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Differentiating Trends and Fads—and Why It Matters

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Taylor WallaceFour food industry experts put their heads together to provide an IFT16 audience with some new insights into the critically important task of differentiating trends from fads in a Tuesday morning Hot Topic session titled “Crickets, GMOs, Gluten-Free … Separating Food Fads From Food Trends.” The panelists included Jonathan Baugher, manager of scientific affairs for Blue Mountain Flavors,

Scott Riefler, vice-president of sales for TIC Gums, Mark Hughes, president of Anderson Partners Food Ingredient Marketing, and Taylor Wallace, principal consultant of the Think Healthy Group.

The panelists began by defining the two terms. “When I think of a fad, I think of fad diets,” said Wallace. “I feel that a trend is more scientifically substantiated … whereas a fad is very grass roots driven.” Hughes said that time frame is key differentiator: Trends are long-term, and fads are short-term and generally unsustainable. “At the beginning, they’re very similar and hard to differentiate,” Riefler acknowledged.

For ingredient companies like TIC Gums, staying on top of trends is a business imperative, Riefler emphasized. “For us, when the bell rings, we have to be there,” he said. “We’ve already missed the opportunity if we wait to see what the CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies are doing. “

From the topic of trends, the conversation moved to megatrends—mainstream, broadly based trends that play a major role in shaping consumer behavior. “The biggest trend is health and wellness and Americans’ interest in healthy diets,” said Hughes. From a manufacturing side, that currently falls largely under the clean label umbrella, Hughes continued. In a subsequent discussion of megatrends, Hughes also cited convenience and sustainability. Perceived wholesomeness is another important megatrend, according to Baugher, and Wallace added transparency to the list of megatrends.

Looking at flavors and taste, globalization has been a major trend driver, Wallace noted. Riefler threw sensory into the megatrend mix. “If you look into what is going on in the restaurant industry, that often is a good indicator,” he said. Trendsetting chefs are focusing heavily on the sensory aspects of food, including texture and presentation, he pointed out, noting that “right now, texture is king.”

The panelists devoted considerable attention to the topic of social media and its role in driving trends within the food industry. “We’re seeing the emergence of a whole other level of social media in which ingredient companies are talking to their customers,” said Hughes. “It’s really emerging as a communication platform in the b-to-b (business-to-business) area. B-to-b social media and digital communication are great ways for companies to stay in touch with their customers.”

Email is falling by the wayside as a business communication tool, Riefler noted, while instant messaging, Twitter, and Facebook are on the rise. Companies that don’t pay attention to messages received via social media will miss out, he emphasized. Anderson added that he’s seeing a move away from face-to-face contact, including lunch and dinner meetings.

In addition to the b-to-b component, social media matters as a mechanism for listening to the customer.

Hughes pointed out that in the era before social media, companies spoke to their customers, but the customers typically didn’t talk back. With the rise of social media, that’s changed, and it’s now a two-way conversation. “Social media has accelerated the ability for a small company to start a conversation,” added Baugher. Wallace singled out Chobani as an example of a company that has done an excellent job of tapping into social media as a vehicle for gleaning insight into the wants and needs of consumers and using that information to shape product development.

Hughes reminded those in attendance of the importance of adopting a global perspective in matters of business analysis. “There’s a very big world out there, and we’re a very small part of it,” he said. Marketers and product developers seeking to keep their fingers on the pulse of trends should “look at the entire planet,” he advised, noting that it’s critical to stay abreast of trends in the developing world.

How to Extinguish Hot Air

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Bev PostmaSixteen years ago, the movement to ban genetically engineered foods (GMOs) began. With the passage of a new federal GMO labeling law, it may seem that pseudoscientists are winning the battle, but Bev Postma, an international policy specialist and founding member of Food Industry Asia, said that there is still reason for hope. During session 076, “Taming Dragons in the Age of Pseudoscience,” on Monday, July 18, Postma said that back then, “My colleagues and I were baffled that this small but very vocal group was able to gain traction.” The views of anti-GMO activists were at odds with her scientific training, and their conviction was daunting. As she listened to close friends and relatives who seemed to be on the side of naysayers, she realized that it wasn’t the technology that they feared; they just had a major distrust of scientists. She started referring to anti-GMO activists and other scientific naysayers as dragons of pseudoscience because their arguments were filled with hot air.

