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Report on the FMI Show 2000.

The Food Marketing Institute held its Year 2000 supermarket industry convention in Chicago from May 7-9. The convention featured 1,500 exhibitors and seemed to cover every aspect of the food marketing industry.

This show revealed a slight decline in new products due to market saturation, company mergers, and consumer response to an overwhelming number of choices. However, clear growth areas still emerged. Organics, for example, are becoming mainstream. However, the gurus believe this trend will likely be reversed if the country experiences an economic downturn. Foods marketed as not containing any genetically modified organisms are also beginning to show up on food store shelves, but there are not enough of these products yet to call it a trend. Interestingly, in Europe, organics and GMO-free foods are far more prevalent than in the U.S.

One trend that is taking a beating is the interest in functional foods (foods that are marketed as performing a medicinal function such as lowering cholesterol or improving digestion). Cost, which can be 5 to 10 times higher than a non-functional cousin, is the big problem with these products. There is also some concern that these targeted foods cannot be communally shared at the family table.

This year's hot ingredient is soy!

From cereals to meat substitutes, soy is showing up in hundreds of new products. There are several new meatless burgers coming on the market, as well as new varieties from established meat alternative companies.

Another very popular trend with processed foods, and one trend that is expected to grow is to let the consumer do more of the work. It seems that if people have to put a couple of ingredients together and stir, they feel like they are "cooking." Also popular is group packaging; for example, soup, crackers, and cookies stored in one "lunch pack." There are also some bizarre options out there. Do you remember sherbet or ice cream push-ups when you were a kid? Well, now you can get a macaroni and cheese push-up. Just pop the tube in a microwave to heat, and push the food out the tube with a stick as you eat it. Maybe next year the consumers will have to insert the stick themselves so that they feel like they are "cooking." A European trend which may soon be crossing the ocean is premium-packaged meals for the upscale consumer. These snazzy glorified tv dinners generally cost $8 to $10 a serving.

What's next? Expect to see more major corporations moving into niche markets. Also, there will be more focus on the wants and needs of Generation Y (ages 12 - 22), which is just as big as the baby boomer generation. At the same time, plenty of focus will be given to aging baby boomers. For example, packaging will be easier to hold and tear open. More interest is also expected in kosher foods (not for ethical or religious reasons per se, but because the perception is that they are more wholesome). Lastly, online shopping is expected to grow.

Of course trends go both ways. What will soon be on the way out? According to industry gurus, we should expect to see less focus on low sodium and lowfat foods and more focus on flavor.

And what about vegetarianism? Interestingly, the word is rarely used in the supermarket industry. But don't worry yet: what's happening is that the number of meatless choices in prepared foods is increasing rapidly, but the industry sees all consumers as potential customers, not just vegetarians. As for unprocessed plant-based foods, the challenge remains to get people to understand that a meal can be defined without meat or a meat substitute. That is to say, a meal can begin and end with produce, grains, and legumes. We see both the meat alternative vendors and the unprocessed plant-based food vendors as sharing a mutual interest, and we will continue to network with both groups to further our shared goals.

And now for a hot tip you've all been waiting for: This year's two top flavors are (drum roll ...) orange and smoky!! And if you mix them together, you can pretend that you are "cooking!"

Jim Dunn is a VRG super-volunteer now living in Florida. He often staffs VRG outreach booths throughout the United States.
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Author:Dunn, Jim
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:711
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