Friday, January 29, 2016

Pros, cons of food labels studied

 CONSUMERS are exposed to a barrage of food labels, and the results are mixed: While some consumers gain useful information from labels, for others, the label may as well say "certified confusing."

A newly released Council for Agricultural Science & Technology (CAST) issue paper seeks to provide needed clarity for consumers about food labeling.

The paper's authors examined what is known regarding consumer reactions to "process" labels and also identified the legal framework for process labeling. Additionally, they recommended policy that highlights the pros and cons of labels.

"The fact that marketers use process labels as a way of distinguishing and creating a unique brand for their products with the goal of increasing sales and profits should not be surprising," the authors noted. "Consumers now experience an ever-widening array of labels on their food, which raises many related questions."

As such, the distance between the consumer and producer in today's global food system poses obstacles for effective communication and establishment of trust, the CAST authors explained.

Under appropriate third-party or government oversight, the authors noted that process labels can effectively bridge the information gap between producers and consumers, satisfy consumer demand for broader and more stringent quality assurance criteria and, ultimately, create value for both consumers and producers. Labels also increase consumer choices, open new markets and encourage removal of potentially harmful ingredients from food. Consumers then may feel more connected and more able to make informed decisions, the authors suggested.

However, problems arise when process labels are subject to consumer interpretation, prompting questions of whether the products really are "healthier, safer and more environmentally friendly."

For example, the CAST authors explained that labeling the benefits of a process for a new niche product can implicitly cast the conventionally produced product in a negative light.

"This type of stigmatization of the conventional product can be particularly problematic in situations in which no scientific evidence exists that the food produced with the conventional process causes harm or even that it is compositionally any different," they noted.

According to the authors, opinion can override credible science, and the consequences might include increased food prices and stunting technological advances in agriculture.

For farmers, scientists and others in the food industry, an impressive track record of success in applying science and technology to the food system is a proud history, the authors noted. However, some consumers do not share this enthusiasm for the accomplishments, and an increasing number of people express strong concerns about food products associated with agricultural science and technology.


This can be seen in the fact that sales of organic foods have increased by $17 billion since the late 1990s and that the U.S. organic food market was estimated to be worth $35 billion in 2014.
 Although organic food prices remain high, certified organic products still have experienced double-digit growth over the past decade and can be found in a wide variety of retail settings, according to the authors.

What explains this rise in demand for food with process labels? The CAST authors suggested that food production has seen dramatic changes over the past 50 years, but in most cases, these changes have occurred outside of the direct purview of consumers. During the same time period, a number of new health and environmental concerns arose in the public discourse that may be related to the food system.

"News stories are released on a regular basis about negative health trends and associated claims related to current food consumption and production processes," the authors said.

However, there is no consensus that various health and environmental issues are due to the way food is currently produced, the authors noted. In fact, they suggested that many of the issues may really be the result of more careful diagnosis, improved data collection, changes in people's diet or other changes in the environment.

"These health trends and claims, however, whether accurate or not, can sow seeds of doubt in consumers regarding the food they are eating, especially when they feel like they have lost control over the choices offered by the food system," the authors said.

An increasing number of groups and consumers have called for a ban on process labels, but the authors said this would be a bad idea, explaining that labels can be good for consumers and producers alike. However, the food industry and government officials should keep key points in mind.

From a policy-making standpoint, the principal role of food labels should be to disseminate accurate information at the point of sale, where most food choices are made, thereby informing consumer choice, according to the authors.

They recommended that mandatory labeling occur only in situations in which the product has been scientifically demonstrated to harm human health. Additionally, they suggested that governments should not impose bans on process labels because this approach goes against the general desire of consumers to know about and have control over the foods they eat, and it also can undermine consumer trust of the agriculture sector.

"We believe that a prudent approach is to encourage voluntary process labeling under the conditions that these labels are true and scientifically verifiable and that, when the labels claim a product 'contains' or is 'free of' a certain production-related process, the product should also include a label stating the current scientific consensus regarding the importance of this attribute," the authors said.

Furthermore, they suggested that next-generation process labels should avoid the "all or nothing syndrome" while incorporating new technology and imaginative ways to clearly inform consumers.

As consumers struggle to interpret food labels, the adage "you are what you eat" has become "you are what you think you eat," the authors explained. They recommended that next-generation labels should be clear, science based and consumer friendly to turn the adage into "you are what you know you eat."

Welshans, Krissa

The Kitchen & I An Unlikely Love Story

From lipsticks to ladles- Payal Puri's fascinating culinary journeyFrom lipsticks to ladles-Payal Puri's fascinating culinary journey.When I ran into my least favourite aunt at a family lunch recently, she looked at my slimmer-than-shelast-saw-me form and said, 'I suppose you're eating what you cook'. You see, I don't cook (or, didn't). Never had. I didn't ever get around to learning, mostly lived with parents or - thankfully - had a cook, and when I married a couple of years ago, much after the conventional marriageable age, I was an urban independent gogetter who could get everywhere except the kitchen, of course. Fortunately, living in Gurgaon, where apartments and cooks exist in a mutually satisfactory state of capitalism, cooking continued to be strictly optional. Food, on the other hand, has never been. I live for it. I have always loved to go out, eat in, order takeaway, try new restaurants, watch cookery shows, and generally make mealtimes the highlight of my day, despite the fact that all I could satisfactorily do in my own kitchen, till recently, was make a cup of tea and Maggi. Since my husband's cooking skills have matched mine to the dot, we sheepishly agreed to treat the kitchen as "the room that houses the microwave" and left it to its own devices. Till the day I got into an intense food debate with a friend on the difference between pie and tart crusts, as though civilisation's future depended on it, and decided to google the question - thereby landing on Deb Perelman's blog, Smitten Kitchen. I didn't know it then, but this was the woman who was going to teach me to cook. The blog, written out of Perelman's tiny New York kitchen (that is even smaller than my own), attracts a few million readers a year. It also makes a mockery of anyone's claims that they don't have the time, equipment or ingredients to cook: Deb's specific grouse when she first started cooking was that chefs often worked with unpronounceable ingredients, unreplicable techniques and unaffordable tools, so she set about creating recipes that need none of these. It doesn't hurt that her writing is a joy - witty, self-deprecating conversational - and before long I found myself going to her blog every day, while a cheeky voice at the back of my head reminded me that I was now a food-blog stalker who could possibly burn water! But it wasn't till a recipe for apple cake popped up on one of my surfing sessions that the same little voice took a new track, 'You've got a kilo of apples sitting in the fridge. Why can't you make that? What's she got that you haven't?' Apart from the obvious fact from eight million readers, I couldn't come up with a convincing answer. It helped that I was home alone at the time, with no incredulous husband to dissuade me, and had nothing planned for the rest of the afternoon. I looked at the apples. I looked back at the recipe. I checked the ingredient list and found that barring baking powder, I had everything I needed at hand - and with a grocery store in my apar tment block, the missing ingredient could be on my counter in minutes. I gave the urge a few minutes to pass. It didn't.AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
And it began - a year and a half ago, my borderline insane love affair with cooking. I made the apple cake and understood two incredible things that afternoon: the first, that apples improve with baking, and second that Since my husband's cooking skills matched mine to the dot, we sheepishly agreed to treat the kitchen as "the room that houses the microwave" oNE fine DAY... 'You've got a kilo of apples in the fridge. Why can't you make that apple cake?' I made the apple cake and understood two incredible things that afternoon. The first, that apples improve with baking, and second that I could - given the right recipe, an idiot-proof technique, and enough time - cook! Photographs (top): shutterstock/indiapicture I could - given the right recipe, an idiot-proof technique, and enough time - cook! Those who know me best know I have an obsessive streak. By the time my apple cake had been dusted with powdered sugar, and warmed and eaten with vanilla icecream on the side, later that night, I was already plotting my next move: a lemon yogurt cake that had received rave reviews on the site. We ate a lot of cake last summer. It's no coincidence that I've been on a diet for the last three months: the lemon cake (delicious!) was followed by a strawberry summer cake, a red wine velvet cake and banana bread. I started to skip the clothes stores at the mall and instead dashed into food stores, arriving home - with an excitement formerly reserved for shoes - with loaf pans and bundt pans and springform tins and muffin pans. I bought parchment paper and oven gloves; a zester and a hand blender. I made sure we were never out of allpurpose flour and cake flour, as though emergency baking could be called for in the dead of night.

