Fat, Sugar, Protein and Freedom: FNCE 2016 Offers Four Trends for 2017

The food industry has been carefully listening as consumer demand gradually shifts toward products with specific value propositions. And this year’s annual Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) hosted by The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetic, the largest annual gathering of nutrition professionals in the country – and an opportunity for today’s leading food companies and brands to highlight the latest in “better-for-you” foods – had plenty to showcase in response. Here are my top takeaways for food companies and brand marketers:

“Free from” top growth category

According to the Mintel Free-From Food Trends US 2015, foods bearing “free-from” claims are increasingly relevant to Americans, as they perceive the products as closely tied to health. This trend was evident on the expo floor – as more and more food companies are offering product SKUs to meet the growing consumer demand. “Gluten-free”, “lactose-free” and “GMO-free” were in abundant display at this year’s conference – and appeared on everything from dairy products to vegetable-based snack chips.

Plant-based protein “must have” for many

Nearly 30 percent of Americans say they are eating more non-animal sources of protein, according to the Mintel 2014 “Alternatives Everywhere!” survey – and the expo floor was proof of this growing trend. Plant-based proteins, including algae, pea and soy, could be seen in products ranging from snack bars to dressing, spreads and dairy alternatives. Vegan-friendly products and brands were also more prevalent on the expo floor than in year’s past – signaling the growing trend toward plant-based eating.

Hold the sugar

PepsiCo’s announcement on Monday to cut the sugar content and calories of drinks it sells globally made waves on the expo floor. With the added sugar debate on the minds of many, food companies touted the benefits of their reduced-sugar options. From a health and nutrition perspective, registered dietitians report that consumers are looking for foods that taste great with less added sugar and calories. These products are becoming increasingly important, especially in relation to diabetes management.

Reassessing the role of fat

The fat conversation is shifting as well. With the most recent public health recommendations now focusing on the type of fat, rather than the amount – consumers, health experts and food manufacturers are reassessing the role of dietary fat. This shift was apparent, especially with dairy products, as more companies highlighted full and reduced fat varieties.