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USA retail sales of light food products advanced 13% in 1990, according to study.

USA Retail Sales of Light Food Products Advanced 13% in 1990, According to Study

The American market for so-called "light foods" should continue to get fatter during the decade ahead. Retail sales of low calorie frozen dinners and entrees, frozen desserts, dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese and sour cream), canned foods, full-line diet foods, and miscellaneous foods grew by 13% last year to surpass the $10 million mark, according to Packaged Facts estimates. The New York-based research firm predicts that the market will gain by at least 10% annually during the next two years and reach $15.3 billion by 1995.

Undoubtedly, the aging population segment is one group that marketers are targeting their light food pitches toward. Those consumers aged 50 years-plus (who represent about one-fourth of the American population) are far more likely to be concerned about the intake of cholesterol, fat and salt than are younger people. Also, this group has considerably higher disposable income than the national average.

In addition to the greying of America, numerous other trends are spurring the market, such as the continued focus on fitness and nutrition and increased publicity about the health dangers of obesity. However, technological advances, in terms of better-tasting products, may be the factor that will keep annual sales increases in the double digits for years to come.

|Light' Doesn't = |Diet'

"Light foods have definitely distinguished themselves from diet foods, which many light food buyers would never think of purchasing," said David Weiss, Packaged Facts president. "Now, the major obstacle left for the marketers to overcome is the consumer perception that light foods are somehow lacking in flavor. In short, it's a taste game - in each respective category, whichever marketers come up with the best tasting product wins."

To this end, creating low-calorie replacements for fat has become a major goal for food processors. Just as NutraSweet helped to popularize many types of light foods calling for sweetness without sugar, marketers are banking on the idea that a healthy fat substitute will do the same thing for products like ice cream, mayonnaise, cheese, and even butter. As a result, several new breakthrough ingredients - accompanied by products containing them - are in the pipeline.

At the top of the new ingredient list is NutraSweet itself, a division of Monsanto, which has developed Simplesse, an all-natural fat substitute made of egg and milk proteins. Simplesse resembles fat in taste and texture, but contains only one to two calories per gram (compared to the nine calories per gram of fat), and is thus able to reduce the caloric content of food between 20% and 80%. Although Simplesse is currently being used in an ice cream product of the same name and is suitable for other types of cold products, the ingredient's major drawback is that it is not heat soluble and therefore cannot be used in foods that must be cooked or heated.

Another marketer currently at work on an artificial fat substitute is Procter & Gamble, which has developed olestra, a sucrose polyester made of a combination of vegetable oils and sugar. Unlike Simplesse, olestra is heat-stable and can be used in cooking. Also, because its molecules are much larger than those in Simplesse, it provides the taste and feel of fat without contributing any categories. In essence, the product passes through the body's digestive system without being absorbed. Though Procter & Gamble petitioned the FDA for approval of olestra as early as 1987, more data supporting the safety of the product are still required, so that approval is not anticipated before 1992.
COPYRIGHT 1991 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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