“Every year our cooking gets more and more global and it is very exciting to see, even as our politics turn here in the US, that we are still open minded from a culinary perspective,” Julie Meyer, the founding partner for the nutrition communication company Eat Well Global, says in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast.
“We are not only globally focused, but very adventuresome and we are always looking for the next thing, the newest, the hottest, the thing nobody has tried before,” she adds.
So what will those things be in 2017? Meyer predicts Americans will see more key ingredients from Asia, such as jackfruit, and from Brazil, such as exotic fruits, vegetables and tapioca. Innovative ways to eat fish will come from Nordic countries and Africa will bring “a lot of super interesting grains” to use in new ways in the American diet, Meyer said.
She also predicts fermented foods and beverages, such as sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha and drinking vinegar will continue to gain traction as Americans learn more about their health benefits and continue to seek complex flavors.
In addition, she said, tubers and roots from around the world are starting to take hold in the US diet. Specifically, she noted cassava, yams, taro and sweet potato are all being used in more diverse ways to create complex flavors and new textures.
How long until predictions reach fruition?
Now, some of these predictions have come up before. Take Brazilian food for example. This was a big prediction for 2016 based on the belief that the Olympics would expose Americans to the host country’s more unique dishes and ingredients. And while some Brazilian foods have worked their way into the diets of niche consumer groups, much of this success comes from efforts that began long before the Olympics and 2016. Which begs the question, how long does it really take for a flavor of food to go from being an optimistic prediction to being a realistic option in restaurants and retail stores.
Meyer admitted that many New Year’s predictions actually take a couple of years to fully develop due to consumer education, supply chain and product development – all of which can take a while.
The current political climate also could influence adoption rates, Meyer says, but she remains confident that Americans are open to new cuisines from around the world, even if they are focusing inward politically.
“I think the American food scene will be divided. … I live in Brooklyn and everyone I know eats injera [Ethiopian bread made from teff]. They know what it is when I mention it, they are perfectly comfortable with the wide variety of global foods. They want to know where it came from, they want to know who made it, they want it to be health, non-GMO – they want all of that,” she said. “And I believe another large portion of our country doesn’t really care. They don’t care where it is from. They are potentially not as health conscious, they sort of want their food how they want it, where they want it and in as much quantity as they want it and they feel really comfortable with that.”
This means that large food manufacturers will be making food for two very diverse audiences and will need to tailor their offering and marketing as a result, she added.
Health issues will balance flavor exploration
As exciting as exploring new flavors and dishes from around the world is, Meyer notes manufacturers also will need to continue to promote healthy eating through reformulation and advertising – a task which has never been easy and could become more difficult or less pressing as new leadership in the country shifts the nation’s attention away from nutrition and exercise and towards other priorities.
Despite this turmoil, she predicts America’s battle with sugar and sodium will remain top issues in 2017. She also predicts high fiber and high protein will continue to be important to consumers.
However, she cautions that the days of random fortification are over and that adding fiber, protein and other vitamins and minerals to products needs to make sense. For example, she noted consumers look for protein in bars, but placing it in clear beverages might be a turn off to consumers in part because it is so unexpected.
Using health claims to market new products
Beyond that though, Meyer says incorporating health claims into marketing can be a significant positive for companies – provided they do so responsibly.
“I would say one of the challenges … around incorporating nutrition into the marketing message is that consumers want an excuse to have your products. They want to hear good news about your product. They want to know that it is healthier, that they are making a healthier choice to feel good about themselves and pat themselves on the back,” but they also are doing research and won’t be fooled by misleading health claims, such as a brownie is good for their hearts, she said.
Thus a major marketing challenge that will develop in 2017 is ensuring the stories behind products are told in authentic, accurate way with the right spokesperson and to the right audience, she said.