Whazzup in the shifting world of food?



The commercials are stupid, but it’s true people often greet one another by asking, “What’s new?” or “What’s up?”

Here’s what’s new in the world of food, as identified by Maureen Olewnik, vice president of research and technical services at the American Institute of Baking, with a few of my own observations thrown in for good measure.

Warning: Some of these may make you uncomfortable, but she’s not too far off the mark, and we gain nothing from ignorance.

1. Consolidation of the food industry. No surprise here, but Olewnik predicts 50 percent of food industry businesses will be taken over in the next 15 years. (That concerns me.)

2. Worldwide distribution of food. Commerce without borders, as Olewnik calls it, will provide seasonal advantages to consumers.

My own observation is that this directly contradicts some of her other megatrends, such as food safety (No. 9 still to come). I am comfortable with the food safety measures in place in this country; I cannot say the same with food produced in other countries. Although I’m sure I consume food imports weekly, they most certainly do not make up a large portion of my diet. I’d rather think globally, but eat locally.

3. Growth in the ready-to-eat food market. Who’s not short on time? I remember hearing one speaker call it a “time famine” a couple years ago.

“Convenience is no longer a fad, it’s a way of life,” remarks Susan Lambert, director of market research for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

A recent survey by the beef association found 37 percent of meals involved a bag salad or bag vegetable. “Women really are starved for time,” Lambert said. “They work full-time, have to come home and make dinner and take care of the children.”

The “main entree” or “center-of-the-plate” segment of the heat-and-serve food category grew by 83 percent, or $385 million, during the last two years.

4. ‘Sterile’ consumer. This was a new one for me. Olewnik says today’s concerns about microbial sensitivity are increasing and will likely prompt the development of new products and control methods.

5. Allergic consumers. The number of people who suffer from allergies is increasing. More than 160 allergens have been detected in food products, including the “Big Eight:” peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish.

6. Biogenetic engineering. “Improved crops offer a number of benefits for consumers,” says Olewnik, “including health benefits and more economical food production that will help keep food costs low. Crop improvements also reduce the need to apply chemicals.”

7. Pesticide restrictions. Look for louder calls for a reduction or elimination of their use, Olewnik says.

8. Regulatory environment. Olewnik hits it right on the head when she says, “Social and economic issues will influence food production. Increased production costs, including labor costs and automation in the workplace; concerns about water supplies and the management of ground water, and emissions, all will impact food production.”

9. Food safety concerns extend beyond quality and price. Food safety is a global concern that directly impacts food and livestock producers. Witness the possibility that cattle producers may soon be asked to provide written assurance that the animals they are selling, including dairy culls, have been raised in compliance with the federal feed ban. In other words, you may now have to certify your cow feed.

10. Internet. The speed at which information can be shared impacts everyone’s lives, including food science, production and safety.


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