AMERICA's supermarkets are loaded with new products - 10,558 new ones were put on the shelves in 1988, a 4 percent increase over the year before. ``Not bad,'' comments Martin Friedman, editor of New Product News, and one of the country's top food-trend spotters. That's a significant slowdown in the pace of new food product introductions from 1986-87, though: That year marked a 26 percent increase over the year before. That's still a lot of new products, however.
Mr. Friedman, who spoke at a Food Marketing Institute workshop here recently, last year predicted that self-indulgence food products would overwhelm self-control and nutritionally oriented foods with most consumers.
``My prediction didn't work,'' he says now. ``My fantasy of everybody diving into vats of melted chocolate disappeared quickly when the `oat bran' fad hit the fanatics.''
But he has been right before: He predicted the success of Nabisco's Teddy Grahams (No. 3 in cookie sales this year) and H"aagen-Dazs's Deep Chocolate ice cream, among many others.
But ``after all, I'm only guessing when I give a report,'' he says with some modesty.
``Right now, `branomania' seems to have swept the country,'' he continues. ``Shoppers are driving miles to stores that carry food items containing bran.'' Virtually every bakery in the country now markets two or three oat-bran breads, he adds.
Cereal companies ``are stumbling over each other, trying to get out more oat bran products, from snack foods to sweets.'' Mrs. Fields (of Mrs. Fields Cookies fame) is introducing a line of oat-bran products in her cookie and La Boulangerie stores.
On the down side, oat bran isn't the easiest thing to cook with or to add to daily menus at home. Some of the weightiest (oat bran absorbs a great deal of liquid) muffins ever eaten are baked in the name of oat bran.
``I'm sure in June someone will be putting oat bran in a wedding cake,'' Friedman said of this product, which, in the '70s, was consumed by dogs and cats as an ingredient in pet food.
But just when manufacturers think they have it made with oat bran, researchers at Montana State University say barley will provide the same benefits and will taste good, too.
While Martin Friedman talked to food retailers, producers, and journalists, the Food Marketing Institute exhibits were open, with more than 1,000 companies exhibiting products along 8 miles of aisles.
A sampling of the new products and trends:
Ice cream for dogs. This was one of biggest hits at the show. Frosty Paws producers say their research shows that two-thirds of all dog owners feed ice cream to their pets.
William Tyznik, an animal nutritionist on the faculty of Ohio State University, developed the product. Technically, it's not ice cream at all, but a blend of soy products, whey, vitamins, and nutrients.
``Ice cream, although a favorite of all canines, is not really good for dogs,'' according to Dr. Tyznik. ``Dogs can't really taste the ice cream, anyway. They just like it because it's cold.'' Frosty Paws is safe for humans, but we probably wouldn't like it much: There's no sugar in it.
Spray olive oil. PAM, the company that brought us the first nonstick cooking spray, now has an all-natural spray that uses pure olive oil. (Olive oil has seen a 29 percent growth this year alone in the United States.)
Microwave food products for kids. Food companies recognize that more and more children are preparing their own meals in the microwave. Products aimed at this new market include two lines of entrees (including spaghetti, pizza, and snack bars) and microwave French fries.
Private-label ``gourmet'' products. Remember when plain-wrapped ``generic'' products filled the supermarket shelves? The countertrend has arrived: Today's leading-edge retailers are promoting ``higher quality'' jams, jellies, ketchup, and pickles, among others. A&P stores will feature a Master Choice line, Grand Union will have Laurent, and Kroger will stock International Bazaar.
The upgraded private-label concept was pioneered by Weston Foods, a Canadian company. Their President's Choice label appears on more than 100 products, including gourmet jams, extra-thick ketchup, a ``premium blend'' waffle syrup, frozen cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, and a cake listed as The Greatest Chocolate Truffle Cake In The World.
New supermarket technology. A machine will lead customers through a supermarket's inventory, list the sale specials, issue coupons, and even print out recipes. Theoretically, this will save the shopper the trouble of asking a stock person where the yogurt or the spray starch is.
``Alternative'' bananas. Yellow marzano bananas from Mexico have a flavor somewhat like apples. So do ladyfinger bananas, a green version of marzanos, says Karen Caplan, president of Frieda's Finest Produce Specialties Inc., which has a reputation for introducing exotic produce.
Most unusual are the California-grown dusty green fruits called ice cream bananas, so named for their creamy texture.
More Mexican and Oriental sauces. Ketchup and mustard, the old standbys, are not racking up the same popularity points as their trendy cousins. Ketchup inched up a mere 1 percent in sales this year, while Mexican sauces jumped 17 percent over the year before, and Oriental sauces climbed 12 percent.
The sales of condiments are closely linked to the popularity of the foods with which they are served, and the slow increases in ketchup sales are tied to the decline in the popularity of red-meat dishes and deep-fried foods. Ketchup is still the leading American condiment, however, according to a recent marketing study.
Ketchup's closest competitors are Mexican sauces, which are expected to lead all condiments through 1993. The Lempert Report expects other, less-familiar condiments, such as those used in Hispanic households, to become more familiar as they are stocked by more supermarkets.
More ``light'' foods. Often the word ``light'' refers only to the color, but there are light cheeses, olive oils, yogurts, salad dressing, mayonnaise - and now there is even a ``lite'' Spam.