December 20/Chicago/Prepared Foods E-dition-- With the end of one year just a couple of weeks away, it seems an appropriate time to examine what 2011 and beyond may hold for the food and beverage industry. Likely leading the way for a number of manufacturers will be the health and wellness trend that continues to manifest itself in a number of ways.

In its examination of trends to watch in 2011, Technomic noted healthful versus indulgent will gain importance in restaurants. “As federal menu labeling requirements take effect in 2011, the issue of healthful vs. indulgent fare -- on the menu and in menu descriptions -- gets complicated. Look for more items and detailed descriptions on “healthy” menus -- including gluten-free fare as well as more ‘under x calories’ items.”

Speaking to the gluten-free trend that continues to gather steam even in the midst of a troubled climate, Michael Sands, CEO and president of Balance Bar, notes, “More consumers apparently are being diagnosed with celiac disease, and at any stage in life; all of a sudden, it can appear at the age of 50. As a trend, gluten-free has expanded: where once it was products without gluten, it has evolved into concerns about cross-contamination issues. As the demand for it becomes greater, there’s going to be a greater opportunity. The more demand for it, the more specialized the products will be. Manufacturing plants are even being constructed with these needs in mind, completely separating the allergen-free areas from other forms of the product. The market is there; and the demand is there; and the labeling requirements are (going to be) there.”

Looking to 2011 and beyond, developers will face a number of challenges in the restaurant arena. As Lynn Dornblaser, director, CPG Trend Insight, for Mintel International Group, notes, “It’s one thing for fast food restaurants to (provide nutrition labeling), as their foods are quite standardized, but much more difficult for smaller operations where choices are much more customized.”  

“It's about marketing,” explains Joe Derochowski, executive director for The NPD Group -- Food & Beverage Services. “The changes in the population are bringing great opportunities for healthy products, more than ever before. However, the question is how they are being produced and marketed. If a company blindly markets a product as healthy (without regard to its need or its price structure), the product is going to fail miserably. If the company applies marketing discipline, then it'll work. The questions are who are we focusing on; are we building a product to fit that consumer's life, in a way that doesn't increase the cost for food? If a company can meet those demands, it will have a successful product. The question is how to do it and not increase the cost (beyond what the consumer will tolerate).”

As the country slowly recovers from several years of economic recession, consumers will continue to keep those costs in mind. However, Technomic finds same-store restaurant sales are growing, “signaling the industry’s initial rebound to health; hiring is also up, signaling positive expectations for 2011.” However, “this isn’t the same restaurant industry as before. Big changes are on the way -- on menus, in concept development and in the competitive landscape.”

Technomic predicts “lots of action in Mad Men-style retro cocktails, high-cachet gin and bourbon, craft beers and punch (including sangria).” Look for cocktails with herbal and floral ingredients and “skinny” cocktails. Citing an improving sales climate at the nation’s eating and drinking establishments, Technomic notes that consumers are beginning to order more drinks as they entertain away from home and forecasts a 1.9% uptick in 2011 purchases of alcohol in bars and restaurants. Spirits-based drinks are expected to see the highest rate of growth in 2011 at 2.3%, with some return to more expensive cocktails and premium brands.

A pair of Technomic predictions address food developers. First, the consultancy expects the Korean taco -- a synthesis of Korean-style fillings and a Mexican format -- to signal the rise of Korean barbecue and Korean food in general; multicultural tacos with world ingredients, sometimes in surprising combinations; and portable street food and small plates from around the planet. Second, the continuing hunger for comfort food is manifesting an appetite for “homestyle Southern fare, from grits to seafood; retro Italian, including meatballs; gourmet donuts and popsicles for dessert; family-style service formats and family-size portions that would look right at home in a Norman Rockwell print.”

Those family-size portions may not necessarily fit with the smaller-portion mentality that is leading the fight against obesity. As Mark Crowell, CRC, is founder and principal culinologist at CuliNex, notes, “Obesity is costing the country dearly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated the annual price tag at $147 billion in healthcare costs in a 2009 study. This is by far the biggest opportunity area for new product development. Thermogenic foods, portion-control products, low-glycemic index foods, resistant starches and many others have tremendous opportunity.”  

In addition, new dietary guidelines are expected soon and Derochowski expects, “That will create a buzz and greater consumer awareness of certain things. Whenever that happens, food scientists and product developers look to reformulate and leverage products around that new buzz. Some companies are going to see the guidelines and try to make money off of it.”

From the December 20, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition