Food & drink

Vending with a Conscience

Japanese vending machines, of which there are some 5.5 million, are doing things other than dispensing drinks. Increasingly, these machines are doing everything from advertising the latest products to saving lives. One type of machine offers a discount in return for customers watching an advertisement while the drink is being prepared. Another type of machine allows customer to donate the change from their purchase to charity (and even make donations without purchases). With sales from Japanese vending machines at around �7 trillion each year (equalling sales at convenience stores), there is a massive market in finding additional uses for the machines. But there is increasing criticism about the amount of power used and waste produced by this huge number of vending machines. Makers of the machines have responded in part by developing energy-saving models, while others have found socially-orientated uses for the machines. A vending machine in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward features a large red button at a low height. It serves as an emergency buzzer for children, which when pressed, sets of an alarm and turns on a flashing light. Another brand of machines, set up at train stations, contains an automated external defibrillator that can be pulled out in case of an emergency.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 22 October 2007, ‘Drinks machines quench needy’, Naoyoshi Itatasu.
Search words: Vending, vending machines
Trend tags: Convenience
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Fatal Food Fad

There’s certainly no denying that we have become much more aware of food allergies in the past decade, with what seems like an increasing number of parents keeping their children away from nuts and other foods for fear of hospitalisation or even death. But has the number of those with fatal allergies really ballooned in the way that the news coverage has? There are claims that this increase in food allergies is largely a result of hysteria, helped along by sensationalist news coverage and over-protective parents. The bulk of the statistics referenced in the US media, for example, come from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), who estimate that 150 to 200 Americans die each year from allergic reactions, with around 30,000 people hospitalised. These figures, however, were compiled after a 1995 survey of just 113 people, only nine of which were hospitalised in five years. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on the other hand reported only 12 deaths from food allergies in the whole of 2004. The discrepancy could lie in the fact that FAAN receives funding from Dey, the distributor of the EpiPen adrenaline injector pen used to treat allergies, and Versus Pharmaceuticals, maker of EpiPen’s competitor. This kind of statistical exaggeration could be causing as much damage as the allergies themselves. Over-protection of children can cause a false sense of security later in life, and surveys indicate that children who believe they have allergies suffer feel limited in what they believe they can achieve, and more overwhelmed by anxiety.
Ref: Harper’s Magazine (US), January 2008, ‘Everyone’s gone nuts’, Meredith Broussard.
Search words: Anxiety, kids, children, food allergies, food intolerance
Trend tags: Anxiety, fear
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Food Trends

The future of the food industry sees manufacturers faced with the challenges of an increasingly fragmented consumer base that’s sending out conflicting messages. Customers are ‘talking lean but eating fat’. Responses in consumer surveys reveal that customers place more emphasis on nutrition than taste or enjoyment, but the reality of what they’re actually consuming is very different. Customers claim they would like to be eating healthy, ethical and environmentally-friendly foods, but at the supermarket, meal choices are driven by factors like value for money, satisfaction for the whole family, food allergies and convenience. Predicting consumer behaviour in this environment is difficult, but it seems that the products winning out are those that can strike a balance between nutrition, enjoyment and convenience. Sushi is one food that ticks all these boxes and is now eaten everywhere from small bars in Japan to suburban shopping malls in the Western world. Other parts of the food industry are simply branching out to satisfy both the ‘lean’ and the ‘fat’ desire of the consumer. Nestle, a producer of chocolate and other fattening foods, also owns Jenny Craig – a weight loss brand. The American food industry is an example of how a market can sustain both a mass fast food sector and a gourmet or artisanal sector. One reliable indicator of what people will be buying at the supermarket is looking at current restaurant trends – what people go out for now, they will be looking to make at home in the future.
Ref: Australian Financial Review (Aus), February 2008‘Turning Tables’, Andrew Cornell. See also: Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal, Eric Schlosser; Stuffed and Starved: Markets, power and the hidden battle for the world’s food system, Raj Patel.
Search words: Food trends, eating behaviour, food attitudes
Trend tags: –
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Food Labelling Trends

Consumers in Japan have been on the receiving end of a number of food labelling scams recently that have seen producers making false claims about everything from dates to ingredients on their packaging. One McDonald’s franchise was found to be selling salads with false dates, which may have contained expired ingredients. Akafuku, a famous confectioner, was caught using false production dates on its bean cakes. It’s not simply a matter of these businesses trying to cut costs, however. There’s a lot of money to be made by cashing in on consumers’ love affair with specialty products. Police raided an upscale restaurant in Japan after claims it was falsifying the origin of the beef used in its products, while a meat-processing firm was selling regular chickens under the guide of Hinai-jidori chicken – a specialty breed much sought after in Japan. With a growing emphasis on provenance and food traceability, governments have been forced to come up with ways to enforce food-labelling practices. Japanese scientists have devised a way to test the origins of certain foods, and give back some confidence to consumers, who have no choice bust to trust what is written on a label. In the case of produce, scientists are analysing the elemental composition of either the plant itself or the soil attached to determine which region or country it has come from. In the case of meat and poultry, some animals can be identified by DNA analysis.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 3 December 2007, ‘Mislabelling by famous brands rocks food industry’. The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 3 March 2008, ‘Scientists sleuth out foods’ faked origins’, Tasei Hoyama.
Search words: Labels, labelling, packaging
Trend tags: Anxiety, authenticity, trust
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Whatever Happened to GM food?

A decade ago, it was promised that GM foods would grow in areas where no crops could grow, end hunger and poverty and help reduce disease as a part of plant-based vaccines. Yet none of the promised crops are yet available on the market. Was it a case of unrealistic promises, or is there weight in the claims of those opposing GM? Opposition to GM foods has been particularly prevalent in Europe and the UK, where regulations provide against ‘contamination’ of organic farms by GM crops. Here, sales of organic food are rising at around 20% each year. This rise in sales of organic foods, touted as the natural alternative to the products of modern farming, is part of the broader force opposing GM foods, that of the ‘back to nature’ movement. It has been estimated, however, that if all farming became organic, only one-third of the world’s present population would have enough food. In order to feed the 800 million people who now go hungry, as well as the extra 3 billion in growth expected by 2050, we would need to more than double our current food production. That’s before you take into account the expected rise in droughts and desertification, or the fact that food crops are increasingly being used for biofuels. Another great debate surrounding the introduction of GM food crops is the apparent impact on the environment and biodiversity. GM supporters say that the crops can be beneficial to the environment, as their resistance to disease means less insecticides are used (with claims of a reduction of up to 15% in some areas), and with some able to grow in unploughed fields, they use less energy. While this opposition goes on in Europe, the use of GM crops is spreading rapidly across India and China – both of which have a huge home market. The Chinese government expects that biotechnology could become its fastest-growing industry in the next 15 years, while there are reports that half of the world’s research and development of GM crops will soon be done in China. As a counterpoint to this argument see Prospect (UK) December 2007, ‘Genetic Escapism’, J. Porritt.
Ref: Prospect Magazine (UK), November 2007, ‘The real GM food scandal’, Dick Taverne.
Search words: GM, GMO
Trend tags: Genetics
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