2008 Product Preview


In our 2007 Product Preview (December, 2006), we reported on several mega-trends that are still with us: Health and wellness, the green movement and big flavor continue to have a strong impact on product development. “Natural,” another 2007 product driver that is closely linked to fresh and organic, has broadened to include a wider spectrum of “feel good” foods, according to Menu Trends DIRECT from Datassential. Anything that is better for one’s health, the welfare of farmers and animals and the environment at large now falls under this umbrella. And customization is in greater demand than ever, as operators strive to differentiate their concepts without sacrificing the ease of value-added products.


Healthy happenings


The food industry’s big push in 2006-07 was the elimination of trans fats. Now that low-linoleic soy oil, zero-trans-fat fries and trans-fat free menus have hit foodservice full force, manufacturers are addressing other health and wellness issues. The Campbell Soup Company expects longevity to be the next big trend to impact product development. “When the health and wellness market first emerged, the focus was on foods with health benefits,” says Chor San Khoo, VP of global nutrition and health. “Now it’s a better quality of life.”


An aging population is not only looking for disease-fighting foods, they are demanding eating experiences that are high in flavor and satisfaction. 


“People are looking for flavorful ways to replace the so-called bad ingredients while still meeting all the satiety cues,” says Kevan Vetter, corporate executive chef for McCormick in Baltimore, Maryland. Restaurant chefs can skillfully combine flavors and cooking principles to increase the healthfulness of menu items, but food companies are also stepping in to ease execution, he points out. Products such as lower-fat sauces, reductions and smoked seasonings offer “back-of-the-house punch” without the need for specialty cooking equipment or long hours of labor.


Other health factors driving product development include the rising obesity rates (particularly among children), the prevalence of allergies and disease prevention through nutrition. The following categories are growing to address all these health issues.


Healthy product samples


Soy: The FDA claim that soy can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease has spurned a wide array of products. Non-dairy soymilk is readily available in mainstream restaurants; the latest to join the lineup is Pearl Organic Coffee Soymilk from Kikkoman. MicroSoy, an Iowa manufacturer, is capitalizing on the grab-and-go craze with Better Bites—cookies baked with 40 percent toasted soy flakes.


Whole grains: Manufacturers in the bread, cereal and snack areas are reformulating their products to include more whole grains and whole wheat flour. J&J Snack Foods recently introduced SuperPretzel soft pretzels with 51 percent whole wheat flour and Readi-Bake BeneFIT cookies and rolls made with 51 percent whole grains; all with a kid-friendly texture and flavor.


Lower sodium and fat: Harry’s Fresh Foods, a division of Basic American Foods, has reduced the sodium, fat and cholesterol in its new line of refrigerated Healthy Bistro soups and pastas. The preservative-free soups are made in small batches to protect the nutritive value and texture of the vegetables, then chilled and packed in four-pound pouches that have a refrigerated shelf life of 60 to 75 days.


Evergreen-er


Nationally, sales of organic food and beverages grew by almost 21 percent in 2006 to reach $16.7 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. While retail still accounts for the bulk of purchases, a 2007 survey of more than 1,000 chefs conducted by the National Restaurant Association ranked organic as a top menu trend. Manufacturers are paying attention. Organic companies have expanded to meet demand and mainstream manufacturers are jumping on the organic bandwagon.


Even so, the expense of complying with organic standards is limiting supply, especially when it comes to fresh produce and meats. To consistently source quality and quantity, a number of operators are turning to the broader category of “sustainable.” This is resulting in a growing commitment to ethical and fair trade products, environmentally friendly foods and packaging and local and seasonal foods, reports Mintel, the Chicago-based market research company.


“Green” will continue to grow in 2008 as more operators get on board. Several new and emerging fast-casual chains, including Pizza Fusion, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Organic-to-Go out of Seattle and Grille Zone in Boston not only serve all natural and/or organic food, they embrace every aspect of sustainability—from sourcing locally to using wind-powered energy and fully compostable serving ware. These and other eco-conscious concepts are poised for expansion and will need suppliers to keep them going.


Green product samples


Zeal is the brand name for new eco-labeled stone fruit being marketed by FreshSense, a tree-fruit trade association. Peaches, plums, nectarines, pluots and apricots sporting this label are produced under sustainable agriculture standards and certified by Protected Harvest, an independent nonprofit organization.


