Let Food Be Thy Medicine

Health and nutrition remain as important as ever in the post-pandemic world. With mortality rates from COVID-19 higher in countries where a comparatively large proportion of the population ranks as overweight or obese, nutritional improvements to food are likely to advance even further up the agenda. This, in turn, is likely to create additional pressures for manufacturers in many sectors of the global food industry. The impact upon two sectors – potato products and bakery goods – will be reviewed in more detail shortly, reports Jonathan Thomas.

Health perceptions in many western markets are changing in the wake of the pandemic, carrying significant implications for future new product activity. In the US, the 2021 version of the Food & Health Survey undertaken every year by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that health concerns are leading people to focus upon what certain foods contain, rather than what ingredients had been taken out (as has been the case in the past). According to the 2021 survey, 27% of respondents defined healthy by the presence of components such as fruit and vegetables, up from 17% five years previously. In contrast, the percentage of respondents that defined healthy foods by the absence of ingredients such as sugar, salt, saturated fats, etc. had fallen from 35% to 25% during the same period. 

Frozen potato products would appear to be ideally suited to meeting the demand for the rising number of consumers following meat-free or plant-based diets. As of 2021, there were an estimated 79 million vegans in the world – although this represents just 1% of the global population, numbers have risen sharply in recent years. The global market for vegan foods is forecast to exceed $24bn by 2026, driven in part by health concerns. According to many sources, a plant-based diet carries numerous health benefits, such as a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes.

There is evidence that many suppliers of frozen potato products are now emphasising the fact that their ranges are suitable for those following vegan or vegetarian diets, to capitalise on these trends. On a related note, many products are also marketed as permissible for those following a gluten-free diet – McCain’s UK range, for example, includes Gluten Free Home Chips. Elsewhere, much of the recent health-related innovation has focused on reformulation efforts to improve nutritional profiles. Typically, this has taken the form of reductions in saturated fat and calorie levels – another example from McCain UK is Lighter Home Chips, for which fat levels are 30% lower.

More manufacturers have been extending their ranges with frozen potato products with the skin left on. Doing so has been shown to retain many of the vitamins found under the skin, with the result that their nutritional profile is improved – in the UK market, for example, McCain’s Rustic Skin On Chips are promoted as having a fat content of just 3% and around 100 fewer calories per serving compared with their conventional equivalents. However, it should be noted that much of the impetus behind the launch of skin-on versions of frozen chips or fries has been to address consumer demands for products offering a more homemade or rustic feel and appearance. To many consumers, skin-on products also provide enhanced flavour.

To read the entire article, please access your complimentary e-copy of Frozen Food Europe January-February, 2022 issue here.