in the long run.”
Incorporating Fermented Foods
Dole, a chef, said you’re “bringing science to the table when it comes to fermented dairy foods.” Fermented foods enhance food by providing an increased concentration of vitamins, adding delicious flavor and increased texture. He shared multiple recipes using yogurt. Yogurt can be used for dip, spread, sauces, dressings, soups and marinade.
“Yogurt is a culinary powerhouse, from a chef’s perspective. We’re always looking for what has the most bang for its buck in versatility, and yogurt is ready-made everything,” he said.
“The (yogurt) fermentation process from a culinary perspective that creates that lactic acid, it works to tenderize meat. Indians have used it in their tandoor for a really long time. Another reason, the sugar caramelizes…and it completely changes the flavor profile and the color. And we get the unique taste of that yogurt tang, it imparts a different balance and depth, which is something home cooks can struggle to get.”