food trends, healthy food, natural food
 Opinion Piece
Healthy food-buying and eating trends


The USA Department of Agriculture generalizes in a February 1999 report based on food consumption surveys that food obtained by 'eating out' - restaurants, coffee houses, vending machines, cafeterias and fast food combined - has less fiber (25% less),  iron levels 29% below recommended daily intakes, and calcium 20% below recommended minimum levels compared with food obtained by 'eating in'.

Eating out
The frequency of eating out has almost doubled in the last 20 years. About 30% of meals are now eaten out, and the trend is considered to be likely to continue, primarily due to low prices for take out food, and with both parents working there is little time and energy left to prepare food at home.
A Californian Department of Health survey in 1997 revealed that those who eat out consume up to 25% less fruit and vegetables than those whose food came only from home.
Food preparation trends 1999-

Meat consumption A total of about 265 grams (approx half a pound) of meat a person a day.
  • chicken in various prepared (grilled, barbequed) forms is still the 'trend in meat' pick for most North American supermarkets
    Meat quality guarantees
    Consumer say they will pay more for reliably tender meat.In a 1999 study, consumers claimed to be willing to pay up to $US1.84 more for meat reliably and accurately certified tender meat. Marrying automated shear testing of cooked samples of critical indicator cuts - such as the rib eye steak - with computerized tracing by bar codes on each animals ear tag will help identify 'more tender herds' and 'best handling and management practise'. In this way, both better genetics and best animal feeding and handling practices can be solidly and confidently identified. Those who manage their farming practices, breeds, trucking conditions, and preslaughter yarding conditions to produce identifiable and brandable tender meat will be rewarded at last. The move in USA will be away from marbling, with it's high 'invisible' fat content, and a move to certification and branding to give consumers confidence that they can buy tender meat every time, no disappointments.
    The computerized 'track and trace' of each animal from farm to supermarket display case, using bar coded ear tags and carcass identifiers, will enable supermarkets to identify and label meat from animals that have been raised under a variety of regimes- 'bovine growth factor free', 'grass raised', 'organic raised', 'nature equivalent', 'antibiotic free', 'certified BSE free', 'tenderness guaranteed', 'special humane slaughter', 'ethically raised and handled', 'irradiation sterilised', or any combination of such quality or attribute descriptors.
    Such detailed certification systems are predicated on a better price for identified meat cuts, a transparent and 'third party honest' incorruptible certifying agency, the price premium rewarding the farmer and meat packhouse rather than the supermarket, and the increased price exceeding the costs of certification systems. The market for 'track and traced' independently  certified and branded meat cuts will probably still be small relative to low cost lower grade 'run of the packhouse' commodity meat.
    5+ a day bias
    The West Coast of the USA is at variance with the rest in the way the number of fruit and vegetable servings are counted. The West Coast doesn't count dry beans (such as baked beans) as a vegetable, whereas the rest of the country does. This may explain the trend (4.1 servings in 1995, only 3.9 servings in 1997) to lower fruit and vegetable consumption amongst Californians when compared to the rest of the USA (3.9 servings in 1991 rising to 4.4 servings in 1994, the year of the most recent USDA and NCI joint survey).
    Fruit consumption
    Per capita fresh fruit consumption has increased during the last thirty years. It was about 100 pounds per head in 1970, and in 1977 had increased to 133 pounds.
    Most of the increase comes from 'exotic' or specialist fruits -  kiwifruit, mangoes,  papayas, pineapple, melons, bananas, strawberries, and grapes.
    Deciduous tree fruit consumption (apple, plums, peaches, apricots cherries etc) has been stable or declined slightly. Fresh pears alone have increased, from 1.9 pounds in 1970 to 3.5 pounds in 1997, a remarkable nearly  85% jump.(Economic Research Service, USDA)
    Fruit distribution-apples
    US apple production has increased by 55% in the last 20 years.
    Supermarkets are seeing losing apple sales to alternative outlets such as 'club stores', and On-line mail order growers, apparently because of higher margins on supermarket fruit. A box of Washington apples purchased wholesale by the supermarkets for as little as $8 a box in the 1998/9 season when growers lost money on the fruit they sold may still be retailed to the consumer at the equivalent of $50 a box. Low prices at wholesale are not being passed on to the consumer, and consumers are resisting the price, which in some instances hit $1.49 a lb, around 70 c. -Washington Apple Commission January 1999.
    On-line growers have mixed views on the importance of internet selling. The price of delivery and consumer confidence are the two biggest barriers for the consumer, and the time and money price of administering a web operation is the biggest issue for the grower. One grower, who sells at farmers markets and at a set marketplace, also sells online in bushel lots. He says the delivered price of 88 cents per pound on a bushel gives the customer price advantage over retail fruit as well as a better return to the grower.
    Vegetable consumption

    Per capita iceberg lettuce consumption had a 19% decrease (a fall of 5.4 pounds of lettuce) while consumption of romaine (bibb) and leaf lettuces increased 78% between 1989 and 1996, per capita  over the same period. (Economic Research Service, USDA)
    Nut consumption
    Americans eat about 213 grams of walnut meat per person per year, compared with 537 grams person/year in Turkey.
    Eating out
    (restaurant, coffee house, fast food combined )-about 22% of weekly household budget

    Grocery Buying trends  1998-

    Grocery Buying trends  1999- Food preparation trends 1999- Meat consumption Nut consumption  
    Food quality guarantees
    1999 A recent survey to research consumer attitudes to food found that while the controversy over genetically modified foods looms large in the minds and activities of a small number of activists, most people had very little understanding of the issue and were relaxed about it, and although they had very little awareness of how food was produced, "had a feeling it was very safe".
    While regulations are being proposed to label food to identify whether or not it has genetically modified food ingredients in it, most of the population are not sufficientlly engaged or informed to pay much attention to yet more science issues in chosing food. They trust their regulators and informed members of the public to sort it out one way or the other.

    Suprisingly, there wasn't much awareness of what the 'Biogro' organic growing standard mark was all about, or much awareness of organic food in general. Convenience, cost, ease of purchase, clear labelling and simple labelling were the key attributes they were interested in. There was an implicit trust in the retailer that only good, safe food would be presented.
    The symbol of safeness and nutritional virtue was the national heart foundations' 'big red tick' used on foods approved by the foundation as building a healthy cardiovascular system.
    Meat consumption


    Organic food is now one of the fastest growing retail sectors. Part of the increased demand is due to concerns for food safety, which has become a big issue following the 'mad cow disease' scare in UK and Europe, and the relatively recent deaths due to E.coli bacteria. Genetic engineering of food, a 'non-issue' in the United States, is big news in Europe and UK - adding to the demand for 'organic' (as the de facto standard for 'natural') produce.

    One large UK supermarket turns over (as at March 1999)  $US 3 million weekly on organic food sales. The escalating demand is limited by supply.  Tax payers (via the Government) are offering to freely 'gift' farm businesses $US 775 per hectare to convert to organic food production. At present, 70% of UK's organic foods are imported.

    'Organic' meat now costs double the price of conventional beef; 'organic' lamb costs 40% more. 'Organic' pork is difficult to produce, and is very much a luxury food, as it now sells at three times the price of conventional, shed fed pork.

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