Topline Trends Tuesday: Is less more?

December 1, 2009

For a few decades, food product manufacturers had a lot a fun tossing all kinds of special ingredients into their products. People liked it. In fact, they bought crazy stuff like freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for their kids as a fun treat. It was good to be a food manufacturer with a chemistry set. And then, it wasn’t.

People finally decided that weird stuff in their food might do weird stuff to their bodies and they started to make it less fun to be a food chemical maker or one of the food producers hooked on chemicals.

In fact, recent research shows that:
• 63% of consumers want to recognize all ingredients on a label
• 34% want as few ingredients on a label as possible

The good news is that food companies are pretty resilient. Already a lot of them are putting away their chemistry sets and giving people what they want.

It’s true. Consider Haagen Dazs Five and Pillsbury Simply Cookies (available in the USA) and Back to Nature Nut Blends. Each is produced by a huge company (Nestle, General Mills and Kraft to be exact) and all of these products have ingredient labels where every ingredient is familiar. It’s so retro, it’s modern.

Would you pay more for a similar product that offered you less additives and manufacturing ingredients?

Love learning about food trends? Subscribe to my Topline Trends newsletter now to receive my 2010 Food Trends Predictions when they go live on December 15th.


If I had one dollar

November 26, 2009

Shredded Money Taco Too

I just love Twitter. I know it sounds lame and I used to scoff at it, but seriously, it’s turning into such a useful tool.

Just the other day, @jambutter tweeted about how many calories a US dollar could buy. I tweeted back and asked for source info and he passed on a note that the stats came from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This “research” took about 45 seconds.

I did a little further digging and I found this Time Magazine article that summarized the source data well but I’ve put it in my own format:

$1US = 1200 calories of potato chips
$1US = 875 calories of soda
$1US = 250 calories of vegetables
$1US = 170 calories of fresh fruit.

Now, the obvious point is that potato chips and soda drinks are more calorie dense than fruit and veggies so you get more calories for your dollar; however, they are not more nutrient dense and that means you eat more of them to feel satisfied.

To put these stats into perspective, I turned to my colleague professional home economist Amy Snider-Whitson who always has something to say about nutrition:

“This is why we have an epidemic of obesity and people suffering from chronic diseases that healthy diets could help to prevent (…and, no wonder people can’t grasp portion control when you buy a cheap snack and end up eating half a day’s calories!).

Unfortunately, the way we produce food today makes the nutritious choice often much more expensive. So, people choose calories over content. While many, many people consume too many calories on a daily basis, not one of us can say that we are getting too many essential nutrients. One consolation is that if we invest today in choosing nutrient dense foods, we might save health care dollars in the future.”

When you’re shopping, do you consciously plan how much of your budget is spent on nutrient dense foods? Or do the ‘chips’ (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) fall where they may?


Germ patrol

November 2, 2009

applesinpailHave you noticed all the ‘green’ fruit and vegetable washes in the produce department lately? It seems that many companies are hoping to capitalize on our fears about H1N1 and food contamination.

But do we really need to buy these products?

I asked members of the Ontario Home Economics Association for their take on this matter and I got a range of responses. Despite the fact that each respondent used different words, none of them recommended using fruit and vegetable washes.

“The Canadian Produce Marketing Agency (CPMA) website  recommends washing with water,” pointed out Mary Carver. “I have received some consumer comments (complaints) that produce can have  a soapy flavour after using a vegetable wash.”

Here’s the official word from Health Canada on washing and preparing veggies safely:

• Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present. (This is a general safety tip that may not always apply. For example, you do not need to wash a banana before peeling it.
• Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces (e.g., oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots, etc.). It is not necessary to use produce cleansers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Ready-to-eat, bagged, pre-washed leafy greens do not need to be washed again before eating. However, pre-cut or pre-washed leafy greens sold in open bags or containers should be washed before eating.
• Place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on/into a separate clean plate or container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
• Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours of peeling or cutting them. Discard any cut fruits and vegetables that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours.

What’s your personal take on washing produce? Do you buy vegetable and fruit washes? Or, are you like one woman I know who scrubs every carrot and apple she can with a stiff bristled brush?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Crystals, cow horns and moon beams – biodynamics defined

October 27, 2009

Even if they can’t recite technical definitions of words such as organic and all-natural, most people have a strong sense of what these terms mean. However, when it comes to biodynamics, I doubt there are very many Canadians who can confidently spout a definition.

