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Food trends to look for in 2012

February 16, 2012 - Carla Tracy

I know I should blog more often. I really do. But it’s hectic here at the newspaper, just trying to meet deadlines for the print media part of it. Some of my coworkers at the Maui News are prolific bloggers, such as Rob Collias and his neverending sports streams. I don’t know how he finds the time to do it, day after day.

Our website has an internal graphic that we can click on, to see how many blogs each of the bloggers is churning out, and I’m woefully behind the rest. Perhaps it’s because I started so late in the game. In fact, I’m still tryng to figure out who my readers are.

We also receive reports on how many hits each blog gets per month, and I got a little insight when I found out my most popular blog was on John Heckathorn, One Heck of a Feared Food Critic. It was about the death of a fabulous Oahu journalist, who was at the top of his game.

So here I am, ready to blog again. Publicist Eric Glover has been persistent as bees on honey in asking me to blog about his company’s predicted food trends for 2012, I acquiesced because this year is zipping right along and the trends will no longer be timely if I drag my feet on blogging. Now, Twitter is a whole other issue!

Here are some of JWT’s food trends for 2012:

Antique Eats

The heritage trend is making its way to food, with chefs digging up recipes and adding ingredients from yesteryear. The hot restaurant Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London serves bygone British dishes.Some of this is for the more adventurous (e.g., Grant Achatz’s duck with blood sauce in Chicago), but in the U.K., at least, everyday consumers are preparing meats that harken back to older eras, like pheasant, venison and wood pigeon.

Artery-Cleaning Foods

The next hot functional foods may be those that claim to clean out arteries, or more technically, reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol. Stratum Nutrition is marketing a powdered fiber product to food and beverage brands that it claims can promote healthy arteries.

Curbing Food Waste

As the environmental impact of our food choices becomes a bigger concern—one of our 10 Trends for 2012—watch for more awareness around waste, with brands working to educate consumers and to reduce their own waste. In the U.K., packaging will no longer feature a “sell by” date, an attempt to reduce the £12 billion worth of food thrown out annually, while in India the government is trying to rein in traditional lavish weddings in a bid to stave off food scarcity. Unilever’s Food Solutions unit recently launched United Against Waste, a campaign to drive waste reduction in the food-service industry.

Fat Taxes The fat tax is the new sin tax: In a bid to put the brakes on obesity, governments will try to push consumers away from unhealthy foods with cost disincentives. In 2011, Hungary introduced an added tax for foods with high fat, salt and sugar content, along with a higher tariff on soda (and alcohol), while Denmark added a tax for high-saturated-fat foods. Similar legislation has been proposed in Australia and Britain. Look for more national and local governments to follow.

Food Fairs

A couple of food trends—including foodie-ism, green markets, mobile vendors (food trucks) and affinity for local purveyors—will intersect to drive the rise of local food fairs: markets comprising vendors that focus on a few specialty dishes, eaten on the spot before moving on to the next tasting.

Healthy Vending Machines

Machines that sell snacks like carrots and apples, hummus, meal replacement bars and yogurt are popping up in response to consumer interest in nutritious eating, combined with legislation aimed at limiting junk food in schools. As these policies become more widespread, expect more such vending machines—and a black market of sorts for sugary, fatty, salty fare.

Heirloom Everything “Artisanal” has become the overused term du jour in food; “heirloom” will follow. While it’s been around for a while, starting with tomatoes and beef, lately everything from corn to beans has been getting an “heirloom” designation, generally meaning an older variety that’s genetically distinct from commercial products. (“Heirloom” is mostly used for crops, “heritage” for livestock.) The term is becoming shorthand for quality and natural (and higher prices). Can it be long before we see heirloom potato chips?


Look for honey to pop up in more foods—touted as a more natural alternative to high-fructose corn syrup or sugar—and treatments for everything from coughs to scars and aging skin. Vicks, for instance, recently introduced a natural formula for its NyQuil brand that uses honey as the sweetener. Hydration Stations As the movement to cut the use of plastic and ban the sale of bottled water grows, we’ll see a proliferation of water stations—already popping up on college campuses and in some public spaces—where people can fill reusable bottles.


From a Harvard professor of biomedical engineering comes inhalable caffeine and chocolate—his company, Breathable Foods, is rolling out AeroShot Pure Energy, an inhaler containing a hit of caffeine mixed with B vitamins; Le Whif provides a chocolate experience sans calories. The company is working on more products that provide flavorful or nutritional benefits without calories or the need for pills.


What’s new about edible fungi? With more varieties now populating supermarket shelves in the West, we’ll see a growing awareness that this low-calorie but highly flavorful food packs a nutritional punch. Euromonitor notes that the benefits of mushrooms—which can lower cholesterol, boost the immune system and (some say) even fight cancer—“remain woefully underappreciated”; at a time when consumers are looking to add more so-called functional foods to their diet, they won’t remain overlooked for long.

Rooftop Farming

The rooftop-gardening concept has evolved into large-scale farming projects. Brooklyn Grange, for example, is a rooftop organic farm that sells its produce in markets and businesses around New York City; in the U.K., Food From the Sky, is a similar initiative atop a supermarket in London that sells produce in the market below. And BrightFarms is a New York-based company focused on helping food merchants transform their roofs.

Screened Dining

Interactive screens are coming to restaurants, replacing menus and sometimes workers, and helping to entertain diners. Patrons will be ordering and sometimes paying using iPads and other tablets, touch screen tables and self-order kiosks. For instance, diners at a restaurant in the Manhattan department store Barney’s can order at one of 30 screens in a glass-covered communal table, then browse the store’s catalog while eating. And McDonald’s has deployed touch-screen kiosks in venues across Europe. This is one manifestation of Screened Interactions, one of our 10 Trends for 2012.

Smaller SKUs

Food and beverage brands are swinging in the opposite direction from the mega-sizes and bulk offerings they have targeted at budget-savvy consumers: Smaller sizes at minimal prices will target extremely cost-sensitive customers in the developed world. H.J. Heinz, for example, is introducing several reduced sizes at a suggested retail price of 99 cents in the U.S. and around one euro in Europe, including a 10-ounce ketchup pouch and a 9-ounce mustard. Kraft is selling 50-cent gum packs with five sticks of Trident or Stride.

Spiking Food Prices As extreme weather wreaks havoc on crop yields, watch for already-high food prices to spike further thanks to droughts, flooding and other irregularities brought on by climate change. For example, Thailand, the world’s biggest rice producer, is expecting smaller yields thanks in part to its disastrous floods. In the U.S., drought in Texas thinned cattle herds, which will likely push up beef prices by about 8%.


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