Food & drink

Food inflation

Paul Cezanne once observed, ‘The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.’ With rapid rises in the price of basic foods now leading to social instability in some areas, he may not be far off the mark. Governments are struggling to keep a lid on inflation, attempting to artificially control the prices for staples such as bread, dairy, maize and rice in the wake of public outcry. With an election looming in Russia, the Kremlin forced suppliers of milk and bread to freeze prices, while countries including India, Mexico and Yemen have experienced food riots. Several factors have contributed to these severe price hikes that have seen 18% inflation in China, 13% in Indonesia and upwards of 10% in India, Russia and Latin America, with the price of wheat and maize doubling over the past year and the cost of rice increasing by 20%. World cereal stocks are at their lowest in a decade, with about 57 days supply in reserve, meaning a significant natural disaster could have devastating effects. The increase in crops grown for use as biofuels may also have implications for the world’s food supply. With the rising cost of fossil fuel, more and more farmers are sending their produce to ethanol producers. This combination of price hikes for both food and oil sets the scene for an impending social crisis. Experts have predicted a number of possible outcomes. Optimists see the market adjusting to the price rises, passing them on to the farmer, making food production a more profitable venture than biofuels. New crops varieties could see food grown on previously unproductive land, while a slowdown in population growth might ease demand. On the other hand, intensifying climate change could see a reduction in food production through floods and drought. Further oil price rises will make the production and transport of food more expensive, and the exhaustion of fish stocks and fertile soil will further impact on the world’s food supply.
Ref The Guardian (UK), 3 November 2007, ‘Global food crisis looms as climate change and fuel shortages bite’, John Vidal.
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Trend tags: Inflation
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2008 Food Forecasts

With the New Year upon us, experts are rolling out their predictions for what the food industry is set to look like in 2008. US blog, Food Democracy, says the future is generally bright, with healthy eating trends featuring heavily on their list. Pressure on companies to un-muddy the waters of food labelling could see the removal of unknown or unpronounceable preservatives, additives or colours from their products. Fortified and functional foods are still on the scene, with the next big craze touted as phytonutrients. Brain food, such as omega 3 and foods with digestive aids, such as fibre and probiotics, are still making waves – as are superfoods like the acai berry and pomegranate. However, 2008 could be the year of the naturally nutrient-rich, with experts seeing a public backlash against artificially-fortified foods, and customers opting for natural sources of these health benefits. The child obesity epidemic has sparked a new wave of healthy kids’ foods, with products containing more fruit and organic ingredients and less sugar becoming more readily available. Adults, however, seem to be opting for more artificial ways to control weight gain – with products that claim ‘increased satiety’, keeping you full for longer. Baby boomers have increased demand for ‘joint health’ foods, products that promise relief from joint pain, either arthritis- or exercise-related. Beauty-related food products have also been cropping up – for example, collagen-injected marshmallow to give you fuller lips, skin-balancing water and even an upcoming beauty drink from Coca-Cola and L’Oreal. Ethical and environmental concerns have led to an increase in demand for fair trade foods and greater clarity on food labels. Expect a wider range of eco-labels, touting everything from low food miles to wild-caught and dolphin-safe products. The Star Telegram adds their own prediction of a backlash against bottled water, as consumers realise the devastating effects it has on the environment, not to mention the wallet. Fancy salts may also go mainstream, with low-sodium alternatives such as black, pink or purple salts from the Himalayas or Peru set to be the next big thing.
Ref: Food Democracy (US), 4 January 2008, ‘Food trends for 2008: Could this year be the tipping point?’,; The Star Telegram (US), 8 January 2008, ‘5 food trends for 2008’, Amy Culbertson.
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Food Sovereignty