Postma explained that some pseudoscientists are motivated by ego, greed, and fame while others are motivated by distress and confusion. Although she believes that self-styled pseudoscientists have a right to voice their concerns and position, sometimes their rhetoric is too dangerous. They like to make a dramatic impact, and their weapon of choice is fear. “Pseudoscience and scaremongering can do real harm,” she said. And despite two centuries of good scientific research, pseudoscientists still doubt the validity of it. Nonetheless, they often use their own “experiments” to prove their irrational views; not surprisingly, their research fails to adhere to accepted scientific methodology. She used the example of Andrew Wakefield’s bogus research that vaccinations caused autism, which has led to the return of childhood diseases that were nearly banished.

Pseudoscientists are also savvy with social media, which means they can spread their irresponsible messages far and wide. “Let’s face it, as food scientists, we’ve never been that good at talking about new technologies,” she said. Postma believes that leaders and experts in public and private industries must break out of their comfort zones to send unified messages based on sound scientific principles. “We cannot work in silos if we want good science and technology to prevail,” she said.

Postma asked food scientists to expand beyond their comfortable peer groups to have meaningful conversations about science. “There’s never been a more important time for real science to conquer fear,” Postma says. “Together, we can demystify the scientific process.” In the face of such transparency, good science, and rational conversation, many fearmongers will be overwhelmed into silence. But even this cannot deter all pseudoscientists: Human brains are programmed to feel first (emotion) and think later (logic/reason). Emotion and instinct usually overpowers purposeful reason.

Postma concluded her presentation with ways for scientists to have better conversations with consumers and pseudoscientists: 1) enter every conversation assuming there is something to learn; 2) keep calm and ask questions—don’t just fire off facts and evidence-based opinions because it is very important to express empathy; and 3) listen more (most people don’t listen with the intent to understand—they listen to form a reply). Once the emotional barrier is breached, scientists can steer the conversation to the many ways that science and technology benefit society. As Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared; it’s only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.”

Keeping It Simple Is Not a Simple Proposition

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Stephanie MattucciSimple is in, and natural—at least in terms of specific natural claims—appears to be on the way out, Mintel global food science analyst Stephanie Mattucci told IFT16 attendees in a presentation at the Mintel Booth (4953) on Monday.

“It [natural] is still an attribute that consumers are looking for,” Mattucci said. “But we see products evolving in terms of their natural positioning.” The use of a natural claim on products peaked about two years ago when it appeared on 15% of product introductions, Mattucci said. It’s now down to just 11%.

Meanwhile, what does resonate are products with short, simple ingredient statements. Mattucci shared Mintel data that shows 53% of consumers worry quite a bit about potentially harmful ingredients in their food. And 59% of those Mintel surveyed agree that the fewer ingredients a product contains, the healthier it is. “Less is more,” said Mattucci. “In an effort to cope with information overload, consumers are retreating back to simple, easy-to-understand ingredients.”

“Simple ingredients are also being used to emphasize both quality and nutrition,” she continued. It’s a positioning that works on artisan products but also on mainstream brands like the new Post Organic Purple Corn Flakes.

Mintel presentationRather than making natural claims, food companies are focusing more on claims around genetic modification, no additives/no preservatives, and “free from.” No additives/no preservatives claims appeared on 21% of products introduced in the United States, Mattucci reported. That’s likely to be an effective strategy because new Mintel research shows that no additives/no preservatives claims have a positive impact on purchase intent. Free from claims also have considerable traction with consumers; 86% of those aged 25–34 say they purchased a product with a free from claim.

Genetically modified (GM) foods are also a significant hot button; 39% of consumers say they purchase GM-free foods. Of course, it’s not always a purchase influencer. Mattucci noted that when Mars added language stating that its M&Ms were “partially produced with genetic engineering,” it didn’t trigger any negative comments among consumers Mintel surveyed.

Mintel’s series of trend presentations will continue on Tuesday, according to the following schedule.

10 a.m. Innovating for the iGeneration
10:30 a.m.  Senior Solutions: Developing Products for the Aging Consumer
11 a.m.    The Value Paradox: The Challenge of Creating Products for the Budget Consumer
11:30 a.m.  Expert Q&A Panel on Consumers
12 p.m. What Does Product Innovation Really Look Like?
12:30 p.m.  Charting Flavor Expansion and Innovation
1 p.m.  Helping Consumers Cook Dinner: Innovation in Meals and Meal Kits
1:30 p.m.  Expert Q&A Panel on Product Innovation
2 p.m.    ‘Simple’ Isn’t So Simple
2:30 p.m.  Free-From for All: Alternatives Are Ready for the Spotlight
3 p.m.    From the Inside Out: The Embrace of Ingredients as Superheroes
3:30 p.m. Expert Q&A Panel on Ingredients and Claims

Film Exposes the Mistrust of Science Through GMOs

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Scott Hamilton Kennedy and Mark LynasIn a special session on Monday morning, attendees viewed clips of the upcoming Food Evolution documentary and listened and participated in a lively discussion with IFT President-Elect John Coupland, Director/Producer of Food Evolution Scott Hamilton Kennedy, and Fellow at the Cornell Alliance for Science Mark Lynas. In his introduction, Coupland recapped IFT’s multi-year project to produce the Food Evolution documentary, which is in final production stages and will make its public debut later this year. Kennedy revealed that a well-known science communicator has recently agreed to narrate the film and details will be publicized soon.

