Some like it hot, and food service providers are responding by turning up the spice. Across literally all food categories, peppers, spices, and hot sauces are showing up more and more frequently. From spicy buffalo-flavored potato chips to sriracha-sauced burgers and chipotle beer, hot and spicy are the buzzwords of the flavor world.
What is driving this spice explosion? Several factors are combining to make spicy flavors more popular than ever. The biggest driver is probably demographics; market research firm Mintel found that a majority of Millennials (62 percent) consider themselves “adventurous eaters,” and three out of four Millennials want to experience more new flavors when eating out. And market intelligence firm IBISWorld calls sriracha sauce, a spicy combination of red chili and garlic, the “go-to condiment” for Millennials.
It’s not just Millennials who prefer spicier foods; 54 percent of all consumers enjoy hot or spicy foods, up from 48 percent just seven years ago. Another driver of this trend is the increased interest in different kinds of ethnic foods. Food court lo mein just doesn’t cut it for exotic food these days. Spice company McCormick documents greater interest in new spice blends like Shawarma spice (from Middle Eastern street food) and Japanese 7-spice (Shichimi Togarashi). Flavor company Kalsec notes that one out of four consumers is eating spicy food more often this year than last year. Kalsec also found that jalapenos are still the most popular pepper, but new peppers like arbol and japones chiles are gaining popularity.
There are some good health reasons to enjoy spicy food. For one, adding spice is a great way to add flavor without adding harmful salt to your diet. The capsaicin in hot peppers has been linked to speeding up people’s metabolism, which can help with weight loss. It can also dilate blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. As previously discussed on this blog, the curcumin in turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties. So spice it up! Your taste buds will eventually grow back, even if you try that crazy ghost pepper or “Carolina Reaper.”
Did you have a cup of coffee this morning? If so, you were in good company. According to the National Coffee Association’s annual study, 83% of Americans drink coffee, and 63% of them drink it daily. The survey also reported that consumption of traditional coffee is decreasing as more people choose espresso-based drinks. Single cup brewers (for example, Keurig K-cups) are also growing in popularity. K-cups now account for 25% of ground coffee sales in the United States, and approximately 16 million households owned the brewing machines by the end of 2013.
Medical research is also starting to show that coffee may actually be good for your health. Why the reversal? According to the Mayo Clinic, earlier studies did not consider that other high-risk behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity, used to be more prevalent in populations that consumed a lot of coffee.
According to a recent Harvard study, for most people, consuming up to six 8-ounce cups of coffee daily is a healthy, low-calorie choice, as long as the caffeine does not interfere with sleep. (Pregnant women and those with high blood pressure are still cautioned to avoid caffeine.) It is important to note that the 8-ounce cup of regular coffee referred to in the study contains 100 mg of caffeine, but a grande coffee at Starbucks has 330 mg of caffeine—so portion size is important. Furthermore, the health studies only looked at the benefits of drinking black coffee. Adding whole milk and sugar adds significant fat and calories, which can change the impact of the coffee on a person’s diet. The Harvard researchers found that for people with high cholesterol, it was better to drink coffee brewed with a paper filter. The paper filter helps remove a substance in coffee called cafestol that can increase a person’s cholesterol level.
According to newer research, drinking coffee may help prevent Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee may also improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression. For most people, that’s enough reason to refill their morning cups.
Supporting Corporate Wellness
The Right Choice… For a Healthier You program developed by USConnect identifies healthier choices to support employee health and wellness. The Right Choice program encourages employees to choose vending and cafeteria selections that meet the research-based nutritional recommendations of major health organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Diabetes Association. The Right Choice program has established guidelines for beverages, snacks, and entrees, and consumers can find these selections by looking for the Right Choice logo.
USConnect members not only have access to the database of Right Choice selections, but also to training for their staff and sales team on how to support corporate wellness efforts. Clients also have direct access to USConnect’s staff dietician, Carmen Gorniak, and can email her directly to ask questions about the Right Choice program: what breakfast options are lowest in cholesterol? Are any gluten-free snacks available through this vending machine? This service allows USConnect to listen to and meet employees’ needs. Carmen also publishes a monthly newsletter with healthy suggestions and resources for employees.
The Right Choice program can also help members identify new products. For example, breakfast bars are a newer offering that are a good source of both fiber and carbohydrates, and they can fill a variety of needs. Some employees are looking for breakfast on the go, while others are looking for sports nutrition to fuel up before or after a workout. Others are just looking for a snack that tastes good, but has less sugar, and these products can fill all three of these needs. The Right Choice program can help develop the right product for your own commissary or find a comparable product for vending.
