Food trends focus on health benefits

TORONTO — Tilapia ice cream may never win over fans of rocky road, but it offers a sweet way to add protein to the diet.

Developed by the Central Luzon State University and funded by the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines, the unique ice cream was one of thousands of products displayed and taste tasted at the SIAL international food and trade show in Toronto in May.

Dana McCauley, executive director of the Food Starter consulting firm, advised against dismissing fads in health trends, citing the example of the protein rich Atkins diet as an example.

“You can get some insights that will echo forward,” she said.

Registered dietitian Jane Dummer agreed, citing people’s inclination to jump on fleeting trends toward certain foods or products for health.

“So when developing a healthy food product, you need to think long term,” she said.

“When you do primary research, it’s important to ask what they did, not what they will do,” added McCauley, who noted how people often have “a willful blindness and a gap between intention and action.”

Consumers are looking to food for additional health benefits and moving away from pharmaceutical and nutraceutical sources. That includes looking beyond meat and entrees into dessert offerings with extra protein such as seen in the explosion in demand for Greek yogurt.

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Food with gut and bone benefits or rich in prebiotics are among popular choices.

“Everyone is looking at ingredients for new potential and looking at ingredients we didn’t even think of in the past,” said McCauley.

“There seems to be no limit to people’s creativity.”

For example, she said liquids are extracted from nuts to make dairy-like products such as cheese spreads and drinks.

Food innovations range from algae, seeds, nuts and pulses to insects such as crickets and mealworms.

Dummer conceded insects might be a tough sell.

“I have to get my mind around the ick factor,” she said.

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Other trends include a focus on fibre, a concern about sugar, and a return to fats such as butter, which has seen an uptick in consumption.

“Science has debunked information about low-fat diets, low-fat products being good for us,” said McCauley, who predicted that greater emphasis will be paid to dairy-based and saturated fat.

Also expect to see a greater focus on sugar with all sources to be listed on package ingredient lists.

Isabel Morales, consumer insights manager at Nielsen Marketing Research, said almost 60 percent of Canadians consider themselves overweight. Many are increasing activity levels and adjusting their diets to include more produce and water.

“They want to buy the items that haven’t been touched too much,” she said.

Morales said consumers are going back to basics, turning away from artificial flavours, sweeteners and colours.

She used jams, ice cream and yogurt as examples, noting that growth numbers are down for lighter and low-fat, no-sugar versions and up for regular varieties.

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