And it got crazier. The husband, reading a PG Wodehouse late one Friday night, read out a passage that paid homage t o high tea and mentioned how much he loved scones. I beamed at him as you do at a favourite student. I love scones too, I told him. I should make some. ' Maybe not', he laughed. 'Surely that's best left to professionals,' he said. I gave him a look that could melt glaciers - though he, by now immersed in his book once more, missed it entirely. I then picked up my iPad, fired up Smitten Kitchen, and did a search for scones, fully intending to buy the ingredients the next morning. And discovered I already had what the recipe called for in my kitchen. 'But it 's past midnight,' my rational mind tried to point out. 'What does that have to do with anything,' my hurt ego threw back. 'Is cooking at midnight illegal?' My first-ever scones came out of the oven at 2am and the husband - looking at once hunted and reluctantly impressed - warily picked up one, slathered it with butter and blueberry jam, and took a bite. The hunted look faded. The impressed look stayed. 'My God, these are really good,' he gasped. 'It's no big deal,' I shrugged, as though I had spent the last 30-something years cooking up midnight feasts. Suddenly, I couldn't understand why I hadn't. I was blindsided by the realisation that I loved it. Sure, I had no imagination with recipes, and worried maniacally if I failed to follow an instruction precisely, but I simply couldn't get enough. And then one evening the husband mildly pointed out that while life was wonderful with dessert, a main course or two might not go amiss if I had, in fact, decided to cook. He had a point, I reluctantly admitted to myself. If I were capable of this, what else might be possible?
I trusted no one but Perelman, though; I still wasn't sure I could cook, I was merely convinced she could! And that was when fate intervened for the second time - my mother sent across a stack of books that I hadn't brought over when I married and among them was a cookbook I had received as a gift a few years ago but never opened. It was an unassuminglooking book. But it was Indian cooking, and my hero Perelman didn't do any of that, so I sat down with a cup of tea and Hajra Mohammed's Recipes of Life, For Life and decided to read. An hour later I had the same eureka moment I'd had when Deb's apple cake had called out to me - this was homestyle cooking by a matriarch who knew everything there was to know on the subject. I could tell the food would be superb, if only one followed her instructions - I've found that while the knack for cooking had been absent my whole life, my ability to tell a good recipe from average was well-honed. So I flipped through the slim volume looking for something that I felt like cooking. I found it right away: Mutton Biryani made the Cutchi Memon way. Not quite the ideal dish for the novice cook, but by now Hajra herself couldn't have stopped me. It took me five delightful hours. If she suggested slow-sauteing the onions for 30 minutes, I did it for 40. I was going to be the over-achiever of biryanis. I was making up for my lack of experience with an excess of enthusiasm - and I was rewarded as only first-timers can be. I chopped and sauteed and slow-cooked. I slit chillies and infused milk with saffron. I watched over the cooker like a hawk. I finished the biryani on dum as she suggested, following her instructions to the letter. When I finally opened the pan, I was assailed by possibly the most incredible scent I have ever smelt to this day: the scent of something delicious that had been cooked by me. RECIPE FOR SUCCESS From there to now - it's been a journey I wouldn't trade for any other. I've had disasters in the kitchen and learned to laugh over them rather than collapse in tears - though that has happened too. In the past year, I've made more scones and more cake but also dosa and pasta and sandwiches. I've made pizza dough from scratch and homemade tomato sauce. I've made a forgettable cauliflower soup and an unforgettable French onion one. I've roasted vegetables, fried fish and burnt chicken. In the last month alone, I've made white batter bread ( disaster), beer batter fish and onion rings ( yummy), peanut butter cookies ( delicious), homemade granola bars (superb), and more 1am biryani (though not as good as my first attempt, I admit). Each attempt produces not just food but incredible memories: two days ago, Rajat (my husband) and I spent three hours in the kitchen, he frantically using a "chip-cutter" to chop "fries" out of root vegetables while I tossed them with oil and herbs and flung them in to bake. We ate them hot out of the oven, giggling like teenagers as we plotted a baked-fries business - then moaned and groaned that night as too many potatoes took their toll on the digestion. Just today, I've hunted down a cast-iron skillet so I can make my next food obsession, fritattas: I'm tracking the courier package with the determination of a stalker. I have enough recipes bookmarked to not need a new one for the rest of my life. After years of trawling the aisles of fancy food stores, my first question now on spotting something I like is 'can I make that?' The answer, I'm astounded to find, is often 'yes'.
My Top RecipesThis cherished delicacy might not be every amatuer cooks cup of tea but it's worth when your appetite is big and you?fre patient enough to spend the day in your kitchen . lovingly tending to the mutton. Ingredients: 1 kilo mutton shoulder, cut into pieces; 1.2-3.4 cup cooking oil; 5 cloves, 5 cardamoms, 4 one-inch pieces of cinnamon stick; 3 large onions finely chopped or minced; 1 cup chopped dhania (coriander leaves); 1.2 cup chopped pudina (mint leaves); 2tbsp ginger paste; 2tbsp garlic paste; 3tsp red chilli powder; 1.2 tsp turmeric powder; salt to taste; 4 large potatoes, washed and cut into half; 11.2 cups yogurt; 6 slit green chillies Method: Heat oil in a cooker on medium heat and add the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. When they stop spluttering (after a minute or so), add the onions. Cook on lowmedium heat slowly till the onions turn golden brown. When the onions are caramelised, add the coriander and mint leaves and slow cook them again for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ginger and garlic paste and salt to taste, and saute them, sprinkling a little water if needed. Add the turmeric and red chilli powder and cook another five minutes before adding the washed mutton pieces into the cooker. Dry cook the mutton for 10 minutes till all the pieces are wellcoated with the masala. Add 1.4-1.2 cup water (more will be released in the cooking process) and pressure cook for 10 minutes after it reaches gas, open the cooker when the steam has released and add the potatoes. Pressure cook for another 5 minutes after reaching full steam, then turn off and let the steam release. Open the pressure cooker, light the gas again, and add the yogurt. Cook till the oil separates and the water evaporates, leaving thick gravy behind. Drop in the slit green chillies and fold into the mutton. Then turn off the gas and let rest awhile. This tastes fantastic with flaky paranthas or over rice. Note: This recipe also works with chicken, cooking times adjusted. It's also not too spicy so don't worry about the generous amount of chillies; these are tempered by the yogurt and coriander gravy.Crackers are hard to hate. They are perfect finger foods for parties or as snacks for bored evenings and taste delightful with a curd dip or spicy salsa. Ingredients: 13.4 cups maida; 1tbsp chopped rosemary plus extra for sprinkling; 1tsp baking powder; 3.4 tsp salt; 1.2 cup water; 1.3 cup olive oil plus more for brushing; sea salt Method: Preheat oven to 200oC with a heavy baking sheet on the middle rack (you want to get the baking sheet very hot so the base of the cracker comes out crisp). Mix flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, add water and oil and bring together with a wooden spoon, then knead dough for a couple of minutes. Divide into three equal pieces, cover two with a damp tea towel, and work with the third. Cut a rectangle of parchment paper roughly the size of your baking sheet and roll out one piece of dough in a rustic rectangle shape as thin as you can. Lightly brush the top with olive oil, sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt and additional rosemary and press lightly so they embed into the dough. I use a pizza cutter at this stage to cut into ?gcrackers?h . these could be long and thin like breadsticks, or squares, or any shape you like. Move parchment with rolled out dough to the preheated baking sheet and bake for 8 to 9 minutes until brown at the edges; while they?fre baking, roll out the next on a new parchment sheet. Transfer to an airtight jar when cool. Note: You can also sprinkle thyme, dill or cracked pepper before baking.Make your own health bars as opposed to buying them off the store. Crumble them over a bowl of yoghurt or have them with your morning cereal. They also double up as a health snack . so versatile! Ingredients: 1 2 .3 cups quick rolled oats; 1.2 cup sugar; 1.3 cup oat flour (or 1.3 cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor); 1.2 tsp salt; 1.4 tsp cinnamon powder; 2-3 cups dried fruit, nuts and seeds of your choice; 1tsp vanilla extract; 6tbsp melted butter; 1.4 cup; 2tbsp honey; 1tbsp water Method: Preheat oven to 180oC. Line a medium rectangle cake pan with parchment paper or foil, then grease it with cooking spray or butter, coating any un-lined bits of the pan as well. Mix all the dry ingredients (nuts, dry fruit, seeds, salt, sugar, oats, oat flour and cinnamon) in one bowl. In another, whisk together the wet ingredients (both quantities of honey, vanilla, melted butter and water). Add the wet ingredients into the dry ones and toss with a wooden spoon till the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread mixture into the prepared pan and press down hard to make it stick together (a good trick is to cut a rectangle of cling film and cover the pan and then press with something heavy). Remove the cling film and bake the bars for 30-40 minutes until the edges and tops are a little brown. They?fll still feel soft but will become firm once cooled. Pull out and allow to cool in the pan or remove using the parchment and cool on a cooling rack. When cool, cut with a serrated knife. If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan in the fridge for 30 minutes, then cut. Since they can get soggy in humid conditions, store in an air-tight jar in the fridge.
Reproduced From Good Housekeeping. 2014. LMIL. All rights reserved.
Payal Puri

