Opportunities and minefields

Opportunities and minefields

This week I went to a standing-room-only talk at Natural Products Expo West.  NPEW is the largest food show in North America and each year brings together some 100,000 attendees to Anaheim, CA. Food companies and ingredient suppliers from all over the world come to show off their products and learn about new trends. Step One was in attendance to meet with ingredient suppliers and to learn about what’s new in the food world.

Back to the talk. 

The presentation focused on what consumers are looking for from food. The answer? Better health. Turns out 68% of people believe food IS medicine. 

I have to tell you that it was incredibly validating to hear presenters talk about a “new trend” that we’ve worked so hard to prove over the last 5 years. After all, our solution – a tiny dietary change - can yield medication-level cholesterol reductions in many patients in as little as 30 days. Not because we say so.  Because we’ve documented it.

Our foods were designed specifically to help manage cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health.  But that’s not all that food can do. Food can help mood, sleep, immunity. Anything having to do with health has something to do with nutrition. It felt like FINALLY others would consider doing what we have done – develop foods to address specific conditions and then prove that they work.  I could not have been more excited.

But this is when the talk, for me, went off the rails. The presenters spoke about how much people want food and beverage solutions that provide functional benefits, and how aware they are of the health benefits of various ingredients (like turmeric and ginger). But that consumers also want great taste. So the obvious solution?  Use additives, artificial flavor maskers and sweeteners to make the foods irresistible (with no mention of proving that the foods actually do anything).

Or, more egregiously, use the FLAVOR of the functional ingredient to provide the necessary word on the front of package so that the consumer THINKS they are doing the right thing for their health. So ginger flavor, not actual ginger. 

When it comes to food, the average consumer spends between 3 and 5 SECONDS determining whether they put an item into their grocery cart. How is a person supposed to notice that the ginger reference on the front of the package is only referencing a flavor??

I’m a pretty sophisticated food shopper and even I’ve been fooled. I will never forget it. One day I was at Costco and they were sampling “quinoa chips”.  I tried them, liked them and put the giant bag in my cart. About two-thirds through the bag, I closely examined the ingredient panel.  To my horror, quinoa was the last of 10 ingredients. And then I noticed that there was a tiny asterisk by the “quinoa” word on the front of the package.  The asterisk pointed to a statement at the bottom of the front of the bag in tiny letters that stated “contains quinoa”. 

This shouldn’t be so hard. 

We should all be able to walk down any grocery store food isle, put any item on any shelf in our carts and feel good about it. But nothing could be further from the truth. The grocery store is not a safe place – it’s a minefield.  And the NPEW talk just reinforced my worst fears. That people’s desires to achieve better health through the foods they eat will just be another route through which marketers play on people’s trust.

It truly does not have to be this way.  We can do the right thing.  Step One Foods is the proof of that concept.

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