Omnivorous consumers had several reasons to rethink their meat-buying habits during the past five or six years, as the recession hit grocery budgets, droughts drove meat prices higher and the federal government replaced the Pyramid with MyPlate, a model for nutrition that calls for veggies to make up at least half of the meal.

The past decade saw the rise of Meatless Mondays and other moves by some chefs to leave meat off the plate entirely at more meals. Meanwhile, food companies and researchers have been working hard to create better plant-based alternatives that taste more like meat, as The New York Times reported last week.

All that said, recent research shows that Americans are still eating plenty of meat, and there’s evidence that the recovery has led to an uptick in spending — home-cooked dinners that included meat or poultry rose from 3.6 per week to 3.8, and 36% of the consumers who changed their meat-buying habits last year spent more than the previous year, according to the ninth annual Power of Meat report from the Food Marketing Institute, the American Meat Institute and The Cryovac Brand. (read more…)

When Coca-Cola distributed cans of its famous fizzy drink in South America last year bearing popular local names like Roberto and Alicia, it had its packaging supplier to thank. Beverage can maker Rexam had figured out a way to print eight different designs on the same production line and pack 24 variations on a single pallet — a far cry from the standardized approach of the past, and one that gave Coke valuable promotional buzz and boosted sales in its target markets.

Drawing on the ideas and inventiveness of external partners is one of the defining characteristics of innovation leaders, and increasingly a competitive imperative for companies across a broad range of industry sectors. The notion that internal R&D departments can respond to intensifying pressure for new brand variants and shorter timescales on their own is outmoded. “Open innovation” and collaboration are the order of the day, whether it be using social media channels to solicit feedback from customers or working closely with suppliers of packaging, ingredients, flavours or contract manufacturing services on product design and development. (read more…)

If you attended the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Summit in Washington in March, you would’ve found one thousand food and beverage executives and health crusaders in suits doing synchronized kick-boxing calisthenics. It was an awkward site to behold, but also a sign tensions are thawing between two groups who are often at odds.

The First Lady Michelle Obama has modeled in headlines and households what Americans must do to get healthier as part of her Let’s Move! initiative. But it is at PHA where the message becomes matter.

Under Obama’s stewardship, PHA has become the premiere forum for public health experts to stand alongside private sector corporations, including Del Monte, Dannon, and Nestlé. As a result, industry rhetoric is increasingly becoming action.

For product companies, PHA is becoming a launch pad. More of them are flocking here to announce commitments to consumer wellbeing, and they receive real-time feedback. (read more…)

Healthy Dining works to inspire chefs to create healthier options for consumers and help diners find meals that fit into a healthy lifestyle. Last fall, the initiative’s dining and nutrition guide, HealthyDiningFinder.com, launched a mobile site featuring 4,000 menu items served at more than 60,000 participating restaurants to make it even easier for consumers to find healthy options on the go. I interviewed Healthy Dining’s founder Anita Jones-Mueller about how technology is impacting the restaurant industry and inspiring more consumers to turn to mobile devices for help maintaining a healthy diet.

How is technology impacting nutrition and how is that affecting the restaurant industry?

It is an exciting time of change in terms of technology and nutrition and overall in how our nation is accelerating change as it relates to how we eat. And I believe that restaurants will be a driving force in that accelerated change.

One of the biggest changes I see is the impact that mobile health technologies will have on our future and especially on the way we live and eat. (read more…)

Food companies know by now that consumers want fresh, healthy snacks that can be eaten on the go. That’s because about half the time when people eat or drink these days, they’re snacking. What might be surprising is that while consumers crave food that’s easy to pack for work or the commute, a whopping 80% of snacks are actually eaten at home. People want convenience there, too, because they’re also busy at home and do not necessarily want to cook or prepare a snack. Just like when they’re in the car or at work, they want something handy.

SnackingBecause consumers are getting a greater proportion of their food from snacks, they want them to have more nutrients than in the past, when snacks were seen largely as special treats. Nowadays, snacks can be almost anything — an apple, a cup of yogurt, a small portion of last night’s leftovers — and can be eaten almost anywhere. (read more…)