800 million people go hungry every day, while the same proportion of the world’s population are considered clinically obese. It’s this apparent paradox, actually two sides of the same problem, that forms the basis for Raj Patel’s book, Stuffed and Starved. The former World Bank man explores the two extremes of the global food chain, that has industry giants putting a strangle-hold on producers while simultaneously promoting unhealthy, processed food to western consumers. This imbalance of power, which is growing even more concentrated, has been evident for centuries. British colonials encouraged Asian countries to sell their wheat crops, resulting in cheaper food for the masses back home, but bringing widespread famine to Asia. Likewise in Mexico, a free trade agreement designed to provide more affordable food resulted in the collapse of Mexican corn prices, forcing 1.3 million farmers off their land. Ironically, the resulting urbanisation saw obesity level spike among these people.However, it’s not just the large corporations at the root of the world’s food problems. A growing population, expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, mismatched with a slow rise in food supplies has also taken its toll. In the past ten years, the population has grown by nearly 1 billion, while the production of staple crops was up only 11m tonnes, resulting in a drop in food per person of around 5%.

Natural disasters also contribute to a reduction in supply, while rising oil prices have seen more crops used for ethanol products. Experts predict that these trends are likely to continue. New diseases could see the devastation of livestock and crops. While GM crops such as soya may be more resistant, their effect on the world’s food supply has been minimal, despite being on the market for ten years now.So where does the solution to such a complex problem lie? The corporations see an answer in new technology and cutting out ‘inefficient’ small producers. Patel, among others, sees the way forward in what’s been labelled ‘food sovereignty’. This movement, rapidly growing in Asia, Latin America and Africa, aims to put control of food policies back in the hands of local producers – rather than in the hands of non-accountable overseas companies. Rejecting GMO and other alien technology, it works with nature to provide sustainable agricultural practices – guaranteeing food for the future.
Ref: The Guardian Weekly (UK), 19-25 October 2007, ‘Feeding the world: the politics of consumption’, John Vidal. ; The Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 20-21 October 2007, ‘Bitter harvest’, Felicity Lawrence.
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Trend tags: Localisation, protectionism, nationalism
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Satisfying that sweet craving without piling on the pounds just got a whole lot easier. In what may prove to be more than a fleeting fad, Japanese consumers have been seen tucking into sweets and cakes made with vegetables. Purveyors of the unusual desserts claim that vegetables complement sweets surprisingly well, while the natural sugars found in the vegetables means that these vegee-sweets contain up to half the sugar of the regular product. Patisserie Potager, based in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, specialises in cakes made with vegetables, such as burdock chocolate cake or corn millefeuille, decorated with sliced tomato or spinach cream. Serving nearly 300 customers each weekend, the shop sees mainly women in their 20s and 30s, many of whom say the cakes have helped them overcome their dislike for vegetables. Le Caf Mamie, also found in Meguro, claims their vegetable and herb-laden sweets provide health benefits, and often attracts business from weight-conscious customers with dishes like parsley cheesecake. The Omotesando district’s Celeb de Tomate is home to tomato-based creations, as the name suggests. The owner, remarking at the wide variety of tomatoes available, opened the shop (an adjoining restaurant) to promote the vegetable. The shop sells everything from fresh tomatoes to sweets and jam, while the restaurant includes tomatoes in every dish on the menu.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Jap), 25 June 2007, ‘Healthy, low-calorie veggie sweets’, Torisho Nagata.
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Waiters with ESP

A new wireless system, dubbed ESP, could see an end to long waits and confusion on the restaurant floor. ESP connects customers to staff, and staff to one another, with a system that could also eventually find uses in hospitals and casinos. Customers are given a disc that sits in a small hub on the table. Clicking on the hub sends a signal to wrist device worn by the waiters, which vibrates and displays the table number. The waiter is buzzed by the kitchen when food is ready for delivery, and in turn the waiter can buzz the busboy when customers are ready to leave. The system is available to restaurants on a subscription basis, priced according to both the number of staff and the number of restaurants – which could see the system do well if it is picked up by some of the larger chain restaurants.
Ref: Business 2.0 (US), May 2007, ‘Taking the “wait” out of “waiter”’.
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