Food-Safety-300x300It’s the beginning of a new year, and most Americans welcomed 2013 with resolutions, contemplations and a glass of bubbly. The food processing industry, however, has its own way of welcoming a new year---with an abundance of research-driven food trend predictions. Forecasting what will be in our refrigerators and on our plates is crucial to our customers’ success. But it’s also critical to our success as a distributor to those food processors. Anticipating customer needs and understanding the end consumer makes us a more responsive, solution-oriented channel-partner---thereby cementing our value as an integral part of the supply chain. Interpreting these trends also helps our company to grow by discerning which customers and industry segments may be poised for growth.

Trade organizations, specialty publications, news outlets, consultants and even the United Nations (it’s the year of quinoa---haven’t you heard?!?) have taken stabs at predicting what foods are going to be hot in 2013. However, the most reliable information seems to come from our own customers. Nestle USA, for example, prides itself on operating the largest research and development network of any food company in the world. Below, is an edited list of oft-repeated food trends for 2013:

The Kids are Alright. The emphasis on better nutrition for the youngest consumers is growing. Look for whole grain added to kids’ meals and more sophisticated pre-packaged food offerings targeted toward children. But, just as children’s tastes are becoming more cultivated, it seems that adults long for the days of unrefined comfort food. Watch for comebacks by traditional childhood favorites such as pot pie, burgers and casseroles.

Location, Location, Location. Given a lack of standard regulations, the organic distinction is dubious at best. What is a concerned consumer to do? Buy local, eat local---the less distance food has to travel to your plate often cuts down on both contaminates and preservatives. 2013 will see a strong uptick in consumer demand for locally-sourced produce, meats and seafood. To save money and meet demand, look for food processors to adopt a “make it where you sell it” production model---more money will be invested in regional production of both frozen and prepared foods to ensure freshness and convenience.

Eat Your Vegetables. No longer satisfied playing bit parts on dinner plates, veggies will take on a starring role in 2013. As food processors continue to make progress in increasing the nutritional value of food, vegetables will champion the main course. In particular, potatoes are expected to enjoy some time in the spotlight. According to the U.S. potato industry, potato consumption has increased over 40% in the past year.

It’s a Small World After All. More than 85% of the U.S.’s population growth is coming from multicultural population segments. Look for food processors to concentrate on connecting with consumers’ ethnicity, as research shows that family food traditions are important to 80% of the multicultural population. The U.S. market for Hispanic food and beverages is expected to increase 30% over the next four years, and traditional Asian dishes are poised to become the next big thing in comfort food. Currently, the top ethnic food choices among all American consumers are Mexican and Italian.

Well, Isn’t That Special? The specialty food market has experienced big growth over the last year, with sales jumping 11% in just the last 6 months. Specialty foods are defined as foods of premium quality that are often made by small or local manufacturers. They often have ethnic, exotic or distinct flavors. The top specialty food categories are chocolate, olive oil/specialty oils and cheese/yogurt/kefir. Though currently third in specialty food sales, the cheese/yogurt/kefir category has experienced the most growth over the past year. Greek yogurt has enjoyed triple-digit increases in sales over the past year, and almost 800,000 people on Facebook list “Cheese” as an interest. Apparently, the cheese no longer stands alone.The Most Important Meal of the Day. The breakfast foods category has experienced solid growth throughout the recession, with a 20% in sales over the past couple of years. Eating breakfast at home saves the consumer money, and has increased the demand for convenient breakfast foods. Watch for restaurant-style breakfast options to be offered in grocery stores.

Sour Grapes (and Cherries and Beer…). Research shows that American palates are moving beyond sweet, salty and fatty to tart, acidic and bitter. Look for more fermented food and beverages on the grocery shelves. Citrus fruit sales have seen an additional increase, with California Navel orange producers even tweaking their maturity standards so that their fruit have a more intense flavor.  Coffee sales are also increasing, especially in the premium and single-serving (“K-Cup”) categories.

The New Normal. More and more Americans adhere to dietary restrictions, and the food processing industry is taking note. Gluten-free food sales have grown almost 20% in the last year, with retail-giant Wal-Mart leading the charge for gluten-free food demand. Vegetarians and vegans are also enjoying more food choices in the grocery store. About 16% of Americans are vegetarian, with 5% of those following a vegan diet. Meat alternatives and substitutes have increased in demand, and are more widely available. In fact, many fast food restaurants have added a vegetarian burger to their menus.

The above predictions are condensed versions of overall 2013 food trend discussions. If you’d like to follow industry food trends more closely, I suggest visiting the following websites and subscribing to their respective e-newsletters: