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How can businesses capitalize on healthy food trends? By going back to basics, says Greg Saint James, strategic marketing director at TOMRA Food.

06 March 2018

How can businesses capitalize on healthy food trends? By going back to basics, says Greg Saint James, strategic marketing director at TOMRA Food.

Consumer demand has driven some of the biggest health food trends over recent years – from chia seeds in 2012, the year of quinoa in 2013, to the stratospheric rise of avocados in 2015.  Rapid spikes in demand create huge opportunities for growers, packers and processors but they can also result in major strain on the supply chain. 

However, there are some long-term trends that food businesses can prepare for and – with the right processes in place – profit from.
But what health food trends are on the horizon, and how can businesses navigate through these rapid changes in demand?

Going back to basics

As a global food industry, we should not only support consumers who are following healthy food trends, but also encourage them to go back to basics by making staple beneficial food choices like fresh fruit and vegetables. Hype around super foods aside, the truth can be portrayed in a much simpler manner. With over 2.2m hectares (5.4m acres) of land solely focused on growing vegetables within EU countries alone, quantities of supply cannot be blamed as an issue for consumers not taking this fundamental route for healthy foods.

It has been proven through studies and data that incorporating fresh fruit and vegetables is the most effective way to bring a healthy diet into people’s lifestyles – these food categories lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and help appease any digestive issues.

Healthy food trends are also having a positive impact on processed food categories. Driven by industry, legislation and consumers, processed food such as gummy candy, French fries and sauces are becoming increasingly healthy. This ranges from processors reducing the salt, sugar and fat content of products, to more nutritional information being included on packaging. This is all about consumers having, and needing, to go back to basics as part of a well-balanced diet.

Cutting the costs

Alongside positive health food trends, though, there is misinformation around the financial impact they may have on both food businesses and consumers. For example, the myths around the cost implications of eating fresh fruit and vegetables need to be debunked. Whether it’s a bunch of carrots or a punnet of plums, purchasing fresh produce should not be overly expensive; it should be an easy-to-afford commodity for everyone to enjoy.

A significant problem facing the supply chain comes from foreign objects and defective produce present during the harvesting, sorting and packaging processes. Both of these have cost implications which are often passed on to consumers.

Making healthy foods easy and cost effective for consumers, from farm to fork, will be built on improving processes, reducing waste and improving yields.

Based on these facts, there are three basic food categories which are due to see a steady rise in demand during 2018 and beyond:

1. The prominence of soft fruits             

One of the key areas we see invested interested in is ‘small format soft fruits’ – an umbrella group covering the likes of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.

Soft fruits are being grown all year round, thanks to an increase in demand over recent times. Markets in Africa have seen a noticeable growth in the interest around small format soft fruits, with South Africa alone seeing a 150 per cent rise in blueberry volumes for both internal markets and exporting. Similarly, the Middle East’s berry import value reached an all-time high of $528,000 in recent years.

With this category, we have a significant opportunity to drive simple healthy eating for consumers – introducing soft fruits into their diet is a hassle-free way to bolster nutritional intake. The major benefit of soft fruits such as blueberries and raspberries is that they require no preparation, meaning deliciously healthy foods don’t need to stretch culinary skillsets.

To truly instil confidence in the consumer when purchasing fresh fruits, we have to get the process right from the word go. A big challenge is that many growers don’t have the equipment to help with grading and sorting which causes the waste of a large amount of fruit.

Gentler handling is required with soft fruits to help decrease bruising and damages, and reduce the levels of waste. Plus, with improved technology and applications, defective produce can be removed at an early stage and won’t cause any issues for the consumer and processors.

2. Cracking the nut group

Nuts have always been a significant market, but it is expected there will be a further growth in the segment in the short term, especially in markets with a new appetite for nuts such as China, where 40 per cent of people stated they are eating more nuts than previously. There’s a noticeable increase in demand around nuts, with almonds, peanuts and walnuts still being popular with consumers alongside the increased attention on cashews and hazelnuts.

Evidence has proven that although some nuts are known to contain a high fat content, these are ‘good’ fats that have health benefits to us, and these simple nuts on their own can be classed as healthy food. Research by Harvard Medical School suggests eating nuts is linked to a healthier longer life, and eating 1.5oz (42.5g) of nuts per day is said to reduce the risk of heart disease, thanks to the product’s monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content which helps reduce cholesterol levels.

3. Leaner, healthier meats

Alongside fresh produce and nuts, opting for low-fat meats is an effective approach to living a healthier lifestyle. Leaner meat is a great way to immediately improve dietary regimes, thanks to the low calorie and high protein content. Like with fresh produce, getting leaner meat is a simple way to get goodness.

For meat processors, the aim is to quickly and effectively retrieve more information and data around the fat contents of a supplier’s meat, and implement a more cost-effective model moving forward – something that will be greatly assisted by our technologies.

Fat, protein and moisture analysis lets suppliers determine the fat content within a piece of meat, allowing them to identify the low-fat meats and, overall, improve their yields. Adding real-time analysis to production lines benefits both processors and consumers.

Everything changes, everything stays the same

Consumers want to try and follow the new health trends, but keeping up with what to eat, and what not to, is becoming more of an arduous task than it should be. At TOMRA, we believe that opting for simple, fresh foods will always be beneficial to the consumer – something our innovative technologies can help growers, packers and processors deliver to their consumers with ease.