Whether the Right Choice program serves as a complement to an existing wellness program, or is the beginning of an employer’s efforts to promote healthier choices, the program can be tailored to the employees. Whether that means lower sodium and lower fat choices, or introducing new beverage selections that have less sugar, the program offers a variety of approaches to meet the needs of clients and their employees.
The growing interest in environmentally sensitive packaging comes from a growing awareness of the impact that our choices may have on our planet. This may be reflected in an organization’s corporate responsibility policy, or it may be important to the message that a company is trying to convey to its own clients.
Sustainable packaging is packaging that may be recycled, reused, or composted. It also may include using less materials for the packaging, such as reduced layers or a smaller package, or including recycled content. Sustainability also includes how the product was made. The energy efficiency of the manufacturing process as well as the transportation of the final product are both significant. Whether the energy and resources came from renewable sources are also potential factors.
Products advertising their sustainability or environmental sensitivity must make specific claims as to their recycled content and recyclability. Producers cannot claim an item is recyclable unless recycling facilities are available to at least 60% of consumers or communities; otherwise, the product must have a disclaimer that it may not be recyclable in your area. Similarly, there are regulations on claiming a product has been made using renewable energy or contains recycled content. More information about environmental marketing claims is available from the FTC.
More products are now available in their own recycled and recyclable packaging. Water bottles made of thinner plastic and compostable bags for snacks are already available, and companies continue to find new technologies. For example, the Coca Cola company has a product called PlantBottle, a recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially from plants. Odwalla, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, switched all of its bottles to an HDPE plastic made of up to 100 percent plant-based materials derived from sugarcane. According to the American Chemical Society, the technology for creating edible packaging already exists, and companies are experimenting with food wraps made from mushrooms and nuts.
Of course, sustainability does not just apply to the packaging. In the current “foodie” culture, consumers are increasingly conscious of the route that food traveled to get to their table. In addition to seeking food choices that are nutritionally sound, many employees may be interested in understanding as much as they can about what they are consuming. Along with the interest in healthier choices, they may want to know about its origins—are the vegetables locally sourced? Is the coffee fair trade? Organic products, while sometimes considered healthier, are also understood to have a smaller environmental impact and are considered socially responsible choices.
As we welcome a new year, it’s a good time to look ahead to new dining trends. What 2013 trends are still hot, and what will your employees be looking for next year?
- Calorie-dense, healthy snacks. A great example is nuts. Evidence continues to accumulate that nuts are good for your health. People who eat nuts are less likely to die of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. The easiest choice is peanut butter, which is a good source of protein, but nuts can also be found in trail mix and granola bars, or added to salads and wraps.
- Allergy sensitivities: Gluten-free offerings were hot in 2013, and will continue to be popular. Although few people are actually allergic to gluten, many people perceive gluten-free choices as healthy. Non-wheat options, such as rice bowls, quinoa, and buckwheat are popular, because choosing gluten-free does not necessarily mean avoiding carbs.
- Vegan and Vegetarian Choices: More consumers are looking for meatless options, at least some of the time. With the popularity of “Meatless Mondays,” flexitarians and others looking to make healthy choices will seek out these options.
- Fresh and local: Locally-grown produce and local sourcing of meat continue to be important to employees. As vegetables take center stage in a variety of meals, the variety and quality of vegetables become more important.
- Healthy Eating Backlash: Not everyone is looking to make healthy choices, so full fat options will remain popular. To makes those indulgences worthwhile, some employees will be looking for real cheese, fresh breads, and other “real” ingredients.
- It’s always snack time: Eating is less tied to the clock. Possibilities include extending breakfast foods to all day options: mixing the sweet and savory, such as chicken and waffles, or serving a spicy breakfast wrap at lunchtime. Other employees may be looking for a more substantive snack around 4:00 pm, such as a smaller portion of a “real” meal.
- New flavors: Trend experts suggest that diners will continue to be interested in ethnic and street foods, particularly in sauces and dips. Pickled and sour foods, such as Kim chi and other pickled vegetables, are expected to become more popular in the workplace.
- Technology trends: Apps for consumers, with menus and daily deals, will continue to be popular in 2014. Other growing technology trends include mobile payment options and using social media for market and loyalty programs—all of which USConnect provides, and has been a leader in bringing to the corporate food service market.