The return of food fashions that have gone out of style is only one of the trends turning the industry on its ear
Consumers are confusing unprocessed with fresh when it comes to food, said a registered dietitian, author and blogger.
“I think they have this romantic idea that they want things fresh and as unprocessed as possible,” Carolyn O’Neil of Atlanta, Georgia, told the Farms at the Table conference, which Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan organized in Saskatoon late last year.
“There is no definition of fresh because wine is processed, bread is processed, cheese is processed.”
O’Neil, whose presentation touched on emerging food and nutrition trends, said she finds it ironic that the home canning comeback is being driven by people who are trying to steer clear of processed food.
“Guess what, that’s a process, and you better follow the steps in the process to produce a safe product,” she said.
It’s part of a fun trend that she described as, “what’s old is new again.”
“Some of these foods I call old school, like prunes and canned soups, because they’re being reformulated to look fresher and be fresher and have cooler recipes,” she said.
Cottage cheese is one of O’Neil’s favourite comeback foods, which for years has stood in the shadows of the likes of Greek yogurt.
“Two can play this game,” she said in describing how cottage cheese is now sold with fruit on the bottom.
“Of course, cottage cheese is affordable and palatable and a lot of older people don’t like the taste of yogurt still. Cottage cheese is a great source of protein, calcium, and other dairy nutrients.”
Irwin Hanley, chair of Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan, said it will be interesting to watch where this trend goes.
“We kind of went down the path of trying to kick the old out, and the old wasn’t necessarily bad,” said Hanley, who grows grain south of Regina.
“I’m actually concerned about these trends of no preservatives, no this and no that. Is there going to be health issues 20, 30 years down the road for those people who are making those choices? Time will tell whether that was the right choice for them to make in their diet.”
Plant based products are in fashion in terms of nutrition.
A variety of pastas are now made from pulses such as pea protein and chickpeas, including snacks made from lentils.
“There’s been a real explosion of plant-forward kinds of foods beyond the usual, like a wheat cracker,” O’Neil said.
“Consumers really like this idea. It’s like snacks with benefits, in a way.”
Anything to do with digestive health is also popular.
“Digestive health is the new darling, where we’re taking care of our guts because our guts are really important in our immune system,” she said.
“So you’ll see a lot of food products that are advertising or adding ingredients that are gut friendly, to feed those healthy bacteria that are in your stomach and other parts of your gut.”
This includes a “bonanza bevy” happening in the beverage arena, where consumers want their liquid refreshments with added benefits.
“We kind of went from soft drinks, sodas and things like that where consumption is down, to waters, which is taking off like crazy. Different benefits are being added to beverages so while you’re drinking you’re also doing something for yourself,” she said.
“Even if you live in a place where the tap water is fine, you add flavours.”
While it’s important to hydrate, studies have shown people will consume more water if it’s slightly flavoured, as well as offset “palate fatigue or water fatigue.”
“It’s as easy as adding a little bit of orange juice or whatever you have to the water so you actually drink more of it,” she said.
Another trend involves the habits of millennial consumers, who are dining out more than older generations.
The proof is in the pudding in communities like Saskatoon, where she said the number and variety of restaurants is booming.
“They (restaurants) are exciting, inventive, and it’s really a product of people going there,” she said.
“They have customers and that’s why they’re there. They (millennials) may be looking at food bloggers for recipes, but they’re dining out.”
Young consumers enjoy experimenting with smaller portions and shared plates with different tastes and flavours.
“I think that there may be times where you want to have the salad, the entrée, the dessert, but that’s really kind of going out the window,” she said.
Technology is also changing the way this generation eats, and reservations are becoming a thing of the past.
“Now with the smartphone, the millennials are texting each other, ‘no, I can’t get there until such and such a time,’ ” she said.
As producers, Hanley said it’s important to be aware of different consumer trends and choices and what they view as healthy to eat.
Buying local directly from the producer is a rising trend that stood out for him.
However, it’s important that consumers recognize that local doesn’t necessarily mean homegrown.
“It may be outside their boundaries and they have to recognize that the producer is providing that local choice or doing it in the best interests of the consumer,” he said.
“As a producer, I’m going to say all food is safe.…
“If I grow the produce, I’m going to feed my family, I’m going to feed someone else’s family, with the same produce because I’m trying to do it in the best interests of everyone.”
While average urban consumers have a higher level of education than previous generations, Grant Wood from the University of Saskatchewan’s plant sciences department said they lack general information about food production.
He said it’s mostly up to commodity organizations, universities, and food organizations to help get that information out.
“The problem is how do you inform, educate and excite the person who isn’t really wanting to be informed. People are making decisions based on hearsay, and that’s a problem,” he said.
“It’s only when you get something happening that there’s a big splash in the news that they figure out they should know something.”