The film begins with an apropos quote by Mark Twain—“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.” This helps to “set the scene” for the documentary that focuses on the GMO debate in order to highlight the schism between science and consumers’ fear. Kennedy explained that when they first began the project they contemplated how to make a film that encompasses food, science, and sustainability in just 90 minutes. Given the prevalence of the GMO debate in the news, it made sense to use it to tell the story of how sound science can help meet the challenges of feeding a growing population.

Environmentalist Mark Lynas, who is prominently featured in the film, explained that he was once adamantly against GMOs but science made him come around. “I discovered science and in the process I hope I am becoming a better environmentalist,” he states in a clip of the documentary shown to attendees. But, he notes that he’s not pro-GMO; he’s pro-science.

Coupland, Kennedy, and Lynas discussed the need for more sound science and cautioned about the “single study syndrome” and cherry picking science to fit the conclusions you want to reach. However, even with a body of sound scientific evidence, there are those who will refuse to recognize or trust it. “Issues like climate change and GMOs are politically symbolic issues,” explained Lynas. “Some believe that GMOs imply corporate control of the food system and therefore don’t support it.”

Lynas believes this distrust and fear of GMOs gets at a much deeper cultural issue in humanity—the transgression of some kind of natural boundary and the fear of technology progressing in ways that humans can’t understand or control. And while science should be about changing your conclusion based on evidence, changing your mind doesn’t get celebrated in today’s world.

The last clip played for attendees highlights an Intelligence Squared debate on GMOs in which experts on both sides presented scientific evidence and the audience was able to vote before and after the debate on who they agreed with. Interestingly, before the debate began only 32% of the audience favored GMOs but after hearing arguments from Monsanto’s Robert Fraley and University of California–Davis’ Alison Van Eenennaam 60% of the audience voted for GMOs.

So, perhaps it is possible for sound science to make an impact on the public and change people’s perspectives. Only by depolarizing the debate around GMOs and biotechnology will we be able to come together to address the issues that everyone shares—how to feed a growing population in a sustainable way. Kennedy hopes that the Food Evolution documentary helps advance that cause.

Consumer Trend Spotting at the Food Expo

Monday, July 18th, 2016

BY: A. ELIZABETH SLOAN

What consumer trends should be front and center for IFT16 attendees as they canvass the floor of the food expo? Here’s a look at some that should definitely be kept in mind.

Woman preparing mealHalf of all consumers are now favorably influenced by the fact that a product has a high nutrition content, was produced with limited processing, is free from preservatives/artificial ingredients/hormones, and is organic/all-natural, according to research from Deloitte. One-third of adults are trying to avoid genetically modified (GM) ingredients, and four in 10 are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of clean labels.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified 11 nutrients consumed in less than optimal amounts. Calcium, potassium, vitamin D, fiber, and iron are considered of public health concern; vitamins A, C, E, and K, folic acid, magnesium, and choline are also below recommended levels, according to the guidelines. Six in 10 adults look for added vitamins/minerals on food labels, per the Hartman Group.

New fitness-focused lifestyles, a shift in health concerns (especially among women and Millennials) to products that affect everyday performance, and a desire for faster results from weight loss, energizing, and sports products have fueled a new mainstream food/beverage performance market.

In the past year, 26% of adults have switched to healthier breads, 22% switched to healthier oils, and 22% to healthier cold cereals. Healthy snacks continue to outperform their traditional counterparts, per IRI.

One in five consumers are regularly eating more meatless meals/meat alternatives, according to the Food Marketing Institute; 5% follow a vegetarian diet. Sixty-four percent are trying to get more protein, and one in five are trying to consume more plant protein, per Packaged Facts.

Two-thirds of consumers want more herbs/spices that deliver health benefits (e.g., turmeric). More than half are very or extremely interested in unique ingredient substitutions for natural sweeteners, grains, and flours, per HealthFocus.

Heart health, energy, digestion, cognitive health, and immunity are the top condition-specific benefits consumers look for when shopping for foods. Cholesterol-lowering, weight loss, high blood pressure relief, and digestive health are the top functional food opportunities, per Packaged Facts. Those looking for gluten-free on a label fell to just 7% in 2016, per FMI.