Vegetable Oil: Demand for New Flavours on the Rise

In recent years, the market for vegetable edible oils has expanded with the demand for new flavours like groundnut, sesame, rice bran and sunflower witnessing a surge

India has truly come to love the concept of experimenting with food and palates, mostly due to the global culinary scenario being played at the forefront of entertainment media for the last seven years. People are delving into the complexities of texture and flavour, among the many facets of cooking.
One of the highest trending ingredients in the market today is flavoured cooking oil. In North India for example, soybean oil and mustard oil is prevalent, whereas in the south, people prefer to cook with coconut oil.
Recently however, the market for vegetable edible oils has expanded. The demand for new flavours like groundnut, sesame, rice bran and sunflower has increased. The culinary oil associations facilitate about a 10% development in business, per annum. The oil industry in India is a substantial industry and the diverse business sector has a distinctive value.
With the rise in demand for new flavours that may or may not be easily available in India, recently there has been quite a hike in the import duty of certain edible oils. This is why brands closer to home take pride in the consistent quality of their products and are seen in the marketplace as responsible corporates, taking food safety, health and hygiene to the commercial kitchens and bakeries. In the current scenario, a compromise on quality is out of the question.
Home cooks and chefs alike are now concerned with all aspects of their ingredients. There is a greater level of awareness among consumers not only about cooking bases but also regarding more new ingredients that they hadn't even heard of in the past.
This sudden surge of interest in the culinary universe has proved to be a boon for the edible oil industry and has made it possible for them to deliver better and innovative products. The idea is simple - if you're trying to sell a product to someone who wouldn't know what to do with it, it's likely that the sale will fall through. But now that people want things that may be a little out of their physical reach, it makes it easier for Indian oil manufacturers to delve into newer markets. Vegetable oil, for instance, has become a large industry but only a handful of leading companies have been able to make a mark in this space. So while cooks and chefs experiment in the kitchen, oil manufacturers are investing the best R&D resources in their own business experiments.
In terms of food safety and reliability, The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) notified their proposed standards on trans-fats in Vanaspati/Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (PHVO) saying that the manufacturers need to make items with under 10% trans. Additionally, every one of the makers ought to specify the trans content of their product on the labels.
Chefs and food enthusiasts continue to be engaged and have a lot to look forward to in terms of innovative contributions to their own kitchens by edible oil companies such as Kamani Oils - the first organisation to have sustenance well-being affirmation and also the first to manufacture a range of fats and other products for the dessert industry. With the rate at which companies are growing, particularly Kamani Oils, it seems like the edible oil industry is in a good place at the moment with all its bases covered.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Vegetable Oil: 'Sustainable palm oil is not a Premium issue, it's a Survival issue'

