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The FMI (Food Marketing Institute) Connect, InterBev, and United Fresh co-located trade shows took place in Chicago from June 8 to 11. The three trade shows hosted attendees who saw the latest in alcoholic drinks, fresh produce, hot and soft drinks, and packaged foods for the supermarket industry. Below are the top trends that the Euromonitor research team of Beatriz de Llano, Emily Balsamo, Eric Penicka, Mark Strobel, and Virginia Lee observed.
Italian companies had a big presence at this year’s FMI Connect through the Italy pavilion. Organized by the Italian Trade Agency (ITA), the pavilion featured about 50 Italian food and beverage companies featuring products from gorgonzola cheese to Prosecco to packaged cornetti (an Italian pastry). While the presence of Italian products at FMI Connect was undoubtedly to increase exports of Italian products into US retail outlets, the underlying goal of the ITA was to educate Americans about what separates products from Italy and those made in the Italian style. Further, the ITA’s final objective is to obtain geographic labelling protections much like those which currently exist within the European Union, which are currently being negotiated under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. If passed, geographical indications on European products would give consumers an additional informative label to trust, much like “Certified GF Gluten Free” and “USDA Organic” certifications, assisting consumers in identifying true Italian products from their imitators.
Beets and beet juice enter the mainstream:
This root vegetable has seen its popularity surge in recent years in the US. Few Americans ate them unless they were eating canned beets or making borscht at home. After being embraced by upscale restaurants through beet and goat cheese salads or by endurance athletes in juice form, beets are now entering the mainstream market. Producers and health professionals including Dr. Oz are touting beets as a superfood that can lower blood pressure, boost stamina during exercise, and improve blood flow. A number of companies showcased ready-to-eat beets and beet juices. At the United Fresh Expo, Love Beets featured a number of beet juices including a cherry-berry beet juice while Raw Foods International sampled the RAAW Better Beets juice. Even PepsiCo is entering the beet juice category through its Naked Juice division with a Bright Beets Juice Smoothie.
Decommoditization of Tomatoes:
What Starbucks did to coffee in the 90’s may be the goal of grocers and growers in the present day to change consumers’ minds about tomatoes. Aggressive marketing strategies are working to divorce tomatoes from their previous position as a commodity product. Tomato growers are pushing tomatoes beyond the standard plum, cherry, or beefsteak, emphasizing that not all tomatoes are created equal. United Fresh was full of tomatoes of various colors, shapes, and sizes, with correspondingly striking price tags. Some producers have even begun to refer to tomatoes as a functional product, with certain varieties allegedly containing higher nutritional value. Sunset Farms, for example, pushed their “Y.E.L.O” variety, the name of which stands for “Youth, Energy, Life, Om.” The producer’s marketing strategy is multi-faceted, headed by an aggressive social media campaign. In the vein of Coca-Cola’s fairlife decommoditizing milk with their high-protein, lactose-free ultra-filtered milks, Sunset Farms claims that Y.E.L.O. tomatoes contain 50% more vitamin C than the average variety- perfect for juicing. Village Farms chose a more decadent, upscale positioning, exemplified by their Cabernet Estate Reserve variety. These tomatoes are red-purple in color and are packaged on the vine. Exhibitors spoke of the fruit in similar terms that oenophiles describe wine, positioning the tomatoes as more premium, versatile, and complex than other produce.
Innovations in Packaging:
As consumers become more concerned with fitness and wellbeing, a growing number of healthier beverage options flood the market. However, it is no longer enough to simply provide a zero or reduced-calorie beverage given the stiff competition. Unique packaging presents an opportunity for differentiation. For example, Drink Blocks packages its no-sugar juice drink in a container that doubles as a building block that kids can play with after the drink is consumed. Unique packaging also plays a role in alcoholic drinks, such as with FlipFlop wines that come in 250ml aluminum cans and Xo,G wine that comes in a package of 4 individually filled plastic wine glasses stacked one on top of the other. However, an absence of packaging can also be a draw, such as with Tea Drops, organic pressed tea leaves that when dropped in hot water conveniently makes one cup without the use of a tea bag.
The Sweeteners Revolution:
Many exhibitors at FMI Connect used natural sweeteners. As result of increasing health concerns among consumers about artificial and highly processed ingredients in foods and beverages, there is more demand for foods and beverages with cleaner labels and more natural ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and convenience. This trend has boosted the popularity of sweeteners perceived as natural and healthy such as stevia, raw cane sugar, and more recently agave nectar and monk fruit.
Both small and big manufacturers featured natural sweeteners in their products at the show. The new Starbucks Doubleshot Coffee and Protein uses monk fruit in addition to sugar and erythritol. Soda companies are also leveraging the natural sweeteners trend with PepsiCo featuring its PepsiCo-Cola with real sugar in vanilla and cherry flavors. Coca-Cola Co sampled its Coca-Cola Life sweetened with cane sugar and stevia. Joia All Natural Soda uses pure cane sugar, erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit extract as sweeteners. In the packaged foods area, Paleo Simplified and Love beets featured snack bars that are sweetened with dates and beets. The use of natural fruits and vegetables as sweeteners has a lot of potential to grow among consumers who want to eat more natural foods and beverages, but are not necessarily concerned about caloric intake.