For example, a stroll down almost any grocery aisle will turn up products that are touting family recipes from generations past, calling out heirloom ingredients, referencing ancient grains or have graphics and imagery that recalls bygone cultures.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Carl Jorgensen, who is the director of global consumer strategy at the brand building firm Daymon Worldwide, explains why consumers are looking back to the future ingredients, foods and flavor profiles and what they are finding. He also explores how the rediscovery of these ingredients and cooking methods are influencing other modern-day trends, such as the gluten-free movement.
“Think of this trend as rediscovering ancient wisdom. Every culture around the world has maintained foods and wellness practices, from which benefits are being rediscovered today,” Jorgensen said. For example, he noted, “One of the first ancient products to go mainstream was yogurt in the ’70s – now it is an established dairy category.”
Other current examples of “everything old becoming new again,” include the growing interest in kombucha, which originally was a traditional fermented tea, and the revival of switchel – a vinegar-based-drink used by turn-of-the-century farmers as a refresher in the hot fields, he noted.
But consumer interest in these products goes beyond the cyclical nature of trends. Rather, Jorgensen explains that consumers are looking back in time for food and beverages in part because of the growing distrust of science, big food and big government. At the same time, ancient traditions, such as Chinese medicine and yoga “have been haloed with the wisdom of the ancients,” he said.
Another driver of ancient foods and practices is the increasing awareness of preventive health and the idea that eating and drinking healthy products can help prevent disease, discomfort and even slow the aging process.
This idea “is everywhere. Preserving foods through fermentation, pickling, using herbs to treat everyday ailments and eating cultured dairy products and drinking vinegars for digestive health are really now becoming mainstream,” Jorgensen said.
Ancient grains are a modern wonder
A major category in which this trend is playing out in the rise of ancient grains, which is gaining traction in part from consumer interest in gluten-free, increased fiber and minimally processed foods.
“Some of the ancient grains that we have become familiar with in recent years are spelt, farro, kamut, quinoa and amaranth. Kind of exotic names, but they are traditional grains from ancient agrarian cultures and these grains have not been transformed by plant breeding, like modern wheat and corn, which have been bred to be to make whiter, softer breads and produce higher starch and higher carbohydrate content,” Jorgensen said.
In addition, he noted, “many ancient grains in their whole form offer more fiber protein and minerals and they tend to have richer more interesting flavors. Many ancient grains fit nicely into gluten free diets.”
While ancient grains are on the rise, many face supply challenges, Jorgensen said. He explained that many of these grains are not yet produced on an industrial scale and that one way manufacturers can ensure sufficient supply is to offer specialty grain growers longer term contracts.
Ayurvedic herbs shift from tablets to snacks
Another sub-trend of this idea that everything old is new again is an emerging use of traditional Chinese and ayurvedic herbs as ingredients in foods and beverages, such as REBBL Super Herbs, which are bottled drinks that use Maca, Reshi and ashwagandha, and in the mushroom-based teas, coffees and cocoas created by Four Sigma Foods.
Jorgensen explained that consumers increasingly are moving away from traditional herbs, spices and other plants in capsules and towards them in food in part because “a capsule doesn’t provide the same experience.”
Within this trend, Jorgensen sees significant potential for turmeric and matcha, which are popping up across categories in teas, smoothies, snacks and even baking mixes.
Biodynamic agriculture sees resurgence
As interest in heirloom products and ancient crops increases, so too does interest in ancient farming methods, which is giving rise to biodynamic agriculture, Jorgensen said.
“Think of biodynamic agriculture as beyond organic – it is a system of chemical free agriculture” that has “all input necessary for agricultural production, such as fertilizer and seed produced on the farm itself. A truly biodynamic farm is really self-sufficient and does not need to purchase a lot off-farm input. And that is the ultimate sustainability and food security,” he said.
So will this trend of what-is-new-again follow the path of many other fads and fade out? Jorgensen doesn’t think so.
He explained: “The whole idea of … ancient wisdom is it actually is something that is more of what you would call a mega-trend in the sense that people really do trust things that are tried and true over time rather than new ideas or fads. You know, by its very nature, this idea of ancient wisdom is kind of the opposite of a fad. It is really putting your trust in what is tried and true.”