Richard Bogren, Finley, John W.
BATON ROUGE, La. – Foods that are marketed with claims of health benefits in addition to nutritional value need proof of efficacy, a human nutrition expert told the Louisiana Food Processors Conference March 18.
“We need evidence-based nutrition information before we make statements,” said John Finley, national program leader for human nutrition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service.
Speaking about what are known as functional foods, Finley stressed that available evidence must be from applying the scientific method to medicine.
“Evidence requires human studies,” he said. “Any other information is hypothesis.”
Saying “drugs are for sick people and nutrition promotes health,” Finley said trials with humans provide greater evidence for efficacy than tests with animals or individual cells.
“Because of our genetic diversity, a group of us may respond to a substance, and a group of us may not,” he said. “When we go to an evidence-based approach, be prepared for an answer you don’t want to hear.
“Science for nutrition is different from science for drugs,” Finley said.
Finley’s talk was one of a dozen presentations at the sixth annual food processors gathering sponsored by the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Economic Development.
Value-added processing represents one of the most important economic development segments of the Louisiana economy, said John Finley, head of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Food Science.
“We want to leverage the reputation of Louisiana for food and develop it outside the state,” the LSU AgCenter’s Finley said.
“The potential for future growth is staggering,” he said. “The major purpose of this conference is to provide information on new regulations in the areas of food safety and security, marketing challenges, global trade and required processing training.”
Gerald Bouillon of Savoie’s Foods in Opelousas said he attends the conference every because he always finds topics of interest. This year, he said, he was particularly interested in the session on innovations in packaging.
“I always find something new and interesting here,” said Dennis Higginbotham of Cajun Original Foods in New Iberia.
Higginbotham cited a presentation by Liz Sloan on trends in the food industry that said ethnic and regional foods were growing in interest across the country. He concurred, saying sales of his Cajun products are finding markets in neighboring states and even farther away.
Sloan, an expert in trend tracking and predictions for the food industry, said regional American cuisines are the “hottest” trend.
The president of Sloan Trends Inc., a San Diego-based consulting firm serving food, food service and nutritional supplement marketers, Sloan provided insights into what’s happening in the American marketplace.
People on either side of 50 have different tastes, Sloan said. Those over 50 grew up eating foods prepared in European styles. And now that they’re empty-nesters, they’re starting to drive the restaurant business.
“The flavor profiles they prefer are different than younger generations’,” she said.
She said the United States has 32 million “foodies” – mostly in the 25-44 age group – who are passionate about learning about and eating different foods.
Sloan mentioned several factors working in favor of the Louisiana food industry. One is that “consumption of fish and seafood has jumped enormously in the past year and a half and has grown 31 percent in the past two years.”
In addition, chicken is vying with hamburgers as a preferred meat in the under-30 age group, and regional Cajun flavors are among the leaders in emerging preferences.
In the past 10 years, the market for canned, frozen and boxed foods has grown by 27 percent as more people are preparing meals at home in response to the current recession.
“We’re looking at a new definition of ‘how I want to cook,’” she said.
In other presentations, conference attendees heard from Chris Rhynalds, vice president of research and development with Lamb Weston, which is building a sweet potato processing plant in Delhi, La.
Rhynalds said the new plant will begin processing sweet potatoes in August and is expecting to conduct a ribbon-cutting in November.
Chef John Kozar with the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux told about the new culinology program that will be offered by Nicholls State and LSU.
Students will attend Nicholls for two years and earn an associate’s degree in culinary arts, then move on to LSU in Baton Rouge for a bachelor’s degree in food science with a concentration in culinology.
The program will apply the scientific method to food preparation and groom graduates for positions as research chefs in industry, Kozar said.
The conference ended with a series of seminars by LSU AgCenter faculty members on food safety, food packaging, reacting to a food recall and bringing new products to the marketplace.
“We’re glad to co-host the conference with LSU Food Science and the LSU AgCenter as we have for six years,” said Kelsey Short, director of agriculture, forestry and food processing with Louisiana Economic Development.
Short called the conference “a great opportunity for food processors to get together under one roof and hear presentations on timely issues as well as network with others in the industry.
“LED is always pleased and willing to work with any food processing company interested in expanding in Louisiana,” he said.