Yet, some people believe that biodynamics is the next big thing. So, to help all of us (until I started researching this post, biodynamics confused me, too) here are the essential things you need to know about biodynamics. Seariously, keep reading and you’ll easily carry on a cocktail party conversation about biodyamics! (Your grateful hosts are welcome to send me thank you cards if they like. Email me for my address.)

Biodynamics:
1. is a specific method of organic farming.
2. strives to be a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth to the movement of the cosmos.
3. looks upon the soil and the farm as living organisms that are holistically linked and interdependent.
4. regards the maintenance and feeding of soil life as a basic necessity that will preserve soil quality for generations.
5. uses an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.

Still having trouble envisioning how biodynamics can impact your life? Check out these real-life biodynamic food and beverage products:
Southbrook Farm’s Biodynamic Wine
Zhena’s Biodynamic Tea
Australian William’s River Beef and lamb

Want to take your level of biodynamic knowledge to the moon? Check out the Demeter website or watch the video posted above.

Have you ever bought a biodynamic product? If not, will you now that you know more about this farming system? Or, is this just some crazy idea whipped up by pot-smoke addled hippies?


Juicy

September 30, 2009

coconutmilkHave you noticed hipsters and athletes swigging crystal clear coconut water yet? They’ll be common soon thanks to folks like Madonna who are replacing their Evian bottles with this drink.

Harvested from green, young coconuts, sales of coconut water doubled last year and, with huge marketing initiatives planned, they’re expected to continue to grow.

This juice isn’t just popular because celebs drink it. It contains lots of beneficial things such as electrolytes and potassium and performs much like a sports drink by increasing endurance and preventing cramping. The advantage coconut water has over sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade is that it provides these nutrients without any artificial colours, flavours or additives. Brand leaders at this point are O.N.E. and, of course, Mother Nature who has the least ergometric but most biodegradable coconut water package.

Have you tried coconut water? I’ve had it when traveling in India and Indonesia but I don’t remember really loving it to be honest. I think I’d rather just stick with my trusty filtered tap water. What about you?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Stats prove more Canadians going nuts

September 29, 2009

trailmix

Despite allergy fears and warnings that prevent nuts from being available in schools and many other public places, Canadians are eating more nuts than ever before. While general nut consumption in Canada grew by 14% last year, trail mix growth increased by 22% as people discover these foods as healthier snack choices.

Our household certainly reflects these trends. While peanuts, pistachios, pine nuts and hazelnuts are never served at our house due to Martin’s allergy to them, I started to buy lots of dried fruit and nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pecans last spring. My son Oliver is literally always hungry in the evening. He’s still weeks shy of his 13th birthday and already 5’ 10” tall but only around 130 lbs so he has good reason to eat a lot. And, once he’s had his food groups for the day, I’m fine with him eating ice cream and cookies.

Problems arose when I realized that I’d fallen into the habit of buying him chips on a regular basis. Eating high fat, processed, salty snacks is a habit that I don’t want him to develop. So, I started laying out bowls of nuts and dried fruits in our TV room and guess what? Chip consumption plummeted.

We’re also true to trend when it comes to who in our family dips into which bowl. Recent research indicates that 65% of younger snackers opt for fruity blends or candy coated nuts and I must say that Oliver is our biggest dried fruit consumer (although I’ve been eating an awful lot of the Back to Nature chocolate almond and cranberry blend since I discovered it earlier this month!) Meanwhile, Martin and I are like the 54% of older consumers who say they prefer plain or raw nuts.

What about you? Does your nut consumption conform to these stats or are you a maverick?

Note: The autumn issue of my online quarterly food trend newsletter Topline Trends will be live by the end of the day! Read all the yummy details!


Pulse check

September 9, 2009

PulsesA couple of weeks I ago I traveled to Alberta to learn all about Canadian pulses. It was a great trip that will be remembered not only for good company, great weather and terrific meals, but also because I learned so much interesting information that I hope to organize into witty tidbits of scintillating prose in the coming weeks.

Although Canada is the world’s largest exporter of lentils and chickpeas, I discovered that few people – even food professionals – can confidently define this term when asked. In fact, when I told people that I was going to the pulse harvest, I got a lot of quizzical looks!

So, for your big fat information, pulses are the mature, dried edible seeds of legumes such as dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. (Although soybeans are legumes they are not considered pulses due to their high fat content.)

Apparently the average Canadian eats only about 1/4 cup (50 mL) of pulses a week. How do you compare to this average?