Food companies are beginning to listen to demands by Millenials for healthier food

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

The advice on grocery shopping from health advocates has long been to shop around the edges of the store. That’s where you find fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy. That’s where you find the stuff your grandmother recognized as food.

Now that people are listening, the folks who sell the stuff in the middle of the store are freaking out a bit.

There’s growing research that young Americans want healthier food. A new blog post at Mashable.com dubbed “6 things to know about the future of the American diet” is a quick look, from a young American, on trends that includes a big decline in processed food sales.

“2016 promises to be a landmark year as food giants struggle to meet demand for fresh, local and organic food,” writes Jill Krasny, who cites a survey on millenials prizing health attributes in diet and being willing to pay more for them.

She interviewed Michael Moss, the author of “Salt Sugar Fat” on his thoughts for the year. The six points include that the topic Moss wrote about will remain a staple of the American diet, but the industry wants to change.

He predicts that food companies will continue to acquire brands that have taken risks and invented something more healthy. He says that companies are in the early stages of finding ways to put vegetables into products and do better at marketing them.

For years, consumers wanted cheap, easy and tasty. Now, a generation of eaters is asking for food that’s healthier than the KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese that was the food of their childhood, and big companies are trying to respond.

What’s all this mean? If I can add to Krasny’s list, I’d say it means four things:

  1. Restaurant menus will also change. We’re already starting to see items at mainstream restaurants that list where the food came from and menus that have more vegetarian and vegan options.
  2. Grocery shopping will get more interesting. Farmers markets are great. (Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the Goshen Farmers Market and am a big believer.) But at the grocery store it’s easier to find hummus, a dip made from chickpeas and sesame seeds. The changes in demand mean that global flavors and healthier options are easier to find. Hurray for that!
  3. Cooking is still the best way to control what you eat. Food companies are trying to figure out how to make vegetables taste good. Chefs are showing us how at restaurants. But learning how to do that at home is huge. Finding a good cookbook and expanding the range of dishes you can make quickly, easily and with fresh ingredients is usually cheaper and better for you than opening a box.
  4. Watch out. Food companies are trying to sell you something. They’ll use all sorts of buzzwords to do that. Just because you’re buying whole-wheat bread doesn’t mean it’s healthy. (Look for higher fiber in a bread, which gives it a bit more nutritional value.)

The best advice, as much as we’re able to follow it, comes from journalist and food writer Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

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