In order to prepare for careers in the food industry, we spend a lot of time objectively discussing the latest ingredient and consumer trends. At Cornell, we think our professors do a really great job of challenging us to think of the bigger picture when it comes to food-related issues.
As food science students, here are some of the topics we are thinking about and discussing:
1. Natural and Clean Label Products.
This one is pretty obvious and unanimous among both consumers and people working in the food industry. The interesting part about it is that neither of these terms have actual government-defined definitions or regulations. What makes a food product natural?
We asked people on Nonfiction Foods what “natural” means to them and most seemed to have a different opinion. In general, people agree that natural means the ingredients come straight from nature. But what exactly does that mean? For example, is a farm considered to be a “natural” setting? Also, one might define a “clean-label” product as having simple, whole ingredients that is easy for everyone to understand. But where do we draw the line and what makes something “clean-label enough” for you to buy it?
It’s our hope in the next few years that companies, government agencies, and consumers will work together to come up with formal definitions. Once this happens, we think the food industry will have a better understanding of how to meet consumer needs and consumers will ultimately be more satisfied with their products.
2. Plant-Based Products Versus Animal Products.
New types of protein alternatives and plant-based foods are popping up all over the market. What we’ve noticed is that there can be a lot of tension that develops during discussions on lifestyle choices, such as plant-based products versus animal products. Since food is such a personal decision, it can be difficult to think about each side objectively.
At the end of the day, everyone has different opinions and priorities. Food and lifestyle choices are often tied to emotions which can make for some heated conversations. Moving forward we hope that both sides spend less time vilifying the other and more time working together to meet both public health and consumer needs. After all, the important thing to remember is how fortunate we are to be able to have these food choices in the first place.
3. Demand for Transparency.
With increased access to the internet and other sources of information, consumers are demanding more. They want to know exactly where there food is coming from. This idea of traceability and transparency is putting pressure on the industry to conform.
Consumers may not realize it, the industry bends over backwards to meet their demands. Prime example: Farm-to-Table, a movement aimed at supporting local food systems by distributing food directly from the producer. Eliminating the so-called “middleman” or extra processing steps seems to make consumers feel more confident in their food products while supporting their community.
This is just one example to show how the industry is truly changing. Consumers are now, more than ever, demanding the truth. They are realizing that they have the ability to ask for more. Who knows…we might soon be able to look up the exact field and row where our pineapple was picked.
Well, There You Have It….
This is just a quick snapshot into a few of the current trends in the food industry that we’ve been discussing. In general, we’ve learned that the food industry and consumer demand is always changing.
Although certain subjects can be particularly complicated to navigate and sometimes emotional, innovation is continuing to reach new heights–making it a really exciting time to be in food!