Whole grains have long suffered from an image problem. Sexy, they?re not. But that could change when consumers find out that what makes whole grains whole are their three components: the bran, the germ and, yup, the endosperm. What could be sexier?
?ProductScan Online shows that fiber is really hot,? says Stacey Zawel, president of Zawel Health Collaborative in Hingham, Mass., and executive director of the Beans for Health Alliance. And whole grains, with their high levels of fiber, are about to explode onto the marketplace. Indeed, ProductScan Online reported in September that the percentage of new product introductions making high-fiber claims has nearly doubled in 2004, from 2.5 percent to 4.2 percent.
One reason is the decline of the low-carb diet fad. But people are still looking for an effective means of controlling their weight. ?Y?know, fiber?s the whole story there,? Zawel says. People ?are moving away from simple carbohydrates and toward complex carbs, which means fiber.?
Brown rice, amaranth and spelt all hold potential for sales upticks. Even fruits, banned by Atkins and other low-carb diets, are making a comeback because of their fiber content and ability to slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, thereby moderating the way the body produces insulin and stores fat.
Adding punch to the trend is the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s August report on dietary guidelines, which emphasizes whole grains? ability to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and help with weight control. The authors recommend that the new dietary guidelines, expected to be released in January, urge consumers to eat at least three 1-ounce servings daily of whole-grain foods, ?preferably in place of refined grains.?
It?s easy to find new whole-grain, high fiber foods. Rudi?s Organic Bakery has introduced two new breads—7 Grain With Flax, and Wheat and Oats—under the company?s new Whole Grains & Fiber label. Nestle?s Lean Cuisine brand is launching a line called Spa Cuisine, which contains lean meat, vegetables and whole grains. But the real darling du jour is quinoa. Making an appearance in fine dining and ethnic restaurants, quinoa is a complete protein, high in unsaturated fats, and has a lower glycemic index than many other grains. And feeding off the universal hunger for convenience, quinoa also cooks up quicker than rice.
Other hot trends to watch for in the next year include:
Allergen-free foods: With reports of celiac disease (gluten intolerance) as high as 1 in 133 Americans, and sensitivity to common ingredients such as nuts as high as 1 in 25, manufacturers—and consumers—are finding this category a valuable niche, and are trotting out everything from peanut-free chocolate bars to wheat-free, gluten-free pastas and breads. Organic Valley now makes lactose-free milk, offering an alternative to the country?s leading nonorganic product in the category, Lactaid. And in October, Whole Foods announced it had opened an 8,000-square-foot gluten-free bakehouse in suburban Raliegh, N.C. In 2003, sales of allergen-free foods grew 17.3 percent, totaling more than $1.8 billion, according to Packaged Facts.
Natural and organic meats: While this category?s penetration into the overall market for meat is tiny at just 0.07 percent, its growth potential is huge. In 2003, natural and organic meat sales increased 77.8 percent, according to Grant Ferrier, editor in chief of Nutrition Business Journal. Much of the growth stemmed from consumers? fears of mad cow disease. In its spring 2004 Trend Mapping Report with the Center for Culinary Development, Packaged Facts identified grass-fed beef as a growing trend, noting that it has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and half as much saturated fat as conventional beef. Hemp: With the lifting of the Drug Enforcement Administration?s ban on hemp foods, the category is expected to see big growth. According to industry consultant Bob Burke, sales of hemp foods are up 66 percent over last year. Proponents have long argued for hemp?s high-protein, high omega-3 content, and many consumers find its nutty taste quite pleasing. Companies are introducing hemp seeds that can be sprinkled on salads, hemp nut butters, and cereals, energy bars and protein powders made with hemp.
Tea: While gourmet coffees have been in vogue for some time, teas are now coming into their own. Teahouses are popping up all over the country, and consumers bought $5.5 billion worth of the brew at retail last year, according to Packaged Facts. ?Making tea—sitting down, letting it steep—it insinuates taking a break, taking a breather,? says Laura Bloom, a member of the steering committee for Slow Food Boulder (Colo.). ?In our hectic world, people are seeking out [relaxation] more and more.? Sake: Consumers seeking an alcoholic beverage without sulfites are turning to sake. As with wines and tequilas, sake can be nuanced, and enthusiasts learn to savor the qualities of varying types. It rides the coattails of the recent Asian food explosion, but can adapt to other cuisines. Chefs are serving it with seafood and poultry, and bars are concocting ?saketinis.? While many sakes are made with organic rice, few are certified organic.
Rhubarb: Pity the poor rhubarb. Though it?s high in vitamin C, potassium and fiber, and is low in calories, it has been long regarded as merely a filler in strawberry pie—so much so that its alternate name is pie plant. Now, the red-stalked rhizome is making a stand as a vegetable to appreciate in its own right and threatens to be the new pomegranate for 2005. While its tart bite still requires sweetening, a little sugar, honey or even chocolate can go a long way toward rendering this plant into a trendy salsa, glaze, yogurt or cocktail. And rumors abound that gourmet foods manufacturers are planning rhubarb-flavored treats.
Flowers: Sales of organic flowers grew 51.9 percent in 2003, according to NBJ?s Ferrier, although they still represent a tiny portion of the overall market. ?We have a real thriving business in both the farmers? market and in doing special wedding orders, but really the attraction for most people is much more kind of cottage, older varieties, supporting a local farm,? says Lyle Davis, who grows organic flowers on his farm in Longmont, Colo. He says most people have yet to understand the value of organic flowers, since they?re not consuming them. ?My point of view as an organic farmer [is that] the environmental issues are much more important ? than personal health.?
But Organic Bouquet, in Novato, Calif., has made an ambitious effort to bring organic flowers to the national marketplace. And Whole Foods is working with growers and distributors to create sustainable growing standards for flowers, which will operate under the name Veriflora.
Functional foods: If you can?t bring organic flowers to this year?s trendy dinner parties, at least bring the functional chocolate. Reuters Business Insight identified functional foods as one of the biggest market opportunities in the next five years. And new research has highlighted the health benefits from chocolate, even the unfortified variety. Its polyphenols boost the immune system, may reduce blood clotting and therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease, and may even prevent cancer. Combine these two trends, and you get products like personal care company Ecco Bella?s chocolate bites loaded with antioxidants for skin care, or chaste-tree berry and soy for premenstrual and menopause symptom relief. It could just be a sweet new year.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 28, 32