Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q & A with Kimberly Lord Stewart, author and industry expert

Q: What group is most influencing the functional food and beverage markets?
A: Two groups on opposite ends of the age spectrum—20- and 30-somethings and active adults over age 55. There is a strong convergence of interest in the same types of products for Gen X & Y and seniors with energetic lifestyles (SWELS), but for very different reasons. Both groups are into probiotics in yogurt and fruit-drink shots, but the younger consumers like probiotic products for how they make them feel and look—less bloated, flatter stomach (think of the Activia challenge)—while the SWELS are interested in probiotics for specific conditions such as digestive and immune health. I see this as a continuing trend, especially as more dietary supplement ingredients are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food.

Q: How is kids’ nutrition influencing the market?
A: There is a trend going on where more children are being born right now than in the boomer generation. SWELS are grandparents to this new baby boomlet generation. From a product development perspective, what is good enough for grandparents and parents is good enough for their children. Probiotics and prebiotics are perfect examples. Seniors prefer them in supplement form for digestive health, while Gen Y and Xers like yogurt and probiotic drink shots, and give their children probiotic-fortified dairy drinks, cheese and gummies. Omega-3s are another case in point: These heart- and brain-health boosters can just as easily show up in a pill, a juice drink or an infant formula thanks to new developments in product formulation.

Q: What food and drink trends are on your radar?
A: Sweet is in, but with a new twist. Now that the FDA has given its stamp of approval on Reb A (refined stevia), the natural and alternative sweeteners market has taken off. PureCircle recently introduced a sugar-stevia blend product in partnership with Imperial Sugar. Though I haven’t tasted it yet, PureCircle claims the Reb A is uniformly dispersed in the sugar so there is less bitter aftertaste, which is common with stevia. Another interesting blend is luo han guo (a fruit sugar extract) and stevia. I expect to see a variety of new products in the coming year with this blend.

The Michael Pollan effect—eat only foods your grandmother would recognize—has led to a move toward foods with fewer unfamiliar ingredients. While this is a great concept, most Americans are not willing to give up on convenience foods.

Some of the most innovative product development surrounds novel uses of foods with high nutrition value and basic ingredients such as superfruits, nuts and whole grains. Consumers are less interested in pulverized, powdered starches with empty calories; instead, they want high-value nutrition that tastes good. For instance, how about a cereal or pasta made with almonds—it’s out there—and it’s gluten free, high protein, filling, simple and tastes good.

Q: Do you think sodium is the next trans fat?
A: Yes. Sodium reduction is perhaps the biggest food challenge today for manufacturers. Salt is in almost everything because it not only acts as a preservative, it tastes good. But ingredient manufacturers are coming up with new products that satisfy both needs, especially for canned foods. As the economy continues to falter, canned fruits and vegetables are a standby for many families, so getting the salt out should be a top priority for the health of the nation.

–Interview by Kelsey Blackwell

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