In India, much remains to be done to transform the palm oil market to a more sustainable footing. However, some businesses are leading the way - committing to positive change and setting a benchmark for others to follow. Among those is Galaxy Surfactants, a global leader in supplying a wide range of products to some of the world's most famous FMCG brands

Palm oil is a vegetable oil used all over the world for cooking, in foods and everyday products like cosmetics, shampoos, and detergents. Typically grown in tropical areas, palm oil is a 'wonder crop' with a long life-span and high yields, requiring less inputs than many other oilseeds. Its production also brings considerable social benefits and contributes to the economic development of producer countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil plays a vital role in India's food industry. The country is its largest importer, capturing over 20 per cent of the global supply.
In recent times, a number of stakeholders have sought to find a balance between the economic benefits and environmental and social cost of clearing tropical rainforest to make way for palm oil cultivation. At the forefront of this effort has been the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - a coalition of business and civil society that has established principles and guidelines for the cultivation and trade of sustainable palm oil. Over 20% of all palm oil production is now certified under RSPO's standards and in many European markets it is considered the minimum requirement for consumers.
Galaxy Surfactants attained certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2014, making it one of the first companies in India to achieve this standard. Today, Galaxy has certified manufacturing plants and can now supply RSPOapproved Mass Balance Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) to any of its global customers.
The RSPO mass balance system allows for mixing of RSPO certified palm oil and other palm oil at any stage in the supply chain provided that overall company quantities of each are known and the volume of non certified palm oil does not exceed the volume of certified sustainable palm oil. The model allows flexibility in situations where precise traceability of certified palm oil through a segregated supply chain may not be possible, whilst still allowing companies the ability to achieve more responsible sourcing practices.
Galaxy's move is a significant milestone in the Indian market, reflecting similar developments by companies in overseas markets and a general trend of increasing certification in the Indian market. Two years ago, just one company had RSPO certification in India - now there are nine.
Progressive Grocer spoke with Galaxy's Chief of Operations K Natarajan and MS Sriganesh, the company's Head of Sourcing, to understand the reasons, challenges and opportunities behind this investment in sustainability.
What made you switch to sustainable palm oil with an international standard like RSPO?
K Natarajan: Sustainability is a critical pillar of our strategy. As a business we are part of a global supply chain reaching out to thousands of customers in more than 100 countries. Environment and sustainability are societal issues which impact every one of us and as a responsible participant in the palm value chain, we are clear that we need to be part of the solution. We got initiated into the RSPO through our global customers and considering that it was a multi-stakeholder forum working to address the concern areas, we joined as a member. Over the years our understanding of the subject has improved and as a result we have a committed roadmap to meet the 2020 targets.
Where is this demand coming from? Is it driven by India's consumption or global demand?
MS Sriganesh: Demand for certification is coming from global customers who are leading this initiative in our industry. However, we believe that the trickle-down effect to regional and local customers will happen with a lag. As a vendor to all of them, our agenda is to be ahead of the curve in this journey, keep communicating with our customers on the developments and look to have a larger base of customers as this is a differentiated capability we have vs. our competitor.
Are customers asking for Mass Balance or Segregated RSPO certified sustainable palm oil?
KN: Currently, we are seeing traction emerging in Mass Balance and are already selling Mass Balance surfactants as there is a wide availability of MB-based oleo chemicals at reasonable premiums. Segregated base raw material availability is still limited and the premiums quoted are high, holding back the buyers from trying. We see this as part of the evolution and with more plantations getting certified, easier availability of segregated palm oil will emerge and push down the premiums to levels comfortable for customers to adopt.
What is your customer base like? Is there an emerging demand beyond MNC customers?
KN: We connect with customers all over the globe in more than 100 countries, which is a mix of global, regional and local players. The current traction is largely from global MNC customers who have the advantage of better understanding on this and are driving their own traceability initiatives. Across developed geographies we see even smaller customers speaking of certified materials. At the regional and local level the awareness is low. As the information starts to trickle down, considering the nature of the personal and home care industry, we see other customers also making a shift.
What were the challenges faced during and before the certification process and how long did it take to get certified?
KN: Understanding the process of certification was a challenge initially due to us being located in India and there were no references for us to work with. It required a considerable amount of time and effort to understand the system, for which we travelled to Malaysia, met up with companies leading this front, understood the process and then created our own. As a result our first certification took two years.
Based on this learning our second certification took just three months and the third round of certification just a week. This is why we feel it's important for all early adopters like Galaxy to to create awareness and educate the market. Using industry platforms to share the learning and getting experts to speak on the subject will facilitate customers to understand the relevance and support the same.
If we look at the edible oil industry in India, the largest segment of which is palm oil, the problem of demand for sustainability lies in the nature of the market. Unless there is demand from consumers or government and policy level intervention on certifications, sustainability in edible oil industry is difficult. If big players like China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia come to a consensus on sustainable palm oil, change can happen in edible oil sustainability.
What were the required changes in terms of governance at the organisational level to get RSPO certification? How was it played out in terms of the process?
MSS: We became an RSPO member in 2012. The process involved assessing our value chain in a detailed manner and engaging with suppliers. Our first plant was certified in 2014. This required a top-down approach with cross-functional team sourcing from our manufacturing, quality and IT. We attended trainings with David Ogg & Partners (an RSPO-endorsed Auditor and Trainer) for a deeper understanding of the process, spoke to core players in the segment and started our auditing process. We have come a long way over the last couple of years and now have a 2020 target to attain complete traceability.
What was the financial side of this?
KN: Our plan for certification is part of our committed journey of being prepared ahead of what our customers are seeking from us. While the costs are getting incurred now when adoption rates are low, we believe that business will follow with a lag.
What was the reception to RSPO certification from the industry in terms of impact, inquiries, clients etc.?
MSS: Since we were one of the first companies in our industry to get a certification with this scope, curiosity was the first response from our customers. In terms of impact we see positive responses from global customers who understand the relevance and context. We're also aware that certification is one aspect of our customers' agenda - many global customers have their own system of traceability. If we can help with this as well, then we are well positioned in the market.
Based on your experience, what are the key lessons you can share with other companies to adopt sustainability practices?
KN: There is inadequate understanding of sustainable practices and companies tend to have a skewed view, which is increasing costs. The management of every company in this value chain needs to understand the fact that it is now an industry survival issue and not participating has the potential to impact the future.
Certified palm oil actually enhances long term supply. Through joint initiatives, there can be many solutions for companies to gradually move towards responsible production and sourcing of sustainable palm oil, and the cost is actually manageable, particularly if more companies sign on and volumes increase.
At the origin level, jurisdictional approaches to certification of palm oil production are an interesting development. Using location and point-of-origin to improve traceability based on the knowledge that large production areas have been certified will remove cost barriers to sustainability. Satellite mapping of high priority hotspots of deforestation and a separate production and sourcing plan for those areas would also help to remove supply chain risks for companies.
How have you externalised RSPO and communicated it to your stakeholders?
MSS: We believe in the power of industry collaborations to share knowledge and practical expertise. Galaxy, as a first mover, will help design solutions and give required guidance for similar companies in India. We will continue to engage different stakeholders and all parties along the value chain to promote sustainable palm oil. Now with RSPO looking to reestablish itself in India, we are confident that the way forward is positive.
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Food Safety: Time to Rethink, Re-Evaluate and Resolve Issues

