Food frugality may outlast recession
Chicago bans BPA from baby bottles
FDA warns about Cheerios health claims
Study: Give Aussie consumers the green (or red) light
Ameristar award winners show ingenuity in design and functionality
Veggies come with tray for the grill
I can’t believe it’s in sticks


Food frugality may outlast recession

by Pan Demetrakakes
Executive Editor

As expected, the bad economy is causing profound changes in consumers’ food buying habits. What may be a little surprising is how some of those changes are shaping up-and how long they may last.

The Nielsen Co. last week unveiled the results of its latest U.S. consumer survey at Nielsen’s Consumer 360 Conference in Orlando, Fla. Among the highlights:

• 42% said they are buying larger package sizes, presumably to get more for their money.
• 28% are trying to buy more products made in the U.S.
• 25% are trying to buy more locally made products.
• 23% say they are less likely to try new brands.

As in most recessions, consumers are cutting back on eating out: 56% in the Nielsen survey reported eating dinner less often at restaurants. However, this behavior is expected to outlast the recession. While 46% said they expected to dine out more once the recession lifts, they indicated a willingness to spend only a little more on dining out than they do now.

The Nielsen survey also found that older consumers will be more conservative in their spending habits once the recession lifts. This is because, unlike consumers under about age 30, they’ve lived through several economic downturns, and also because they’re saving for retirement.

That perspective was recently echoed by executives at General Mills. Ian Friendly, chief operating officer for U.S. retail, told Reuters that consumers persuaded (or forced) by the recession to eat more at home will probably continue that behavior once things improve. General Mills discerned a trend of eating more at home four years ago, before the recession started, he said.

Older people tend to eat more at home, which should be good news for General Mills and the food industry as a whole as the population ages, Friendly said. General Mills CEO Ken Powell predicted that food industry sales will grow at 3% to 4% annually even after the recession.

In a survey by the Midwest Dairy Council, more than half of 1,002 respondents said price is more important than nutrition in grocery choices.

“This points to a need for more information about nutrient-rich foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, that deliver more bang for your buck than other options at the grocery store,” says Stephanie Cundith, a registered dietitian with the Dairy Council.


TOP DEVELOPMENTS

Chicago bans BPA from baby bottles
Chicago has joined the ranks of places taking a stand against bisphenol-A (BPA), the plastics hardener that has been linked to a variety of health problems. The Chicago City Council voted May 13 to ban BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, joining Minnesota, which passed a ban earlier this month, and Canada, which enacted one last year. BPA is on its way out as a component of consumer packaging for children, as several major manufacturers and retailers have vowed to stop using it or carrying products that contain it. Of more immediate concern to food packagers is the nearly ubiquitous use of BPA as an internal lining in food and beverage containers. The FDA has declared BPA not dangerous, but its action was widely criticized, and Congress is considering a measure to ban BPA from all food and beverage packaging.

FDA warns about Cheerios health claims
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned General Mills that health claims on cartons of Cheerios cereal violate truth-in-advertising regulations. The FDA is especially objecting to a claim that eating Cheerios can lower cholesterol 4% in six weeks. In a letter to General Mills CEO Ken Wells, the FDA says these claims would be appropriate only for an FDA-approved drug. In a statement, General Mills pointed out that the substance of the claims was approved by the FDA years ago and added, “We are in dialogue with FDA, and we look forward to reaching a resolution.”

Study: Give Aussie consumers the green (or red) light
A simple traffic-light system that indicates good, bad or in-between nutritional values for food would be the most effective in getting Australian consumers to make healthy food choices, according to a new study. Researchers presented consumers with three nutritional labeling schemes: the traffic light system and two variations on a system that spelled out percentage of daily intake for various nutrients. As reported in the journal Health Promotion International, respondents said they preferred the more detailed daily intake listings, but the researchers found that their ability to interpret the results and make healthier choices was significantly higher with the simple traffic light system.

Ameristar award winners show ingenuity in design and functionality
No-drip pour spouts, compostable bakery trays, ergonomic shapes and a temperature-controlled take-out container were among the food packaging developments that earned 2009 Ameristar awards from the Institute of Packaging Professionals. On Tuesday evening, May 19, IoPP bestowed 35 Ameristar awards, one 3M Sustainable Packaging award, one Best of Show award (sponsored by Lansmont Corp.) and the People’s Choice award.


NEW PACKAGES

Veggies come with tray for the grill
Fresh vegetable combos are coming out for the barbecue season with metal trays that can be used on outdoor grills. The Sholl Group II is launching Green Giant Fresh Patio Grillers, five combinations of vegetables and sauce. The product is in a plastic pouch inside an aluminum tray, with a paperboard sleeve securing the pouch and bearing graphics. Consumers simply empty the contents of the pouch into the tray and stick the tray on the grill for about 20 minutes. Sholl is touting the aluminum tray’s recyclability as a selling point.


I can’t believe it’s in sticks
Unilever has rolled out an extension of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, its vegetable oil spread, in stick form for cooking. The Cooking & Baking version comes four sticks to a paperboard carton. The carton, designed by the Anthem Worldwide div. of Schawk Strategic Design, features a background of baked cookies with a centered panel with the product logo and health claims, including “50% less saturated fat than butter” and “0g trans fat per serving.”