–by Charan Wadhawan, Ph.D., Charan Wadhawan
Senior Scientist of Food and Nutrition

To help food manufacturers in their product development, various organizations, marketing consultants and food experts identify trends. Following are predictions for key food product trends that you may well see leading the way in 2014.

Natural reformulation
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t developed a definition for “natural,” and a proliferation of lawsuits alleging false advertising of products with “all-natural” claims has compelled many companies to reformulate. The demand for additive- and preservative-free products is growing. Ingredient suppliers have a challenge to combine this desire for all-natural food with a desire for functionality and taste. Nature’s own functional foods are increasingly being utilized, such as parsnips, vegetable, artichokes, kale, and the rediscovery of Chia and Freekeh. We are going back to the future for health.

Sustainability and waste reduction
Manufacturers have been focusing on sustainability. McDonald’s recently vowed to source only “verified sustainable beef” for its burgers by 2016. “Sustainable,” like “natural,” is another labeling term that lacks uniform definition. Manufacturers are shifting to reduce food waste wherever possible. Ingredients play an important role in reducing food waste, throughout the value chain as well as with the end consumer. New solutions will emerge to recover, recycle, reuse and reduce at all costs.

Socially responsible companies take the lead
According to a survey by ConAgra Foods, 62 percent of consumers “appreciate, and want to support, companies that donate to important social causes.” Consumers will be drawn to those brands that deliver a consumer-friendly product, while also supporting initiatives that align with their beliefs and views.

Emerging proteins
Traditional dairy and soy sources remain strong but new non-allergenic vegetable and grain sources including rice, pea, chia and quinoa are playing a key role in weight management, satiety (the feeling of being sated) and muscle development. The popularity of plant-based eating has encouraged manufacturers to make products with plant-based proteins. Pea protein is a hot protein alternative to egg and dairy protein because of its link to greater satiety compared to whey and other proteins.

Look out for the small guy
Small innovators are developing unique and high-quality products with small-scale appeal but with big potential. Social media platforms provide more opportunities for small companies to expand their markets by targeting niches locally as well as globally.

Flavor trends
Flavor will play an important role in the development of new products as consumers demand high-quality, great-tasting flavors. International flavors are going to make appearances in our own kitchens. Seasonings and spices not only jazz up a dish, but they also offer health benefits. Bell Flavor and Fragrances highlighted sweet and savory fusion as key 2014 flavor trends including Huacatay (Peruvian black mint), Kimchi (a traditional fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings) , Ginger, Aronia Berry, and more.

Regaining trust
Food safety and scandals have scared consumers. To regain their confidence, companies will use ingredient origin and detailed labels as marketing tools.

Health and diet
Healthy lifestyles are here to stay. Nutrition is getting closer to being recognized as the best answer to healthcare challenges around the globe. Expect meat alternatives, sugar alternatives, natural energy drinks and healthy ingredients in many applications. There is also an increase in products developed with reduced sugar, salt and saturated fat, while maintaining a clean label with minimum alternative ingredients.

National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot culinary trends forecast shows that health-driven dishes are heating up with kale salads and natural sweeteners such as agave and maple syrup rising to the top of the trend forecast.

Non-GMO
Despite the failure of state ballot initiatives in California and Washington, consumer demand for non-GMO products continues to increase. The non-GMO food and supplement category is the fastest growing sector in the entire natural products industry, with non-GMO product sales recently surpassing $3.5 billion. For the dietary supplement industry, the issue poses specific and significant challenges.

Better-for-you snacks
As snacking has increased, so has individuals’ overall diet quality. Healthy but convenient snacks are a growing category. Demand for healthful ingredients, protein and natural sweeteners along with great taste are on the rise.

Allergen-free
Allergen concerns will continue to increase, prompting innovative solutions. The gluten-free trends will continue to grow in 2014. Despite the lack of evidence, consumers associate gluten-free diet to weight loss. Ancient grains, alternative flours and pulses such as garbanzo beans, peas and lentils are being used in place of wheat. The future of gluten-free is better flavor, texture and convenience. Coconut, nut and grain milks are alternatives to soy and dairy. Cooking sauces like red miso, oyster, soy, peanut and fish sauces will be reformulated to offer allergen-free versions.

Supermarkets – The new culinary schools
Experts predict that supermarkets will become the new culinary mecca. Many stores already offer cooking demos or “community cooking centers” that allow shoppers to come together and learn from one another. The supermarket is a classroom for adults, and I encourage you to bring along the kids to teach them how to find foods that will help them grow and flourish.