An additional challenge will be how to communicate the difference between foods that are perceived as being in general “bad for you” (e.g., foods with high trans fats or a low micronutrient density) versus foods that are simply not “high” in health-promoting nutrients in a way that doesn’t fuel skepticism toward scientists and research.
“After decades of what often appeared to consumers to be conflicting and confusing messages about food and health, we are poised to confront an open question of a different sort: who or what will be the trusted interpreter of these new breakthroughs to a non-scientific audience,” said Food Foresight panelist Larry Kaagan of Kaagan Research Associates.
Commodity promotion groups will likely align themselves to either trumpet their “scientifically proven” benefits if they score high in the new findings, or position themselves to defend against possible declining consumption in the face of lower scores or devalued nutritional profiles, as a new and differently structured hierarchy of food takes shape.
Food companies will need to ponder new approaches to product development.
One way to leverage this is through biofortification, the breeding of new varieties of food crops with improved nutritional content.
To whom will consumers turn for resolution and clarification? Food companies? Promotion boards? Scientists? Popular medical or consumer blogs?
Stores, chains or other channels that have earned consumer confidence and proven credibility in other ways, and can connect their customers to reliable and comprehensible information?
The effects on consumer preference and on the assortment, packaging, shopping and replacement patterns at the retail level are likely to be huge.
However, the interpretation of these studies can be complicated. For example, a recent study presented at the American Chemical Society found that popcorn contains higher levels of antioxidants than fruits and vegetables.
While this study received considerable media attention, it is important to note that the key question of whether the consumption of popcorn results in reductions in tissue oxidative stress has yet to be addressed.
Ultimately, the use of biomarkers will be critical in the determination of whether popcorn is indeed as good for you as select fruits and vegetables with regard to the overall risk for tissue oxidative damage that can arise through multiple pathways.
Companies or promotion boards on top of their product health profile and able to address the difficult questions in the field, such as those above, will benefit the most from the increasing consumer demand for health-promoting foods supported by science.
Carl Keen is a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California-Davis, and a founding panelist in Food Foresight, a trends collaboration between Nuffer, Smith, Tucker and the California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research. Kerry Tucker is chief executive officer of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, a strategic planning and public relations firm based in San Diego.
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