Black and red rice, rice chips, rice and grain medleys and many other rice products are now available to foodservice through Lundberg Family Farms. The company started growing brown rice organically in 1937 and currently offers 14 varieties.


100% All Natural is Tyson’s new banner for all its marinated, uncooked chicken products, including boneless and bone-in, fresh and frozen. The company recently gave this entire line a “cleaner label” touting minimal processing, no artificial ingredients and lower sodium.


The real thing


While local sourcing can be a good thing, strict locavores may miss out on some exceptional products that have to cover more food miles. “International specialty foods will be in more demand,” predicts Jacques Larson, executive chef at Mercato in Charleston, South Carolina. “Items like fregola (an ancient semolina pasta)infused olive oils and bottarga, salty pressed fish roe from southern Italy, are my favorites.” The 10th Americas Food & Beverage Show confirms Larson’s prediction. Hundreds of new products from 28 countries—including Malaysia, Korea, Cyprus, Poland, Australia, Brazil, China and Italy—debuted there in October.


This trend plays into customers’ craving for authenticity—especially when it comes to ethnic eating. Take Latin cuisine, for example. In its 2007 report, “Hispanic Foods and Beverages in the U.S.,” Packaged Facts states, “The yearning to experiment with all foods Hispanic has practically become a Latin fever in the United States. To catch this wave, food processors and chefs alike have to make a serious effort to acquire the right ingredients.”  The report goes on to say that “Mainstream Mexican” is one way to tap into the market (nachos, salsa, tacos, etc.). To be a frontrunner, “Authentic Hispanic” should also be part of the mix. This burgeoning segment can include ingredients such as horchata syrup and sofrito (a seasoned cooking base) as well as products from traditional recipes, including tamales and farofa (a Brazilian dish made with toasted manioc flour). Products in this category can reflect emerging Latin cuisines other than Mexican; Puerto Rico, Peru and Chile are ones to watch.


By 2011, Packaged Facts estimates that the Hispanic food and beverage market will reach a value of $8.4 billion. The major growth factor is the continuing increase of the Hispanic population and the demand for products classified as “Authentic Hispanic.”


Authentic product samples


Kona Kampachi is an Hawaiian yellowtail species that’s starting to swim onto mainland menus. The farm-raised fish has a high enough fat content to star in ceviches, sushi and sashimi as well as cooked preps.


Red Chile Pork Tamales from Bueno Foods begin with stone-ground corn masa and fire-roasted New Mexican green chile peppers or toasted red chilies. Available with pork, beef, chicken or vegetarian fillings, they’re marinated in red chile sauce and ready to heat and serve.


Fruit-A-Freeze Fruit Bars capture the spirit of the Mexican ice pops known as paletas. They’re made with chunks of real fruit in tropical flavors such as creamy coconut and mango-pineapple.


Quality convenience


The culinary IQ of Americans has gone way up and today’s value-added products must be designed to meet those higher standards. Although many operators need to save time and labor in the kitchen, they can’t skimp on the sensory experience. Perceived freshness, exciting flavor, appealing presentation and on-trend ingredients and preparations are all key—especially for emerging and regional chains and independents.


Datassential’s MenuTrends DIRECT, a menu analysis service, reveals that these smaller concepts target a narrower customer base with more specific and discriminating tastes. The good news is that new menu items and products can be added with less fuss, while the product development cycle for chain restaurants is much longer. Smaller operations can also test out new items with relatively little risk—which encourages a steadier flow of creative and unique offerings.


“Touched by a chef” is how some companies characterize their newest value-added entries, which are characterized by pumped up flavor, artisanal accents and  ingredients that look, feel and taste fresh.


Value-added product samples


Intense chocolate distinguishes Perugina Dark Hot Cocoa from Nestle FoodServices; it boasts 26 percent natural dark cocoa sourced sourced from Papua New Guinea. The kitchen just needs to add heated milk to serve.


Fully cooked pulled duck meat from oven-roasted legs is being introduced by Maple Leaf Farms. It delivers a contemporary crowd-pleaser in a flavorful protein platform that can easily be incorporated into appetizers, soups, sandwiches, salads and entrees.


Fresh-tasting fruit smoothies can be whipped up in any season with Dole Smoothie Starters. Three flavors—mixed berry, strawberry-banana and mango peach—come in pre-mixed, individually frozen pouches; blend with juice or yogurt or customize with green tea or soymilk.