 With Nestle's Maggi in the cross-hairs of the regulatory watchdog, the issue of food safety has acquired a new urgency. While Maggi is in the dock for containing higher than the permissible limits of monosodium glutamate, new products from several top food companies regularly fail to pass the regulatory muster, bringing to the fore concerns about whether our safety standards and guidelines are clear and fair enough for food business operators to understand and comply with. In an analytical piece, Dr. Saurabh Arora suggests ways to make the regulatory framework more streamlined and how food operators can avoid tripping up on safety guidelines

There are various types of food products but they essentially fall within two categories - standardised and non-standardised. The standardised food products are those for which safety data is available and for which standards are prescribed in the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act), under its various rules & regulations. These products do not require product approval. Non-standardised food products are those for which safety data is not available, and standards are not prescribed They, therefore require product approval. In a nutshell, there are about 380 articles of food, for which standards are prescribed under the regulations of the FSS Act, and these are divided into 13 categories. Foods for which standards are not prescribed fall under the category of proprietary foods.

Then there are foods for which standards are not prescribed but which have been used for centuries in India without any health issues. These are called traditional and ethnic foods under the FSS Act. These food items can apply for license straightaway, without the need for product approval.

In brief, food products (ingredient, including additives) for which standards are not prescribed, will require prior approval from FSSAI under the Food Safety and Standards Regulations in India.

What is product approval?

Product approval is the process of getting approval for non-standardised food products (where no guidelines are available) as defined under Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. Section 22 of the FSS Act specifies that no person shall manufacture, distribute, sell or import any novel food, genetically modified food, irradiated food, organic food, food for special dietary uses, functional foods, nutraceuticals, health supplements or any proprietary foods and such other articles of food except under prior approval from central government. This product approval has to be obtained before applying for the license, and which needs to be applied through FSSAI.

Nowadays, paperwork for product approval is less time taking as online filing has started. Section 22 specifies that food for special dietary uses, or functional foods or nutraceuticals or health supplements, are foods that are specially processed or formulated to specify or satisfy particular dietary requirements, which exist because of a particular physical or physiological condition or because of specific diseases and disorders and which are present as such wherein the composition of these food stuff s must differ significantly from the composition of ordinary foods of comparable nature. Moreover, novel foods for which new additives are being proposed, which either have no standards or cannot be used in a specific combination, need to be evaluated and a product approval may have to be obtained. Nutraceuticals and health foods may contain proteins, vitamins and minerals from plants/botanicals and animals sources. The proteins, vitamins and minerals should not exceed the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) as specified by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Moreover, these health supplements should not fall under the category of drugs (treatment of diseases).

Recent controversy on product approvals

The issue of product approval has come under the spotlight because of the recent spate of rejections by FSSAI involving big names like Tata Starbucks, Ferrero, Kellogg, McCain and FieldFresh Foods (a venture between Del Monte and Bharti Enterprises) to name just a few in a long list. There seems to be a lack of understanding and comprehension of the requirements of the FSSAI while applying for product approvals. These include requirements for ingredients, including the additives. Moreover, the food business operators (FBOs) appear to be in the dark when standards are not available. A thorough understanding of all the nitty-gritty of the product approval process, is a pre-requirement for gaining insight, identifying the gaps, and alleviating the problems. This will help the FBOs to get their products approved by the FSSAI without any hassles and delays in the processing time.

The Bombay High Court's stay on the FSSAI Advisory on product approval had brought a halt on the product approval process where the FBOs were the eventual sufferers as PA applications were not processed for couple of months. However, I must mention here that the Supreme Court intervened and asked the food regulator to resume the process of product approval pending the final judgement on the statutory power of FSSAI for issuing advisories.

The product approval process

Generally all the food products for which approval is required are categorised in four categories - 1(a), 1(b), 1(c) or 1(d) - as per the procedures that have been defined in the latest advisory issued by the Govt. of India. Food products, where the safety of its ingredients present are known and are permitted under FSS Act, Codex Alimentarius (CODEX), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), or USFDA food safety standards regulations and which do not contain plants or botanical substances or substances from animal origin fall under category 1(a). Food products, where the safety of its ingredients present are known and are permitted under FSS regulation or Codex or EU or in other countries, and contain ingredients including plants or botanicals or substances from animal origin, fall under the category 1(b). The third category is 1(c), which includes food products, where the safety of its ingredients is insufficient to make a safety determination or to come to a clear conclusion, whether it is safe or not. These food products are forwarded to the Scientific Panel for evaluation, but here again Form 1(b) is used. The last category is 1(d), where the products for which the safety of its ingredients and their conditions of use are allowed in our regulations (FSSR) or for those products/ingredients for which the product approval has already been given.

For obtaining product approval for such types of foods, application is given again in Form 1(a). Therefore, for the products falling under 1(a) and 1(d) you have to use the application Form 1(a), and for food products falling under category under 1(b) and 1(c) you need to apply in Form 1(b).

Harmonisation with global standards

Globally, standards are available for various types of regulations pertaining to food product approval. These global standards need to be accessed and their plus points harnessed in order to develop our own set of robust standards. Therefore, the FSSAI should coordinate with various globally renowned agencies like CODEX, EFSA, FSANZ, USFDA and others to harmonise its own regulations with the best regulations around the globe. This will help it to come up with a robust and streamlined set of regulations suitable for the Indian scenario. Importantly, we should take advantage of and learn from other countries' experiences.

