Richard Bogren, Harrison, Jr, Robert W, Morrison, David, Finley, John W. | 3/20/2009 12:41:56 AM
BATON ROUGE – Changing demographics and the economic recession are changing the ways Americans buy and prepare foods, a food industry consultant told the Louisiana Food Processors Conference here Wednesday (March 18).
“During the last recession, people went to the grocery stores and bought frozen meals,” said Dr. Liz Sloan, president of Sloan Trends Inc. of Escondido, Calif. “In this recession, people are buying ingredients and not whole meals.
“We have the highest level of in-home cooking in the United States since 1992,” she added.
The Baby Boomers were the last generation to be raised on European-style cooking, the consultant said, citing current increased interest in other food styles, including Asian, Mexican, Creole and Cajun.
“This is very, very good for a lot of products made in Louisiana,” she said.
Sloan also told the audience that one-third of Americans are older than 55, and 50 percent of U.S. households earn less than $55,000 a year. These are some of the factors that are driving consumer buying and eating habits, she said.
On the other hand, Sloan also said the country is seeing the “gourmetization” of the diet in the younger population.
“We’re seeing the first generation of ‘little foodies,’” she said. “One-third of 6- to 12-year-olds want exotic flavors.”
Consumers also are looking for functional foods – those that provide health benefits beyond nutrition, said David Schmidt, president of the International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C.
“Most Americans believe that some foods provide benefits beyond nutrition,” Schmidt said.
To address the functional foods issue, the LSU AgCenter has developed an initiative called Food for Health, said Dr. David Morrison, assistant vice chancellor in the LSU AgCenter.
The vision statement of the initiative is “to have a healthy population in Louisiana and the world through the discovery, development and delivery of health-promoting functional foods and products,” Morrison said.
Partners in the initiative include the Pennington Biomedical Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Southern Regional Research Center, the Southern University Ag Center and food industry representatives.
The overall goal is to improve human health and wellness while also fostering economic development, not only within the Louisiana foods industry but also within the state’s agribusiness sector, Morrison said.
Food marketing and food safety, along with a series of technical workshops, made up the program for the day-and-a-half event.
Food safety issues are undergoing more scrutiny at the processing stage, said Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Under modern production, problems can expand exponentially, he said.
“We’re tracking consumer confidence in the safety of our food system,” said Dr. Wes Harrison of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness.
“Consumer confidence changes dramatically when news happens,” he added.
Consumer confidence in food safety effects sales trends and profitability, added Harrison’s collaborator, Dennis Degeneffe, a research fellow at the Food Industry Center in the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minn.
Harrison is comparing changes in consumer confidence with news reports of food safety issues, he said. The next step is to match those results with actual product sales to see if they are correlated.
The conference, which attracted more than 100 of the state’s food processors and other industry members, was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Economic Development, Entergy, Air Liquide, SWEPCO and the Institute of Food Technologists.