Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q&A with Mary Jo Marks: food trends on the horizon

Mary Jo Marks, natural and organic category specialist for UNFI, a Providence, R.I.-based natural, organic and specialty products distributor, discusses what drove trends in 2011 and what we may see in 2012.

Q: Which food and drink trends are on your radar?
A: The primary food trends I’m seeing revolve around super grains. Things like quinoa, freekeh, chia and farro are turning up as finished grains and as ingredients. Veganism is on the rise. Meat is expensive and people are wary of the food supply with all the recent recalls. There’s also the humanitarian aspect. Many college-age consumers who are adopting this lifestyle rely on these types of grains for B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Drink trends are still focused on beverages with probiotic benefits. They’ve been hot for about three years now and show no signs of slowing down. When kombucha drinks were pulled last year because of alcohol content, a lot of people were afraid sales would take a dip—similar to what happened after the peanut butter recalls. That hasn’t been the case. If anything, the category came back stronger. Now what we’re seeing are kombuchas in cool flavors, like Vibranz’s Blood Orange and Chai varieties. This will set the bar higher for more unique flavor combinations in the category.  

Q: How did 2010 shape what we’re seeing this year?
A: Last year was the year of education. The Organic Trade Association did an incredible job educating consumers on the value of organic. There was also a lot of attention around the Non-GMO Project and fair trade. We’re starting to see more products with these third-party labels, and [these products] are becoming more widely available—not just in specialty or natural stores but in mainstream supermarkets. The prices are coming down, making them more affordable to the average shopper. 

Q: Which overall issues do you think will most impact natural and organic product development?
A: Bigger manufacturers are starting to mimic the naturals industry. We’re not just a $1 million industry anymore, and bigger companies want a piece of that pie. They’re looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition and also appeal to more health-conscious consumers. Heinz has organic ketchup now. Oscar Mayer has a nitrate-free hot dog. Frito-Lay has made a commitment to cut monosodium glutamate and synthetic dyes out of half of its product line. I think we’ll continue seeing more of this in 2011 and 2012.

With first lady Michelle Obama’s focus on children’s nutrition, companies like Revolution Foods are working with school districts to reformulate school lunch programs to be more nutritious. They’re coming out with products with lower sugar content and no synthetic dyes.

Gluten free will also continue to grow. We haven’t seen it slow down at all, just continue ramping up. Consumers have accepted it as a way of life now. These foods are not just for people diagnosed with celiac disease anymore. People are turning to gluten-free foods to treat autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Q: In which categories do you expect the most growth?
A: Consumers are still busy in their daily lives, and convenience is key. I expect we’ll continue to see a lot of growth from the on-the-go categories. Whole-meal nutrition bars, single-serve yogurts, and heat-and-serve rice meals in lower-sodium varieties will thrive as harried consumers search for healthier on-the-run meals and lunch box options. Along those lines, burritos are a top-selling category. Evol Foods has a standout product and Amy’s just came out with a gluten-free burrito that tastes great. 

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.