Challenges and the way forward

The time has come to expedite the process of review of applications submitted for product approvals. The recently proposed 30 day - 30 day - 30 day time cycle for review of applications right from receipt of application till the final conclusion whether to award/reject PA or to further refer for scientific panel. This time line is due to be implemented from 1st July 2015.

Recently, all the information regarding the product approval process has been uploaded on the net for the benefit of all FBOs. On the part of the central government, there is a need to appoint more staff in order to augment the manpower to FSSAI, for smooth and streamlined implementation of the product approval process.

The regulations should also be streamlined, so that the approval process for any new product entering the market should be addressed expeditiously. The FSSAI should share data of approved products along with data on ingredients and compositions, so that new FBOs can benefit from this. Moreover, there should be a system within the regulatory framework, which allows all stakeholders to work upon on making information more transparent - from the ingredients up to the finished product - so that a good product development system comes into existence.

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Fresh Food: Plotting the Future

 Branded items, breakfast offerings are poised to play bigger roles among fresh prepared foods

Staten Island, N.Y.-based Key Food banner Olive Tree Marketplace, Progressive Grocer's March 2015 Store of the Month, prides itself on being a real destination for prepared foods, with a broad array of offerings ranging from fistsized meatballs to red quinoa salad, and including many gluten-free, low-sodium and low-sugar options. According to co-owner Dave Shehadeh, the store's prepared foods are a big hit with area residents, particularly among students at two nearby colleges and a high school, who often drop by to pick up lunch.

Do prepared food-intensive store formats like Olive Tree Marketplace's and the much-publicized "grocerant" concept herald a long-term trend? Certainly, prepared foods have never been more popular, particularly among a certain demographic. According to Acosta Sales & Marketing's July 2014 The Why? Behind The Dine Shopper Survey, conducted in collaboration with Chicago-based market researcher Technomic, 16 percent of total U.S. diners reported eating grocery prepared foods at home more often, compared with a whopping 27 percent of Millennials (eating such items in a grocery store's dining area was also up, by 10 percent for total diners and by 19 percent for Millennials).

Hotter than ever

"Fresh meal solutions continue to be hot," affirms John Dunne, EVP of fresh foods at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta. "Quality daypart meal solutions are offering busy shoppers restaurant-quality food at modest prices, and their variety is only expanding. We are seeing more better-for-you options - think whole grains and organic salads - that appeal to younger and more healthconscious consumers, new flavor profiles for adventurous eaters seeking diverse global tastes, and more personalised options for individual diners and families alike. Consumers can create new experiential opportunities by purchasing a variety of items to share in a community-dining setting. These types of meal solutions are a real win-win as both consumers and retailers capitalise on quality and convenience."

"Prepared food departments are becoming more and more important to consumers, especially as they are evolving into an alternative to eating out at restaurants," says John Becker, director of marketing at Sandridge Food Corp., a Medina, Ohio-based manufacturer of fresh refrigerated prepared foods. "Consumers are looking for high-quality products and recipes that require little to no preparation time. The prepared food department is the perfect solution for those consumers looking for great-tasting food on the run.

"Some of the trends we're seeing in the foodservice grocery channel revolve around creating an experience for the end consumers," Becker continues, pointing out that Sandridge works closely with retail customers on developing innovative ideas. "By offering craft beers or a restaurant-style eating area in the store, retailers are allowing customers to enjoy their experience shopping at their store."

When asked about current sales of prepared foods, Dunne characterises them in general as "very healthy, outpacing all other segments of the store perimeter, as shoppers recognise relevant value in convenience, food quality and increased options." Th is powerful combination adds to the "excitement and experience of the 'thrill of the hunt' for shoppers," he goes on to explain. "Retailers that have invested in labor, service and signage are developing loyal and frequent shoppers. Some retailers have identified daily specials to market appetisers, entrees, sides and desserts; gain trial; and showcase their menu of offerings."

"Prepared food sales are very strong," agrees Jeff Skipper, VP, marketing at Montgomery, Ala.- based Wynn's Grain & Spice, which specialises in breaded items at foodservice. Besides daily specials, Skipper notes, "Other retailers report sales increases by offering an in-stock guarantee during peak hours."

The undisputed star of the prepared food section is chicken, "with an increase of 9.4 percent in rotisserie sales and 8.9 percent in fried chicken sales over the previous year," Skipper observes. "Repeat customers often turn to chicken as a tried-and-true favorite."

Compliments to the chef

Contributing in a major way to a prepared food programme's success is the chef in charge of it all. At Olive Tree Marketplace, that would be coowner Hani Qassis, whose experience spans such prestigious posts as the White House and Yankee Stadium, and whose hands-on perfectionism ensures that every item prepared at the store is up to his exacting standards.

"Corporate chefs are huge assets to the prepared foods department," elaborates Dunne. "They lend credibility and authenticity that make fresh prepared foods even more compelling for consumers. By understanding food trends and flavors and innovating in the kitchen, they're able to create exclusive recipes, limited-time offers and daily specials unique to specific stores that ultimately drive traffic and loyalty. Retailers can also leverage their expertise in the kitchen as a means to reduce shrink by repurposing foods, for example using unsold rotisserie chickens to make chicken pot pie, chicken noodle soup, chicken salad, etc."

Brand boosting

Almost as important as the care taken to produce a wide range of items daily in a small but efficient onsite kitchen is the fact that everything made at Olive Tree Marketplace - gourmet meals to go, soups, sauces, savory stuffed breads, and more - carries the banner's brand, including a distinctive logo.

A strong brand, whether a store's own or that of a well-known company, can provide a clear advantage. "Branded prepared food products leverage the benefit of brand essence; consumers know what they like and what to expect," explains Dunne.

"Th is strategy works best for products like soups, salad dressings, condiments, chicken, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes."

"There are several benefits to retailers [of] providing branded food in their prepared foods department," says Sandridge's Becker. "One of the most important benefits is giving their customers the peace of mind that what they are buying in their store is familiar and trusted. Brand awareness is powerful in the mind of consumers, and it is helpful to have a familiar name available in their prepared foods department."

Branding works particularly well for "unique, not easily duplicated products, such as potato salads or fresh grain salads, [which] are great products to offer with a trusted brand," he adds. "By providing these branded options to customers, it allows retailers to have a more diversified product offering."

