Food & drink

Agriculture trends

A growing population, environmental threats and changes to the agricultural industry could see the world facing a shortage of food supplies. While the area dedicated to producing crops has increased by only 1 per cent in the past decade, the world population increases by the same number of people currently living in North America each year, meaning that the cropland per capita is in steep decline. In the past six years we actually ate more grains than farmers produced, despite the emphasis on maximising production though increased fertilisation and land use, with experts predicting a shift from supply-driven to demand-driven agriculture. The demand for food production will actually increase faster then the population. Why? Because as developing nations such as China get richer, they have more choice in terms of the kinds of foods they eat, often consuming more protein - the production of which uses more plant matter than simply eating the plants themselves. In addition, the current production system faces threats from climate change, water shortages and unstable fossil fuel supplies (one of the key ingredients of fertilisers is made from natural gas). The ethanol craze has also seen an increase in crops being used in the energy business, which could mean supermarkets competing with oil companies for food products.The production of ethanol is expected to almost double by 2012, with the percentage of corn crops dedicated to it rising from 20 to 30 per cent. All of this will lead to increased demand on companies that service farmers, such as those that supply seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, and those that process and distribute the products. There will also be a greater demand for technology that increases yield from crops, for example, creating a more efficient way to extract ethanol from plants.
Ref: Various including Williams Inference (US)
Search words: food, population, ethanol, agriculture, food supply

Jelly breakfasts

The consumption of jelly drinks is on the rise. Designed originally for use by athletes, the drinks are increasingly used by the general public, especially in Japan. The jelly is sold in aluminium pouches with a spout at the top, this convenient packaging making it popular with busy people and the younger members of the population. The advantage of jelly over liquid nutritional supplements is that jelly stays in the stomach longer. With the jelly beverages market growing faster than that of other nutritional-supplementing products, both confectionary and pharmaceutical companies are getting in on the trend. Holding a 50 per cent share of the market, Morinaga & Co is at the forefront of the jelly game in Japan. Their bestselling 'Weider in Jelly' is marketed as containing all the energy of a regular-size rice ball in a single 180g serve of the muscat-flavoured jelly (Yum!) Other products on the market are targeted towards women or middle-aged people. The nature of jelly allows manufacturers to add ingredients for increased functionality, such as vitamins to aid weight loss or ease hunger and substances that promote fat-to-energy conversion during exercise.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Jap), 10 April 2006, 'Jelly drinks in pouches speed up breakfast'.
Search words: convenience, functional foods, jelly

Beasts and babycham

Recent studies have found Americans are twice as likely to buy a wine if the label features a picture of an animal. 'Critter' brands, whose labels show curly-tailed monkeys, kangaroos, frogs and fish outsold other wines by two to one in the past three years. It's put down to a move away from wine snobbery, with people seeking out more approachable and affordable wines (most critter bottles are priced between US$8 and $12). But while the beast branding may help make the bottle stand out on the crowded shelves, or make them more memorable, customers will not come back if the product isn't up to scratch. Other drink trends worth noting include more drinks marketed towards women. First, there was German health beer Karla, now there's a Dutch wine refresher targeted at women looking for an alternative to sweet mixed drinks. Sophie & Sophie is a rosé style wine sold in small bottle (not unlike Babycham) and is a mixture of wine, dealcoholised wine and grape must. The taste is like that of a semi-dry wine, but at 5.5 per cent it contains less alcohol and around half the calories of the full strength alternative.
Ref: The Hartford Courant (US), 22 March 2006, 'Critter Wines Leap Off Shelves',
L. Quaid.; Springwise (Neth), 26 August 2096, 'Wine for women'.
Search words: alcohol, wines, branding, women, animals

More interest in food

Supermarkets have traditionally based their marketing strategies on low prices (think baked bean, bead, banana or milk wars), but research has shown that there are a growing number of consumers prepared to upscale to better quality, higher-cost products. Increased affluence, an aging population and a greater interest in food in general has seen a move away from a focus on price towards an emphasis on quality products. In the UK, this is reflected in the rise in popularity of more upmarket food stores such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer and the demise of budget sandwich retailer Benjy's, whose failure was attributed to inflexibility in the face of changing consumer behaviour. It can also be seen in the increasing number of 'premium' own-brand labels in supermarkets, in addition to the regular own-branded products. What may be most surprising about all of this is that Britain has more of these 'foodie' types than other countries in Europe, with 31 per cent of the population prepared to pay more for higher quality goods, compared with only 9 per cent in France and Germany.
Ref: The Daily Reckoning (UK), 10 August 2006, 'Food shopping trends',
G. Davis.
Search words: supermarkets, shopping, gourmet, price wars, foodies

Are allergies exaggerated?

In the UK 25 per cent of households contain an individual that is afraid to eat peanuts but it could be that the dangers of food allergies are overstated, especially in children. Allergies to things like peanuts are often thought to be more dangerous than pneumonia or diabetes, but the risk of children dying from a food allergy is very small. Just eight children died from a food allergy in the four years from 1996 to 2000, with peanuts not killing any child less than 13 years of age. The fears surrounding food allergies have put eating habits under a great deal of scrutiny and sparked a long list of dietary demands such as low-GI and lactose-free foods (British Airways now offer nine 'special' meals and 11 'medical' meals on their flights). There's even been suggestions that age restrictions be placed on foods like hamburgers and sweets, similar to the ones that exist for tobacco and alcohol. Despite these extremes, there's been no evidence to suggest that people are more intolerant to food than they used to be. Though there is an increase in patients reporting intolerances, in three-quarters of cases their reactions are psychological rather than physical. And nearly half of children that had tested allergic to peanuts could eat them without suffering any side effects.
Ref: The Weekend Australian (Aus), 2-3 September 2006, 'Panic at kids' allergies is nuts'.; The Financial Times (UK), 5-6 August 2006, 'Living with the food fascists', Edie Smockum.
Search words: diets, allergies, fear, anxiety

Cookies that care

Looking for a way to help the poor townships around Cape Town, investment banker Alicia Polak wanted to contribute more than a monetary donation and instead decided to invest in a long-term solution. The result is Khayelitsha Cookies, a non-profit company that sells cookies and brownies to local cafes, hotels and a domestic airline. Though the cookies themselves are nothing innovative, it's the structure of the business and the way it implements social change that's attracting interest. In a town battling poverty, crime and unemployment, Polak has employed ten local women, teaching them skills in baking, customer service and other areas of the business. In just two years Khayelitsha Cookies is on the verge of breaking into the US market, and with the business expected to break even soon, Polak is hoping to make the employees part-owners. There are also plans to introduce this kind of entrepreneurial program to other areas that have an abundance of untrained and unemployed hands, like disadvantaged parts of Europe and the United States.
Ref: Business 2.0 (US), August 2006, 'Doughing the right thing', P.Sloan.
Also Springwise (Neth), 25 July 2006, 'Cookies with a cause'.
Search words: non-profit, employment, bakery, CSR, ethical brands, fair trade