Parents increasingly are realizing the childhood obesity epidemic in the US is “out of control” and they have to change the way their children approach food, including better portion-control, more vegetables and less sugar, natural food industry veteran and blogger Mareya Ibrahim of The Fit Foodie told FoodNavigator-USA.
To help parents meet this need and drive sales, Ibrahim says CPG manufacturers, food service providers and restaurants in the coming year should tap into eight emerging healthy food trends that also are kid-friendly, including:
1. Spiralizing vegetables, such as zucchini, beets and yellow squash, that can be substituted for conventional pasta noodles. Ibrahim said that veggie noodles, which have been “big for bloggers for a while” will start showing up on menus, in frozen meals and ready-to-eat, fresh takes on cup-of-noodle products next year as a way to sneak more veggies into everyone’s diets. This trend also benefits from the on-going gluten free movement because the spiralized veggies mimic the al dente texture of pasta noodles in a way that many gluten-free pastas do not. It also is attractive to consumers who count calories and carbs because subbing spiralized vegetables for traditional pasta cuts upwards of 180 calories and roughly 35 carbs per serving. As for being kid-friendly, Ibrahim jokes that her son “inhales” plates spiralized vegetables in a mac and cheese sauce without her having to tell him to eat his vegetables. “If he loves spiralized yellow squash and cheese, 99.9% of the rest of population will, too,” she said.
2. Do-it-yourself bowls that include a full meal of layered veggies, grains and protein “are everywhere,” and are a “great way to expose people to new cuisines in a familiar package,” Ibrahim said. In food service and school cafeterias that have equipment for salad bars, creating bowls based on different cuisines is a way to let consumers and children customize their meals. It is also an opportunity for manufacturers to make ready to eat or heat and serve meals that are fast, convenient and portable, Ibrahim said. Ready Pac is already playing in this space with its Bistro Bowls and ElevAte entrée salad kits that come in bowls with forks. The company is constantly innovating the flavor profiles to keep the bowls fresh and consumers engaged. Other player in the space include Annie Chun’s, which offers noodle and ramen bowls, and Artisan Bistro, which sells Breakfast Bowls and Seafood Bowls.
3. Breakfast for dinner – or brinner – is gaining traction as a fast, cost-effective evening meal, Ibrahim said. She noted a recent national survey found nine out of ten Americans eat breakfast for dinner, with more than half doing so at least once a month. When kids are in the picture, this climbs to 67% of households eating brinner at least once a month, she said. “For restaurants it is easy to elevate and egg and turn it into a high-end dinner by adding things like shrimp or lobster or salmon. For food service, you can take a waffle and turn it into a taco. Or for grab and go, you can do a beautiful yogurt parfet,” Ibrahim suggested. She added that breakfast ingredients often have low costs but dinners sell for more, creating nice margins. In the CPG segment, companies are developing innovate ways to make breakfast for dinner easier, such as CleverFoodies’ Scramble – a line of pre-made, fresh mix-ins for eggs that add veggies and spices quickly.
4. Muffin-pan-mania is gripping some parts of the nation with consumers making mini-meals in muffin pans to help with portion and calorie control, Ibrahim said. She says children also love muffin-sized foods, even if they’ve never tried the ingredients, because the format is familiar. For example, she said, her kids love when she makes meatloaf in muffin pans with a cauliflower or sweet potato mash for “frosting.” The concept of mini-lasagnas, -pizza bites or –frittatas could easily playout in the frozen food aisle and double as appetizers or easy-to-pack school lunches, which kids often eat with their hands.
5. Sprouted grains continue to grow out of the gluten-free movement, but as a healthier alternative to the white rice flour and other fillers that commonly make up gluten-free options, Ibrahim said. “The great thing about sprouting is the nutrient density is much higher than regular grains,” they have more fiber and lower glycemic index scores, she added. Spouted grains already appear across categories in snack chips, bakery crust, tortillas, and baked goods. Ibrahim says parents who want to give their children treats can feel better swapping products with sprouted grains. She specifically called out Way Better Snacks and Angelic Bakery as CPG category leaders in this trend.
6. Maca root is a little tapped super food that Ibrahim says has significant potential across applications because it comes in bars, chips and powders and has mild flavor that is easy to mask or blend. She called out its high antioxidant ORAC count and that it is a natural energizer that parents can feel better about giving their kids before sports practice than something that has caffeine, high sugar or carbs. “I see this coming as a big opportunity for CPG brands as there are not yet many products made with maca, but already consumers are looking for it,” Ibrahim said.
7. Kolrabi could be “the next big veggie”even though most consumers do not currently know what it is, Ibrahim said. She noted the cabbage-relation appeals to adults because it is high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, copper and manganese and has only 27 calories per 100grams. CPG firms should embrace it because it is so versatile and can be eaten raw, steamed, braised, pureed and mashed. “I am just amazed at how many ways you can use it and even though you don’t see it now, it is coming and we will see a lot of it soon,” she said.
8. Bite-sized balls of food, like muffin-made foods, are gaining traction with adults and children, Ibrahim said. These appeal to adults because of the portion control and potential for nutrient density as well as their portability. Children like them because they are “child sized and not a whole big bar or plate of food. Plus they are fun to eat,” Ibrahim said. She noted that next year she will launch a line of “ball” snack foods called Fit Bites that will build on this trend. Another player in this space is Momme Meals, which markets Go Chews – bite sized, one-handed snacks for nursing mothers that are now expanding into the sports nutrition space.