During a June 6 presentation at the Sosland Publishing Purchasing Seminar in Kansas City, Nielsen discussed current and future food trends, including what’s next on the health and wellness horizon.
Protein may be peaking, she said, but a new focus on quality and customization has given rise to premium and plant-based sources, from pulses and grains to grass-fed meat and pastured dairy. Americans’ obsession with this nutrient may evolve into a greater interest in dietary fiber, Nielsen said.
Probiotic-enhanced foods continue expanding into the mainstream as digestive health remains a top priority for many consumers. This may lead to a deeper understanding and interest in prebiotics, Nielsen said.
“We know the food industry is already responding and have seen an increase in the number of products with prebiotics called out on labels,” she said. “At this point it’s still a little bit hidden, so you don’t see this promoted in a bigger way like you do with probiotics.”
“Superfoods is a health topic that continues to fascinate American consumers,” Nielsen said. “Americans still believe in the silver bullet theory that ‘If I just take one little pill it will solve all of my health problems.’”
More packaged food and beverages are featuring adaptogenic plants, such as ginseng, ashwaganda, reishi and chaga mushrooms and maca root. Popularized by traditional medicinal practices, such ingredients are associated with a host of health benefits.
Free-from foods also are evolving, with gluten-free options in the marketplace containing more nutrient-dense, real-food ingredients, such as coconut and almond flour and ancient grains, Nielsen said.
“How gluten-free food was made years ago, it’s very different now,” she said. “We also see more nutrients being added to these products to give them more substance and flavor.”
Vegans and vegetarians, still a small subset of the population, are inspiring new innovations using plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. Jackfruit has emerged as a popular substitute for pork. Aquafaba, or chickpea water, has been embraced by the vegan community as a stand-in for eggs in products like a mayonnaise substitute from Sir Kensington’s, a brand recently acquired by Unilever.
“We’re starting to see a higher order notion of ‘reducetarian’… talking about reducing the amount of meat, dairy and eggs you consume, the idea being you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian or flexitarian, but by simply reducing the amount of meat you enjoy throughout the year, you will be making an impact on the planet from a sustainability and environmental point of view as well as from a health point of view,” Nielsen said. “This brings more people into the equation.”
“We will continue to see delicious, tasty, creative offerings coming from this space,” Nielsen said.
Meanwhile, meat and dairy products are becoming more premium, sustainable and functional. Milk, in particular, is seen in new specialty formats that claim to offer better nutrition and digestibility. Small dairy producers may sell varietal milk, sourced from Jersey or Guernsey cows, which has a higher fat content and delicious flavor, Ms. Nielsen said.
Cellular agriculture, while in its infancy, is advancing as a means to achieving efficient and sustainable production of milk, beef and eggs without animals. Start-ups in this space include Perfect Day, which is developing milk made from dairy yeast, sugars and fermentation, and Clara Foods, which is producing egg white protein using yeast. Yeast also is a key ingredient in a meatless burger offered by Impossible Foods.
Plant products, too, are gaining power and reach, paving the way for algae and seaweed.
Hemp also is being touted as a healthful and sustainably grown ingredient, featured in non-dairy beverages, nutrition bars and vegetable burgers. Similarly, cannabis is muscling into the agricultural space, Nielsen said.
“From a food standpoint, the rise of cannabis in edibles has been tremendous,” she said. “It will be fascinating to watch the growth of this going forward.”