thenextwave

‘Healthy food’ trends in the US

Posted in affluence, consumers, food, health, social, sustainability, trends by thenextwavefutures on 8 November, 2007

CNN’s ‘health’ blog has a take on five healthy food trends. They’re a bit impressionistic – although some data is attached – and maybe apart from the first one won’t come as much of a surprise to European readers. The way in which consumer wellbeing (and lifestyle) trends are aligning with both health trends and sustainability trends suggests that there could be relatively rapid changes in this area. The food sector may have to run a little faster even than it thinks is at the moment to keep up.

The CNN five trends are:

  1. “Flexitarianism” – a bit of an ugly neologism, but it describes people who largely have a vegetarian diet but don’t have an ideological objection to eating meat, so eat it occasionally. The American Dietetic Association claims that a quarter of Americans fit this description, and eat meat-free diets at least four days a week. (I think I might need to see the data on this to be fully persuaded that the percentage is this high).
  2. Locally grown foods: American families have begun to reconnect with local family farms (a theme of Bill McKendrick’s book Deep Economy). The number of local farmers’ markets has doubled in ten years, according to the US Agricultual Department.
  3. Functional foods: Foods enriched with nutrients which may not be inherent to the foodstuff. Attractive to people who may have an allergy or dietary problem which prevents them from eating certain foodstuffs. The story fits with other trends I have seen, but the data in the CNN piece is non-existent.
  4. Organic foods: obviously food grown with minimal exposure to pesticides and so on. US sales have been growing at more than 20% per year since the 1990s, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
  5. Slow food: references the Italian-founded slow food movement without further evidence for the US market.

In case you can’t work these things out for yourself, the CNN article comes with useful “Forrester for food” type headings telling you “why it’s here to stay” and “what it means for you”. Phew.

But there is a wider point here, which is about the connection of these lifestyle-type trends to other important health trends. In particular the report on diet and cancer from the World Cancer Research Fund last week recommended that people could reduce their risk of cancer by being lean and physically active, avoiding sugary (“energy-dense”) drinks, be mostly vegetarian, eat small amounts of red meat and avoid processed meat, cut down on salt and avoid dietary supplements. [There’s a summary on p394 of the 530 page report).

And the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign, launched at the start of the month in the UK by the government-funded WRAP campaign, is designed to reduce the 30% or so of food which is wasted in the lifecycle from shop to home. This is partly about waste, but also about sustainability – because of the emissions involved in growing the food, especially meat, that is wasted. Most of their tips are about thinking about food more carefully (planning) and use and re-use, which involves some cooking. Part of the strategy seems designed to help people who want to cook more but haven’t been taught well and so have little confidence in their ability to do so. There are some part-processed foods in their mix (frozen vegetables and part-baked bread, for example) but sustainability takes you towards a greater proportion of fresher foods and away from supermarket processed.

The CNN article says, “Many of today’s most healthful eating trends bear a strong resemblance to yesterday’s”, and I resisted using a ‘back to the future’ type headline, partly because I’ve been keeping that for another post. But it does make one wonder if the great wave of processed and packaged convenience foods, which made the supermarkets and the food retailers so much money over the last twenty years or so, may be past their high water mark, even in the US, with the tide about to go out quite fast.

Related posts of interest: ‘Word free food’, and ‘Eating beef – starting on the road to disapproval?’

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