Aisle Chatter

Karen is the director of marketing/digital strategy and the specialty foods editor at Food World and Food Trade News. With many years under her belt in the hospitality, food & beverage, and retail food industries, she transitioned to the media side of the business in 2011. She can be reached at karen@foodtradenews.com.

It is the start of a new year and with that comes a lot of predictions of what will be trending in our industry for the next 12 months. The biggest trend hands down that I anticipate for 2019 is Cannabidiol (CBD) EVERYTHING. CBD oils, ointments, candies, beverages, food, even dog treats. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill last month in which industrial hemp (a cannabis plant containing less than .3 percent THC, which is the psychoactive compound that is responsible for the “high” people derive from using marijuana) will now be allowed to be cultivated broadly. It has also been removed it from the Illegal Schedule 1 Controlled Substances List, instead reclassifying it as a commercial crop. This now puts no restrictions on the sale, transport, or possession of hemp-derived products, so long as those items are cultivated within the limits of the law. For those of you who don’t know what CBD is, it is a compound found in the cannabis plant that provides analgesic effects by interacting with receptors in the brain and immune system to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain without the giving the user a “high”. It’s ability to relieve pain, combat seizures, diminish anxiety and depression, and fight inflammation are just a few of the touted benefits of the compound. Even CPG giant Coca-Cola has been considering adding CBD based drinks to its portfolio. “Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” Coca-Cola said in a statement released this past September. They were reportedly in talks with Aurora Cannabis, a Canadian cannabis producer, to produce a CBD infused drink line but those plans have yet to be confirmed. However, producers shouldn’t be in too much of a rush to get their CBD products on the shelves just yet. It seems that there are several restrictions and it will be highly regulated. Technically, the CBD must be derived only from hemp and not marijuana plants, even if the final product contains less than 0.3  percent THC. Also, the FDA must still approve any food, cosmetics and supplements containing CBD. In a statement issued by Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner, “Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the law, but also can put patients at risk, as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective.” Gottlieb continued, “At the same time, we recognize the potential opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds could offer and acknowledge the significant interest in these possibilities. We’re committed to pursuing an efficient regulatory framework for allowing product developers that meet the requirements under our authorities to lawfully market these types of products.” Additionally, even though hemp and its derived products have federally been given the green light, each state gets to determine their own regulatory framework around its growth and regulation. Despite some of these hurdles, though, CBD companies around the country have breathed a collective sigh of relief over the much anticipated passage of the Farm Bill 2018. It finally gives them a chance to move forward after being in a holding pattern for so long and believe me, they are not going to waste a moment making up for lost time so expect to be inundated with CBD products galore (if your state allows it, that is)!

Other trends I foresee getting more traction this year are plant-based foods and products without processed sugar. As more consumers become concerned about the impact of meat consumption on health and environmental factors and with the surging popularity of diets such a Keto, Paleo, and Whole 30, which have raised awareness about the added sugars in products and their unhealthful effects, expect these trends to continue to grow rapidly throughout 2019. In fact, Beyond Burger (one of the leading plant-based burgers that mimics the taste of beef) not only got added to the menus of fast food chain Carl’s Jr. this month but also launched its Beyond Burger 2.0 which is said to be lower in saturated fat and has a more meat-like texture than the original version. Their competitor Impossible Foods, may, however, have one-upped them. Not only is the “bleeding” plant-based burger featured on the menus of all White Castles in 13 states, but the company launched their own upgraded 2.0 burger the same week that Beyond Burger debuted their latest iteration, but with much more fanfare by doing their unveiling as the Las-Vegas held CES convention. CES, for those of you who do not know, stands for the Consumers Electronics Show, which is the go-to annual trade event for new products and technologies in the consumer electronics industry. This is the first time the four-day convention has featured food as a new technology which to me, signals that this is not an anomaly but will soon become the norm. It was even named the overall winner of the top picks at the show by Digital Trends, the world’s largest independent tech publisher, beating out all sorts of innovative mostly electronic products. In any case, this is just the start of the plant-based revolution. As for sugar, the growing demand to remove or replace it with alternative sweeteners does not bode well for the world market, as it is already struggling with an anticipated shortfall for 2019/2020. In the UK, Mars and Snickers will debut with “less sugar, more protein” options of their classic bars and Cadbury is putting a Dairy Milk bar with 30 percent less sugar sometime this year. Expect to see more options for sugar-reduced or replaced favorites in the U.S. as well.

Whole Foods Market also sees the sphere of influence that diet has on shopping, which is why they have jut released a digital catalog of their products based on dietary preferences. The full list of searchable preferences includes: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, paleo friendly, keto friendly, sugar conscious, dairy free, Kosher, organic, Whole Foods Diet approved, Engine 2, low sodium and low fat. Customers will find a photo of the product, its nutrition fact panel and ingredients list, and diet and allergen tags. To learn about availability and price, they can easily find their local Whole Foods Market store using the store selector on the page. “Whole Foods Market has always been a go-to for those who follow special diets or want greater transparency into what they are eating,” said Jason Buechel, executive vice president of technology and chief information officer for Whole Foods Market. “This new experience makes it easier than ever for those customers to find products that fit their needs from dietary preferences to lifestyle changes, and ultimately helps them achieve their wellness goals.”

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In another step to stay ahead in the AI race, Kroger has partnered up with Microsoft to bring new technology that will bring digital shelves, price tags and advertisements to two pilot stores: one in Ohio and the other in Washington State (near each company’s headquarters). The technology communicates with the consumer’s smartphone, utilizing emojis to indicate the products on the digital shopping list they created as they walk down each aisle. This is expected to save customers time by cutting the time spent looking for a product. It also will make it easier for the retailer to manage out-of-stock items and will increase employee efficiency by not only saving them time in changing prices which can be done digitally rather than manually, but also by helping them locate items in a timely fashion for curbside orders. Additionally, Kroger hopes to sell digital advertising space to brands.

Also piloting some new technology is PepsiCo, which is testing a fleet of snack-wielding robots for students of the University of the Pacific’s campus in California. The “Snackbots,” as the company has dubbed them, can travel 20 miles on a single charge and bring products from the company’s “Hello Goodness” line (which include: Sun Chips, Smartfood Delight popcorn, Baked Lays, Pure Leaf Tea, and Starbucks Cold Brew drinks) to students ordering on the app during the normal business hours of 9am to 5pm. If you live close by and are thinking about testing it out, think again: you need a valid University of Pacific email address. If you’d like to see one in action, check out the video on PepsiCo’s website: www.pepsico.com/news/stories/pepsico’s-self-driving-snack-delivery-robot.

Until next month…