Year after year, the food & beverage industry has responded to changing consumer attitudes regarding health and wellness, and 2016 was no different. There was a flurry of regulatory activity that will impact the industry going forward, and the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) called for consumption of a variety of nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods and oils, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium. The industry is in a constant state of innovation and food & beverage manufacturers are responding to consumer demand for better-for-you products. It would be impossible to sum up 2016 in one or even 10 blogs, so the following key areas I believe have, and will continue to, influence industry growth.
The clean-label movement is moving out of the trend spotlight and becoming the new norm with current trends driven by an emphasis on health and wellness, and a desire for products formulated with simple ingredients. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the food & beverage industry where global sales of clean-label products hit US$165 billion in 2015 and are projected to reach $180 billion by 2020. The food & beverage industry is undergoing a paradigm shift in how they process, create and deliver their products to consumers; however, going clean label isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. In fact, there are a lot of uncertainties and often clean label is more about consumers’ perceptions than it is about anything concrete and tangible. This was the topic of the “Delivering on the Clean Label Expectation" Summit at SupplySide West 2016. Innova Market Insights predicted clean label will be the No. 1 trend in 2017, stating the demand for total transparency now incorporates the entire supply chain, as a clean label positioning becomes more holistic.
In May, FDA unveiled new requirements for the Nutrition Facts label of packaged foods, including the reporting of a product’s added sugar content. This new attention to added sugar intake on packaging—as well as consumer demand for sweeteners that are natural, sustainable and healthful—provides brands the opportunity to increase use of alternative sweeteners when developing or reformulating products. This was the topic of the “Selecting Appropriate Sweeteners for Chocolates, Gummies and Chewables" panel discussion at SupplySide West. This hot issue is expected to continue for the foreseeable future across all food & beverage applications. This creates a huge opportunity for clean-label sweeteners that don’t add calories or detract from taste.
Protein has experienced substantial growth recently, marked by an unprecedented increase in consumers’ perceived deficiency of the nutrient, a growing awareness and usage of plant-based protein, and the resulting proliferation of protein-rich and protein-enriched products across an array of food and beverage categories. In 2016, plant-based proteins took center stage in 2016, thanks in part to the United Nation’s declaring 2016 as “The Year of the Pulse." The desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and concerns about sustainability among the general population are putting the spotlight on plant proteins. Consumer notions of what constitutes a good protein source are expanding to include a wider variety of plant-based protein ingredients. Subsequently interest in plant protein ingredients among food manufacturers and foodservice operators is intensifying,
In June, FDA issued a draft guidance to the food industry calling for voluntarily reducing sodium in processed and commercially prepared food. Average daily intake of sodium for Americans is estimated at approximately 3,400 mg/day. The draft short-term (2-year) targets seek to decrease sodium intake to about 3,000 mg per day. The long-term (10-year) targets seek to reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. The targets, which extend to nearly 150 food categories, are intended to complement many existing efforts by food manufacturers, restaurants and foodservice operations to reduce sodium in foods. But sodium reduction doesn’t just mean taking the salt shaker out of someone’s hand. Sodium is found across all sectors of food including snacks, bakery and cereal, sauces and soups, convenience foods, condiments, bread, cereal, processed meat, desserts, dairy and frozen foods. The fact is sodium plays many functional roles in foods like texture improvement, color enhancement and microbial control, and the solution to sodium reduction isn’t as simple as cutting a percentage of salt from processed foods.
The issue of whether the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food and beverages has been contentiously debated by consumers, activists, the food and beverage industry and lawmakers for years. However, the debate over mandatory versus voluntary labeling heated up over the past few years as a number of U.S. states introduced ballot initiatives calling for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered ingredients. In July, President Obama signed S.764, which established the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard act. Under the federal law, products sold in the United States that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be required to disclose those ingredients to consumers. USDA has two years to create a set of rules that brands must follow to disclose GMO content. The Act preempted the nation’s first state GE-labeling law: Vermont’s Act 120, which would have taken effect July 1. Read more about GMOs by visiting the INSIDER Law Blog.
Defining Natural & Healthy
In 2016, the food & beverage industry witnessed increased action on the legislative front to define nutritional claims in a number of key sectors. Most recently, FDA has taken on two key definitions—“healthy" and “natural"—that have been the source of confusion for both industry stakeholders and consumers. After nearly two decades, FDA in September began the public comment process to redefine the “healthy" nutrient content claim for food labeling as part of an overall plan to provide consumers with information and tools to enable them to easily and quickly make food choices consistent with public health recommendations and to encourage the development of healthier foods by the industry. Although FDA has not established a formal definition for the term “natural" or its derivatives the agency considers the term “natural" to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. While this policy has been in place for decades, today’s health-conscious consumers are pushing for more transparency about how foods are manufactured and seeking out products made with clean-label ingredients. With the amount of litigation that has surrounded this claim, FDA began working on a formal process to define “natural," and in May closed the comment period for the use of the term “natural" on the labeling of food products, including foods that are genetically engineered (GE) or contain genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredients. No timeline has been given for either final guidance.
Fats & Oils
In 2015, FDA determined partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary food manufacturing source of artificial trans fats, are not GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for foods, giving food and beverages manufacturers three years to remove them from food products. Trans fats have been maligned for years because they raise “bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower “good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, and have been shown to increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. Since 2006, FDA has mandated nutritional labels on foods specify the level of trans fat content and allowed less than a half gram of trans fats to be labeled as “0 g." That loophole now is closing and the “no trans fats" label on food products will become obsolete by 2018. The “Non-PHO" trend carried over into 2016 particularly important for the bakery industry where PHOs are used to improve the texture, shelf life and flavor stability of baked goods.
Whole Fruits, Powders and Concentrates
The push toward natural colors and flavors was evident this year as whole fruit, powder and concentrate ingredients were abundant both at IFT and SupplySide West. While whole fruits, including fruit pieces, have bee commonplace as inclusions in foods such as bars, desserts, bakery and cereal, they are gaining more traction thanks to their nutritional values and clean-label claims. What’s more, fruit powders and concentrates are in demand in both the food and supplement sectors for their ability to support a number of health issues like cardiovascular health, digestive health, immunity and brain/mood health.