By Emily Valentine (@ebvalentine) and Joanne Tehrani, MPH, RD (@eatingdrinknyc) – One branding specialist and one nutrition professional – both PR Pros
We just came back from the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE), the annual conference put on by the American Dietetic Association, on September 24-27 in San Diego.
The event was attended by over 6,000 Registered Dietitians and is split in to two sections; the first part involves educational sessions that allow RD’s to earn continuing education credits through learning about the latest science and trends pertinent to their field. The second part is the expo where 350 companies related to food and nutrition gather to disseminate information, lead cooking demos, and hand-out samples of their products to entice RD’s to incorporate their items in to their practice. Did we mention samples? One can sample anything from medical nutrition formulas to frozen acai berry popsicles.
Sweet Nutrition Trends (Observations from the RD’s point-of-view):
The conference began with ADA’s President Sylvia Escott-Stump announcing that effective January 2012, the American Dietetic Association will change its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. About the name change, Escott-Stump remarked, “The name Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics promotes the strong science background and academic expertise of our members, primarily registered dietitians. Nutrition science underpins wellness, prevention and treatment.” As a member of ADA, I am happy with the name dropping the “Diet” part of “Dietetics,” but I would have liked to see the word “food” included in the tittle, because we obtain nutrition through the food we eat.
1. Sweeteners – There were dozens of sweeteners represented on the expo floor. There were several no-calorie sweeteners made with the controversial ingredient Stevia, showcasing their ability to provide “natural” sweetness to foods without contributing to weight gain or spiked blood sugar levels.
Monk Fruit extract made its debut as a sweetener at the expo and is marketed as being 200 times sweeter than sugar and all natural. We saw it used as an ingredient in several brands’ products including Bear Naked granola and Kashi. We anticipate the use of Monk Fruit as an ingredient to be a big trend in 2012.
There was also a presence by the Corn Refiners Association, the trade association that represents the makers of High Fructose Corn Syrup, which has gotten a bad reputation in the past for contributing to the obesity epidemic. Their boot at the expo was staffed by a representative with stacks of scientific studies readily available to defend its safety and benefits. The conference brought up some chatter among attendees because it coincides with their proposed name change to the FDA from “High Fructose Corn Syrup” to “Corn Sugar.”
2. MyPlate – The USDA’s new symbol used as a guide for healthy eating for Americans was visible at many of the exhibitor’s booths. Among the companies embracing this symbol is McDonalds (see below). I can’t recall many, or any exhibitors utilizing the old Food Pyramid and I see this as a way that industry has collaborated for the overall benefit of Americans. If you can’t beat em’ join em!
3. Gluten free – This year there marked the largest Gluten Free section of the expo floor. There was an endless supply of specialty products dedicated to those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or wheat allergies. It is refreshing to see so many more options for those on restrictive diets due to health concerns. However, many of the foods represented were fancy GF versions of processed backed goods loaded with fat and sugar, much like their “regular” counterparts. There is a great need for education among the gluten-free community about how to eat healthy without purchasing expensive GF processed snack foods. This includes a diet consisting of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. And, of course, the only way to ensure you know what is going in to your food is to prepare as many meals as you can at home.
Battle of the Brands (Observations from the brand specialist’s point-of-view):
To my eye, nearly every brand on the trade show floor was marketing itself as an invaluable ally in the pursuit of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. From traditional health food brands like Amy’s and Annie’s to corporate behemoths like Kraft and Pepsico, everyone appeared to be jockeying for the status of most wholesome, natural and life-enhancing food. While many of the small-brand exhibitors did an excellent job of engaging conference attendees, the big guys and their colossal exhibits were impossible for me to miss:
1) The General Mills booth used large-scale murals to conjure peaceful fields of wheat, barley and oats, with banners promising to tell consumers “The Whole Story” on whole grains and heart/bone health. Its trade show messaging actively promoted the company’s corporate social responsibility mission first by inviting attendees to color on a giant “Whole Story” canvas to be donated to one of its charity partners and then by describing its mission to “Nourish Lives.” To General Mills, this means “making lives healthier with foods such as Yoplait yogurt, Green Giant vegetables, ready-to-eat whole grain cereals like Cheerios, and organic food like Lärabar energy bars; making lives easier with foods that are simple to prepare – like a Pillsbury crescent dinner roll that can be baked in minutes or a Totino’s frozen pizza that can be popped into the oven and served; and making lives richer with foods to celebrate special moments – whether it’s a Betty Crocker cake for a child’s birthday, a Nature Valley bar to enjoy while on a hike or the trimmings for a festive holiday meal.”
2) A few aisles down, the Hershey’s Center for Health & Nutrition offered a museum-like display of chocolatey “artifacts” in glass cases. Docent-esque staffers and educational videos told attendees about the journey from cocoa plant to chocolate kiss (dubbed “From Nature to Nutrition”), and about the company’s campaign to empower consumers to “live a balanced lifestyle through moderation, not deprivation.” I left the Hershey’s booth with a pocket full of dark chocolate squares and a pack of Moderation Nation recipe cards for dishes like Chili con Cocoa, Caramel Candied Sweet Potatoes and Toffee Crusted Chicken Breast .
3) The McDonald’s booth was surprisingly understated compared to its megabrand peers. What struck me most was the company’s shift from its signature red and yellow to a fresh green shade that jibed nicely with the MyPlate diagrams featured prominently across its signage and collateral. The one touch of red remaining at the Mickey D’s booth was the iconic Happy Meal box. While the fast food giant has made a number of impressive changes to make The New Happy Meal comply with the new USDA Dietary Guidelines, its PR rep told me the red and yellow Happy Meal box won’t be going green any time soon. (Neither will Ronald McDonald, we overheard her assure a worried fan.)