Alan Tichenal and Joannie Dobbs

Health Options


Wednesday, October 10, 2001

People want fast food
fancier, fresher, lighter

Is your eating style shaped by food industry trends and what's available in the marketplace? Or are you the captain of your own food? You might be surprised. An annual report published in the journal Food Technology identified the Top 10 consumer trends expected to drive changes in the food industry.

The first two trends indicate that people want more pre-made, quick-to-fix or take-out meals, and they also want them more sophisticated or gourmet-style.

So expect more fancy fast food with upscale spicing and packaging. From a nutrition perspective, this could help increase the variety of wholesome fast foods, but the health-conscious consumer still needs to eat for more than just high taste satisfaction and think about balance and variety.

Speaking of balance, that's trend No. 3. Finally people are getting away from the "all good" and "all bad" food images of the last decade. People are starting to take a more balanced view of food and nutrition and add back past forbidden foods in moderate amounts. For example, low-fat is more readily accepted than non-fat and vegetarian dishes are more available and carry less stigma.

Trends four and five indicate that people want convenient, on-the-run food forms, yet they also yearn for a sense of home-style comfort in their eating environment.

Without a doubt, people are on the move more today than ever. Doing two things at once is more the norm than the occasional behavior. Eating last night's dinner leftovers at your desk has been replaced by eating take-out while driving. Of course this requires foods to take on convenient finger-food forms. And since most finger foods are quickly, and sometimes unconsciously consumed, people may not register that these small bundles of flavor can contain significantly more calories than a typical sit-down meal.

In contrast, when people do eat out, they often choose restaurants that serve ample family-style servings to ensure that no one leaves the table hungry, making it easy to overeat.

Trend 6 is kid-influenced food decisions. Certainly, the trend toward allowing children to make family food decisions can be a serious hindrance to getting good nutrition. Without knowing it, the 30 percent of families allowing their children to determine their dinner choices may be creating "picky eaters" with potential long-term health problems.

Trend 7 finds people seeking foods that look and taste lighter, livelier and fresher. Fresh cuisines, including those with Asian influence, may be the most healthy trend today. Varieties of vegetables, lightly cooked and combined with moderate portions of high-protein foods, make it easier to eat a more balanced "Food Guide Pyramid"-style diet.

Trend 8 is called "crossover meal patterns," referring to the tendency to eat any food most any time, for example, pizza for breakfast or cereal and milk for a quick late dinner. As long as there is variety in daily intake, time of eating is not particularly important from a nutrition perspective. The greatest concern with this trend, however, is that some high-calorie-low-nutrient snack foods are replacing meals.

The last two trends (9 and 10) find people wanting foods that are healthy, natural, pure and safe.

"Health foods" have taken on a new meaning. Individuals are looking for foods to treat illness, as an alternative to over-the-counter medications. They are also looking for "natural" foods that enhance performance -- in sports or chess. Becoming a knowledgeable consumer is more important than ever.

This a summary of what the food industry thinks you want. What you buy will prove them right or wrong.

Health Events

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a food and nutrition consultant
and owner of Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.
She is also responsible for the nutritional analyses
indicated by an asterisk in this section.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a sports nutritionist in the
Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Science,
University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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