Nan Lin, food marketing manager for Dow Pharma and Food Solutions, told FPD during the Institute of Food Technologists 2013 event that the demands consumers place on food manufacturers grows every day. While consumers clamor for reduced fat, better quality, higher flavor, and more allergen-free options, food processors have to ride the wave, and not fall under.
“There’s a variety of ways you can address this as a food processing company,” he said. “One is to offer ingredients or food products to the customer with multiple benefits.”
Another way to capture customers with a growing and increasingly complex list of demands: segmentation. Lin pointed to food manufacturers that offer a range of brands addressed to different segments—products with a natural message for the clean-label set, low-priced items for budget-minded shoppers, etc.
Keeping on top
One of the biggest challenges food manufacturers face, Lin said, is making sure they’re proactive, and not reactive, in meeting customer tastes.
“Consumers think that they really want a low-carb diet, so they want products on the shelves tomorrow,” Lin said. “If you look at the product development cycle of most manufacturing companies, that’s almost impossible. There’s a natural six months, or even a year cycle sometimes, of product development.”
The problem with that scenario, Lin said, is that by then, consumers have moved from the trend you’ve worked so diligently to follow, onto the next big thing.
“It really requires food companies to be very in tune with what their consumers want, and almost predict or create that kind of next trend that they want to see in the marketplace,” he said.
Lin added that customer sophistication will continue to increase. Whereas customers of decades gone by might read the label for fiber or protein, they now are starting to look for specific kinds of fiber, and alternative proteins (such as whey, soy or pea).
Other trends Lin sees for IFT 2014 and beyond include increased interest in high-protein foods (a desire driven in part by the Greek yogurt market), and a growing surge in products targeted at weight management.