The newest trends in food processing

The big new thing for the food industry in 2010? Not being big, or new – but instead being natural and old-feeling. Which is tough for the industry, because usually the way food businesses make money is offering something new. It’s hard to persuade buyers to try your product if you are offering more of the same. And its even harder to grow your market (imagine this pitch: this year eat more! We need your help.) All this may account for the slightly rueful tenor of the FoodProcessing.com’s write up of new trends for 2010. Witness:

At the risk of upsetting manufacturers of artificial preservatives, colorings and flavorings, Jane and Joe Sixpack simply cannot be more clear in their growing distaste for “chemicals” in their food. And yes, this trend is on track to grow.

That seems like it might be a positive indicator until we get to the next sentence:

Again, the Innova 2010 report positions the “natural” category as part of the simplicity trend. In the beverage category alone, the group noted “13 percent of global soft drinks launches in the first nine months of 2009 were positioned on a ‘natural’ platform, equivalent to nearly 1,000 products.”

Wait, all-natural sodas? We don’t really need a lot more of those. Last time I checked sweet drinks were already the main source of calories in our diet. Instead of really offering whole grains and pastured meat, most of the food industry efforts seem to be a form of dress up. People are worried about high fructose corn syrup now, so manufacturers are offering all-natural sugar instead. (For a while there the euphemism was”dehydrated cane juice” but maybe that’s starting to seem cynical to people). Don’t like artificial sweeteners? Well now we can sell you natural sweeteners! Nevermind that the health questions surrounding stevia are more troubling than those lingering around sucralose. I know that Michael Pollan feels a little guilty for aiding in the sugar renaissance, though he never said sugar was good – he just pointed out that having HFCS in ever single thing you eat can’t be good. But to end on a positive note – here’s to those in the food industry who are overcoming the challenges and actually offering real food. It’s tough – most producers have lost the skills to get truly simple foods to customers. The farmers are few and far between, and the product rots (pests tend to eat things that are healthy), but there’s a huge upside: There’s vacuum in the market and if you can find a way to genuinely satisfy that demand you’ll be rewarded.

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