Hoping to capitalise on brand recognition among grocery store shoppers, Chester's International, a provider of fried chicken and sides like gravy, green beans, cole slaw and baked beans, in April introduced a programme tailored specifically to supermarket delis. The programme "delivers the product quality and consistency [consumers] are looking for," notes Laura C. West, emerging projects manager, marketing at Birmingham, Ala.-based Chester's, a sister company of Wynn's Grain & Spice. "Our independent supermarkets leverage the Chester's in-store digital promotions board, local store marketing programs and circular artwork."

According to Chester's materials, supermarket operators participating in the programme "receive high-quality products, best-in-class training, ongoing operations support and a comprehensive marketing toolkit." The materials promise "6 Simple Steps to Opening in 60 Days or Less," with only minimal equipment - the aforementioned digital promo board and a Giles breading and batter table - required. Chester's program also offers the optional features of in-store branding elements, additional products and a cold chicken sales program.

When it comes to promotion and placement of branded prepared foods, grocers "must offer simple solutions that answer the age-old question of what's for dinner," asserts Dunne. "They're essentially selling convenience and quality, and the benefits of being a one-stop shop need to be communicated in marketing and merchandising. In-store signage should be clean and clever to entice consumers who are shopping for other items to pick up prepared foods.

"Clear communication is key when marketing branded products," recommends Becker. "An easily recognizable brand, logo and nutritional claims are helpful when marketing products."

"Bundling programs that pair entrees, side dishes and drinks are also great ways to drive incremental purchases while offering complete meal solutions," suggests Dunne. As prime examples of such product pairings, West suggests handbreaded or rotisserie chicken with home-style sides, adding, "Chester's Combo meals resonate with consumers, as they are easy and delicious home meal replacements."

"Additionally, brand loyalty rewards programs and digital marketing solutions, especially online ordering for in-store pickup, can make a measurable impact on purchasing decisions," notes Dunne.

The breakfast club

The next big prepared food daypart looks set to be the first meal of the day. As Schaumburg, Ill.- based Nielsen found last year, the $104.7 million deli breakfast category, "driven by the strength and popularity of the breakfast sandwich," had experienced a combined annual growth rate of 7.9 percent over the previous five years. The company also noted lesser but still significant growth for breakfast-oriented frozen foods, packaged breakfast meals, breakfast sausage and in-store bakery goods. Greater convenience for time-starved consumers is a key reason for these gains.

While some prescient grocers like Bellingham, Wash.-based Haggen already provide a daily store-made array of "breakfast burritos, egg muffins or cinnamon bread pudding sure to wake up your inner morning person," the majority of supermarket operators haven't yet grasped breakfast's potential.

"Breakfast is a huge opportunity for retailers to offer quick, easy, and nutritious products to their customers," notes Becker. "Retailers should consider offering ready-to-eat options such as egg bakes, health-packed oatmeal and nutritious ancient grains in grab-and-go packaging. The hot bar is another area that retailers should consider for these types of breakfast items. Retailers like Whole Foods and Bristol Farms have very appetizing hot bars that serve lunch and dinner dayparts effectively - breakfast is a great opportunity that can be easily realized."

"It's essential that retailers offer a healthy variety of breakfast options available through a quick in-and-out experience," advises Dunne. "Grab-and-go sandwiches, either hot for immediate consumption or refrigerated for taking home, are a winning example of this. Personalisation is also key, for example, offering consumers their choice of carrier, such as a biscuit, bagel, roll, flatbread or wrap. Providing a good, quality coffee program establishes the retailer as a destination and drives traffic to create a successful morning program."

More to come

Whatever form it will ultimately take, the supermarket prepared food section is on course to expand. "The future of prepared foods is untapped," notes Dunne. "In today's fast-paced, healthconscious world, shoppers demand convenience and quality that fresh prepared foods are uniquely able to offer. As this department and its role in the store grow, retailers must strike a careful balance between consistency and innovation to offer diverse, high-quality foods and flavors, and exceptional service."

To that end, according to Skipper, "Wynn's has recently developed a comprehensive library of online training resources that are available [to retail customers] on demand. These resources have proven invaluable not only for training new employees, but also for retraining current team members."

"Prepared food products need to have better for- you ingredients, ethnic flavors [and] uphold ultimate freshness to be successful in the evolution of this category," stresses Becker. "The POS, social media, digital coupons, mailers, merchandising, etc., need to focus the communication around these three elements."

The ultimate aim of all of this prepared food innovation, of course, is to keep customers coming back for more. As Becker puts it, "It's all about creating a stress-free, enjoyable experience for the customers," a sentiment echoed by Dunne: "It's not just about the products - the future of fresh is all about the experience."

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Bridget Goldschmidt

Fresh Food: Avocados for Every Appetite

Versatility, variety and seasonality fuel sales of this luscious superfood
With their rich, creamy taste and powerful nutritional profile, avocados have surged in popularity in recent years to become a mainstay in U.S. households. According to the Hass Avocado Board (HAB), in Irvine, Calif., the avocado category added $172 million in retail sales in 2014 nationally, reaching more than $1.6 billion, a 12 percent increase over the previous year.