But it’s not all just about health. With 48 million Americans defining themselves as “foodies,” more unique and sophisticated flavors and ingredients remain in high demand. Sixty-one percent of adults buy specialty foods for everyday meals at home; 44% do so for everyday snacks, per the Specialty Foods Assoc.

Ethnic condiments and spices are the top hot ethnic culinary trend for 2016, ahead of any one specific cuisine, along with gourmet kids’ meals and ethnic breakfast items, according to the National Restaurant Assoc.

Lastly, four in 10 consumers say sustainability has a significant impact on their food purchases, up from 35% in 2015, per the International Food Information Council.

A. Elizabeth Sloan is president of Sloan Trends (lizsloan@sloantrend.com).

 

Scientific Breakthroughs Aren’t Always Pretty

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Jacques RousseauWhen it comes to food, it is often assumed that transparency maximizes informed choice, but informed choice assumes that people are able to use that information wisely. As a consequence, the transparency being adopted by food companies could come back to haunt them. During the Sunday morning featured session, “Science Versus Sensationalism and Soundbites: How Can Consumers Make More Informed Choices?” Jacques Rousseau of the University of Cape Town in South Africa said that many modern consumers take pride in finding ways to support whatever preconceived notions they have about the food supply. Often that notion revolves around disparaging experts and authoritarians and lauding bloggers or television hosts who may be just as uninformed as consumers are.

Rousseau says that there used to be a space for experts, but that space is shrinking as experts are widely reviled or ignored. This is especially true when it comes to food science. Although most consumers are willing to accept technology in some areas of their lives, they are reluctant to accept technology as it applies to their food. Fifty-seven percent of consumers believe that GMOs are generally unsafe, and sales of gluten-free foods are skyrocketing because consumers think that gluten is somehow dangerous for them. “We’ve got these peculiar reactions based on fear—based on panic,” he said, but “food isn’t out to kill you,” he said.

Rousseau explained that society is participating in a state of “aware unawareness,” which is based on selective reception and transmission of knowledge, uncertainty, and an unwillingness to know facts. The internet and social media have become highly effective tools for people who participate in “aware unawareness.” Through confirmation bias, a person can use the internet to find more and more information that corroborates his point of view and, through social media, get many people to accept and adopt his distorted beliefs. Rousseau said that humans are naturally predisposed to finding confirmatory beliefs that prove their beliefs. This is why food bloggers with no formal education in food science, nutrition, or related area of expertise feel confident in espousing erroneous information.

Consumers aren’t the only ones to blame. Rousseau said that scientists and other researchers are partly responsible for the misinformation being spread and for the distrust directed towards them. Science provides the basis for knowledge, but it does have limits: Scientists and researchers can cherry-pick data or otherwise exaggerate the outcomes of their research to get notoriety and additional funding. For example, a study that involves measuring something across a small sample size makes it very easy to find the correlation one is looking for. To combat the hype, Rousseau said that it is important to remind people that good science takes time and further conclusive studies. Being open to correction is the main virtue of science.

Effective science communication and debunking misinformation are very difficult. Both require long, slow, hard work, Rousseau said. The best way to promote scientific literacy is to teach people to understand the basics of scientific method. Popular sentiment is no substitute for expertise, and “scientific breakthroughs do not happen on Dr. Oz,” he said. People making scientific breakthroughs are not particularly photogenic or social: They’re not on social media or television taking selfies and giving interviews; instead, they’re tucked away in laboratories or in front of computers focusing on research. People may think food science and technology are evil, but they exist to make food safer. And that’s the scientific message consumers need to receive.

Coping With the Challenges of a Global Supply Chain

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Session 63
Monday, July 18; 2:15–3:45 p.m.
Room S501abc

Global supply chainThe food industry is a global business, and all those who import and export products and ingredients must be prepared to address an often confusing array of regulations that vary from one market to the next. GMOs, colors, pesticides, and food additives are of particular concern. These key ingredient topics and others will be explored in Session 63, “The Impact of International Food Regulations on the Global Supply Chain: An Update.” Presenters will share industry perspectives and real world examples, helping to ensure that attendees are in the know about recent regulatory changes.

Christine Summers, senior director of global product safety and quality for Costco, will discuss how to develop or adapt product specifications in order to meet regulations in multiple countries, sharing case studies as part of her presentation. Canadian food professional and entrepreneur Oscar Rodriguez-Gonzalez will consider regulatory changes that have taken place in the Canadian marketplace, interpreting their impact in a global context.

Other presenters include Kanika Bhargava, assistant professor of food science at the University of Central Oklahoma, and Ana Paula Craig, a postdoctoral research associate at Federal University of Minas Gerais.

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