Food Fads Still Fill the Market

WHAT'S new in food trends? Pizza for breakfast, for one.

It's no secret that many people enjoy leftover pizza in the morning. So Dingbats Deli-Pizzeria in Pittsburgh has introduced a new breakfast pizza. Breakfast burritos have already become an acceptable way to wrap out-of-hand breakfast food, and pizza may soon be perfectly correct for the first meal of the day.

Candy, gum, snack foods, and bakery products are all high on the American supermarket shopper's list, according to reports at the annual Food Marketing Institute convention in Chicago recently.

There is a strong health and fitness consciousness among consumers in the United States, supposedly. Yet new food products generally and snack foods especially were up 20 percent from 1990 - despite a year of war, revolution, and a major slowdown in economic activity.

For the first four months of 1992, however, "the recession has slowed down product momentum," says Martin Friedman, editor of New Product News. "There's no question that food companies, both large and small, are thinking twice before they splash new products into today's marketplace."

Mr. Friedman speaks every year at the Supermarket Industry convention, where food writers and industry people view thousands of new-product exhibits at Chicago's McCormick Place. With Lynn Dornblaser, New Product News's publisher, food editors listened to a two-person report on new products for consumers and manufacturers.

This past year, consumer complaints about the misuse of such product descriptors as "light," "low calorie," and "low fat" on food products were under discussion. A new buzzword has appeared: the vague and rather commonplace but compelling word "healthy," according to Friedman and Dornblaser.

"Manufacturers have started a `healthy' bandwagon," said Friedman, "and you will see it in every department of your market." Companies have already found many different ways to use the latest fad word:"Campbell's Soup is currently out with Healthy Request soups and pastas. Healthy Treasure is the name of their lower-fat, lightly breaded frozen fish," Friedman said.

"Oscar Mayer's reduced-fat and sodium line is called Healthy Favorites.

"Kraft General Foods has a Budget Gourmet Light & Healthy and also a Budget Gourmet Hearty & Healthy.

"And there are other departments: A partial list includes Healthy Chef Ramen Soup, Ellio's Healthy Slices Pizza, Lipton Healthy Sensations Salad Dressing, and Pierre's Healthy Scoop Frozen Dessert," the two speakers alternated in listing the so-called "healthy" foods.

Friedman admits it is important to point out that manufacturers are not just "slapping the word `healthy' on products and shipping them out to the stores.

"These products offer consumers significant reductions in fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium," he says: "However, it takes a fairly savvy shopper to compare these new products to each other and their counterparts."

Although "healthy" is today's buzzword, there are still products that use the phrases "fat-free" and "fat-reduced" in their titles. Even the ubiquitous "light" keeps popping up on products such as Mars Dove Lite Bar and Libby's Lite Corned Beef Hash.

Vegetarianism and organic foods remain important components in the health-food industry, but they appear to have a long way to go before they become mainstream.

Nevertheless, there are new items for this growing market, including: Imagine Foods' Veggie Patties, Legume Entrees, Sharon's Finest Tofurella Tofu Cheese, True Organic Orange Juice, and Eden Organic Tomatoes were noted by the speakers.

Ms. Dornblaser observed that fruit-spread manufacturers were "going in two directions - `lighter' jams and jellies, and fruit preserves with more fruit." Some examples: Smucker's Light Spreads, Knott's Light Spreads, Welch's Totally Fruit, Sunfresh Food's Freezer Jam and Frutti Tubes.

Every year there are a few more fresh fruits and vegetables using brand names, and although this system hasn't produced an overall conversion, there were a number of fresh foods exhibited on the convention floor: Sunkist Fresh Peeled, Pillsbury FreshTables, Simply DiVine Tomatoes, Vegi Snack, and Broccoli Wokly.

The Broccoli Wokly company packages fresh broccoli florettes and also makes a fine use of broccoli stems: Peeled, shredded, and mixed with bits of carrot and red cabbage, they come in a bag called Broccoli Cole Slaw, a pleasant change from the traditional. Samples passed out at the supermarket convention were a big hit.

CONVENIENCE is still a No. 1 consideration for many shoppers, and with hundreds of quick, easy, microwaveable or ready-to-eat products to choose from, here are a few that struck our fancy:

Campbell's Le Menu New American Cuisine, Loblaw's Too Good To Be True Chili, Old Fashioned Kitchen's Breakfast Burritos, Tyson Fajita/Stir Fry, Smucker's Fruitage, and Star Kist Charlie's Lunch Kit.

The "lunch kit" is a neat little package that includes everything to make a fresh tuna salad: a small can of tuna, two crackers, and a package of mayonnaise pickle relish. Other companies combine bread sticks with cheese and ham or cold meats with crackers in a new kind of packaging that keeps meat and cheese moist and crackers crisp.

Orowheat has two new varieties of Australian Toaster Biscuits - corn bread and cinnamon raisin. Both can be heated in a toaster and are said to come from a place in Australia called Dunk Island Resort.

Of the thousands of products exhibited here, it takes a food editor in track shoes to cover even part of the main floor.

Between looking and sampling and asking questions, we found some products with pretty crazy names, including Ground Buffalo, Save-the-Pig, Buzz Gum, King Chut Chutney, and David Glass's You're Nuts.

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