Not only are more consumers buying avocados, enthusiasts of this superfood continually increase their consumption. In its spring 2015 "Avocado Tracking Study," the board reported that two-thirds of U.S. shoppers purchased avocados in the past year. The study also found that heavy avocado users - those purchasing 37 to 120 avocados per year - now account for 59 percent of avocado consumers, one of the highest percentages on record.
Avocado consumption is further distinguished by the fact that shoppers of this fruit are a highly desirable demographic.
"The value of avocados and avocado shoppers to retailers was clearly shown in a market basket study conducted with IRI data for the West region during the 2014 California avocado season," says Jan DeLyser, VP of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission (CAC). That data, for the 26 weeks ending Sept. 18, 2014, "showed that market baskets with avocados in them averaged $64, whereas baskets without avocados averaged $41. That's a big difference!"
Undoubtedly, the scores of compelling avocado campaigns from organizations like the CAC, HAB, Avocados from Mexico and Avocados from Peru, all of which emphasize the health benefits, flavor and versatility of avocados, have fueled growth in this category.
As part of its ongoing efforts, the CAC works with registered dietitian (RD) ambassadors. This year, the commission added some media RD representatives. "The ambassadors and spokespeople help communicate the nutrition benefits of premium California-grown avocados to consumers through various activities throughout the season," says DeLyser. "There is no doubt that the avocado nutrition story is contributing to category growth, and supermarket registered dietitians are helping spread this great news."
While the health benefits of avocados are important to note, when it comes to selling California avocados, DeLyser believes that "local" trumps nutritional messaging.
"When merchandising California avocados, the No. 1 focus should be on the fruit's origin," she asserts. "Shoppers are looking for locally grown produce, and in those states in proximity to California, promoting locally grown California avocados fits the bill."
States further from California can still play up that the avocados are grown in California/grown in the USA, suggests DeLyser, who adds that traditionally, both volume and dollar sales increase when California avocados are in season.
Opportunities for growth
The majority of avocados sold in the United States are Hass avocados, which represented a national dollar share of 94 percent last year, according to HAB.
To sustain this momentum and grow the category, the board launched its Love One Today initiative, which spotlights the nutritional benefits of avocados as a reason to eat them every day.
Additionally, the board sees potential for growth in several key areas. Regionally speaking, the Northeast, which represents 17.8 percent of the U.S. population, but only 15 percent of avocado sales, is ripe for expansion.
HAB further notes that small avocados and bagged avocados present sales opportunities for retailers across the country. Bagged avocados showed double-digit volume growth in 2014, accounting for 36 percent of dollar growth last year.
And while still a small segment of the overall category, organic avocados are outpacing conventional avocados. HAB notes that organic volume and dollars were up 31 percent and 39 percent, respectively, in 2014, while the conventional avocado category grew by 26 percent in volume and 27 percent in dollars.
Innovation redefines the category
As consumers continually look for new ways to enjoy their favorite foods, whole avocados aren't the only way to do so.
"We realize that guacamole and avocado-based products are huge, and a growing category," says Rick Joyal, national sales manager for Calavo Salsa and Specialty Products, a division of Calavo Growers Inc., in Santa Ana, Calif.
"It's a different clientele that is buying pre-made guacamole, versus whole avocados," adds Joyal. The guacamole shopper is typically someone who either hasn't had success selecting good avocados in the past, or they are buying ahead for something they plan to make in the coming weekend, rather than that night, he explains.
Calavo is expanding the guacamole and avocadobased market with a host of recent introductions, including several guacamole products: Chipotle Guacamole, Hatch Chile Guacamole and an Organic Guacamole. The company packages its guacamole in either pouches or trays, which are sealed fresh using cold pasteurization via ultra-high pressure (UHP) technology.
However, as Joyal points out, "Not everyone likes the consistency of thick guacamole." For these folks, Calavo offers Avocado Salsa. "It's lighter and moister, and good for dipping," he explains. Calavo's two newest flavors in the product line are Avocado Salsa with Mango and Avocado Salsa with Cilantro and Lime. Both are all-natural and certified non- GMO. Beginning this fall, Calavo will debut retail packs with a non-GMO-certified seal on the packaging.
Other recent introductions include an Avocado Hummus and a Red Onion and Roasted Garlic Avocado Hummus, as well as a personal favorite for Joyal: vegan Chocolate Avocado Mousse.
A vegan himself, Joyal created the mousse recipe for his own enjoyment: a combination of avocados, cocoa, rice milk, organic agave and vanilla extract. He shared the recipe with Calavo, which brought the dessert to market. "It is truly decadent and completely guilt-free," he boasts. In the fall, Calavo will introduce a Strawberry Chocolate Avocado Mousse and a Pineapple Chocolate Avocado Mousse.
"Avocados are getting so much good publicity, between Dr. Oz and research on how good they are for you," notes Joyal. An East Coast native, he has seen avocados go from a "mystical fruit" only available in certain months of the year to a prominent fixture in produce departments up and down the eastern seaboard.
"There's a whole generation now that has been brought up with avocados in the East," he observes. "What's driving all of this new avocado business are the 17- to 33-year-olds who are interested in healthy, satisfying snacking, but who don't want to eat foods that weigh them down. We're focusing on this group."
Tracey Altman, VP of innovation and insights for Orange, Calif.-based MegaMex Foods, the maker of Wholly Guacamole, is also targeting the Millennial shopper.
"Millennials grew up with avocados," says Altman, who adds that this demographic is drawn to Wholly Guacamole Minis, at 100 calories or fewer per serving.
MegaMex, a joint venture between Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods and Mexican company Herdez del Fuerte S.A. de CV, offers an entire line of Wholly Guacamole Minis, including Classic, Chunky Avocado, Homestyle, Organic, Avocado Ranch and Spicy. Wholly Guacamole also features an Avocado Verde variety in 10-ounce tubs and as part of the Minis line; the Avocado Verde Mini has just 45 calories per serving.
"Millennials don't shop the way their parents shopped, and they want variety," notes Altman. "The retailers who are first to figure out how to merchandise to this generation will win."
When it comes to fresh-prepared guacamole, according to Altman, "research shows that there are makers, takers and fakers. Makers make their own guacamole and it's a source of pride for them. They will never buy our product. Takers make guacamole on the weekends, but during the week, they want the convenience of an all-natural guacamole that is already prepared, while fakers always opt for the ease of prepared guacamole."
Innovative product introductions offer the variety today's consumers seek, but the versatility of avocados and avocado-based products is further driving sales.
"Five years ago, guacamole was a party dip," affirms Altman. "Now it's a spread, it's a salad dressing, it's a condiment for burgers and hot dogs - consumers not only understand the health benefits of an avocado, they [also] understand its many uses."
With Herdez, Altman has witnessed the explosive growth in avocados and fresh avocado products on the foodservice side of the business as well. "The business used to be Mexican restaurants," she says, "and now there's guacamole on Subway sandwiches, steakhouses are serving guacamoIe - it's showing up in all kinds of cuisine."
Fresh from Florida
While Hass avocados represent the lion's share of avocados consumed in the United States, growers and shippers of Florida avocados are seeing an increase in demand for their fruit. Unlike the skin of Hass avocados, most Florida avocados don't darken when ripe, but rather remain a smooth Kelly green. Florida avocados are also higher in water content than the Hass variety, and thus are lower in fat and calories.
"We grow and distribute a lot of the Florida green-skin avocados, and we've seen an increase in demand for them in the last four or five years," reports Jessie Capote, principal/EVP of J&C Tropicals, in Miami, who attributes the rise in popularity to several factors.
"No. 1, green-skin avocados are very popular with Caribbean, Central and South American consumers around the country. There is consistent demand not only from the East Coast, but [also] California, Texas and Chicago," Capote says. "Secondly, because of the high water content in Florida avocados, they've gained a lot of traction with more healthconscious consumers."
Brooks Tropicals, in Homestead, Fla., markets its Florida-grown avocados with the fat- and calorieconscious consumer in mind. Its SlimCados have up to half the fat and one-third fewer calories than other avocados, according to Director of Marketing Mary Ostlund.
"It's a great avocado for people watching their weight," notes Ostlund, adding, "It's both a niche avocado and a staple."
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Jennifer Strailey