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|October 2012 • http://www.foodchannel.com|
IN THIS EDITION
Food Allergy Business Spreads Across the U.S.
As the pervasiveness of diagnosed food allergies continues to spread across the nation, food manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with the demand for safe food options.
The occurrence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis—the life-threatening rapid onset allergic reaction to things like peanuts and shellfish—increased by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Today, four out of every 100 children have a food allergy. All told, about 12 million Americans deal with some kind of food allergy daily.
The top eight food offenders are responsible for 90 percent of allergic reactions. They are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans, according to the FDA.
Each year, food allergies are responsible for more than 30,000 emergency room visits. Though statistics often conflict, it is believed that about 150 to 200 Americans die annually from severe allergic reactions to food.
Millions more people are simply intolerant to certain foods, which typically means they have trouble digesting them.
In the last few years, the race to create safe and tasty food options has become big business. The wide variety of gluten-free food products has probably been the most visible example.
One of the leaders in providing allergen- and gluten-free products is Whole Foods. The upscale natural foods retailer saw its sales increase by 12 percent in 2011, topping $10 billion.
Whole Foods, with its own gluten-free bakery, plans to open around 30 new stores in fiscal 2013.
Only about 1 percent of Americans suffer from celiac disease, a condition that prohibits the ingestion of foods containing gluten. And yet food products proclaiming to be gluten-free are flooding the market, and are some of the hottest sellers on supermarket shelves today.
Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains and is also used as an additive to thicken or flavor many other foods. The vast majority of beers also include gluten.
Gluten, for most of us, is a totally harmless protein. But for that 1 in 100 of us with celiac, gluten can cause painful stomach distress and lead to long-term health problems. That tiny 1% minority has been very vocal in recent years in their demands for more foods without gluten, and manufacturers have responded with a growing number of gluten-free products.
As reported in a story by Katy Steinmetz for TIME magazine, you can now find gluten-free foods everywhere. Your favorite store likely stocks everything from Betty Crocker gluten-free cake mixes to gluten-free Redbridge beer from Anheuser-Busch and many more in between. Some restaurants now have an entire section of their menu devoted to dishes without gluten.
The market for products without gluten protein is valued at $4.2 billion today, according to a report from Packaged Facts.
But, as Steinmetz points out, it is the bandwagon-jumping trend followers who are now driving the movement, rather than the celiac sufferers.
A recent survey showed that only about 10% of people who purchased gluten-free products did so because they are gluten-intolerant. Most of those surveyed simply interpreted “gluten-free” as meaning the product was somehow healthier, higher in quality or maybe something to help them lose weight.
Some celebrities have jumped aboard the gluten-free bandwagon, the latest being singer Miley Cyrus, who credits the diet for her more slender figure, and more. She recently tweeted, “everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing! U won’t go back!”
Cyrus’ suggestion that “everyone should try it” is off-target, experts say. A gluten-free diet is only strongly recommended for people who are diagnosed with celiac disease.
But hype and publicity have given the words “gluten-free” some real cache in the marketplace. It has simply become trendy to buy products emblazoned with those two magic words—and more and more food manufacturers want to get their share of that gluten-free pie.
You can find a list here of some of the gluten-free products available on the market today.
Restaurants have begun to offer gluten-free menu options, and to include allergen information in their nutritional disclosure materials. They’re updating their signs and menus for diet-conscious customers, and highlighting potential problems for those with food allergies or other dietary restrictions. Wendy’s now has a gluten-free menu. Signs at Noodles & Co. warn customers that food may feature potential allergens such as gluten and soy.
“If you can demonstrate to families that you can offer them a safe meal, you establish a tremendous sense of loyalty and create repeat customers,” said Chris Weiss, a vice president at the nonprofit Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. Weiss was quoted in a story by Tiffany Hsu for the Los Angeles Times. “As we look to the future,” Weiss says, “we’ll definitely see more restaurants doing this.”
A new Massachusetts law this year requires restaurants to display a food allergy awareness poster in kitchens and to print notes on menus asking customers with allergies to inform servers. Allergy advocacy groups are pushing for similar laws in other states.
TV’s Doctor Oz has weighed in on food allergies. “Up to 200 million people, that’s more than half the population, have hidden food allergies that are making them sick,” he says.
On a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show, longtime food allergy sufferer Elizabeth Hasselbeck of The View identified top four food types that she and Dr. Oz state that can be causing hidden food allergy problems for many people: corn, wheat, dairy and peanuts.
Dr. Oz explains that what classifies these food items as hidden allergens is that unlike some foods or substances that can cause an immediate reaction once ingested, that in less-susceptible individuals it may take hours, days, even weeks later before a person experiences a symptom—therefore, making it very difficult to pin a symptom to a particular food allergy.
Two hundred million people in the U.S. with food allergies? Wow. The food allergy food business has a growth potential that’s hard to even fathom. We expect those in the food business will be paying very close attention.
Smith & Wollensky Teams Up with The Mission Continues
Smith & Wollensky, the noted steakhouse brand of restaurants, has announced that it will partner with The Mission Continues, by donating a portion of its proceeds from two of the steakhouse’s signature wines. A Private Reserve Red & White Gift Pack of handcrafted wines from Vintage Wines will benefit the program. A Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Kunde Family Estate in the Sonoma Valley, and the Private Reserve Meritage is from Girard in Napa Valley.
The Mission Continues awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans. The chosen Fellows serve for six months at a local non-profit organization, giving them a chance to acclimate back into daily life while still satisfying their desire to lead and serve.
For more information about this opportunity to give back, read the full story in The Food Channel.
What’s in the Wine? Vintner Lists Ingredients
Trailblazing winemaker Randall Grahm, proprietor of the Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, Calif., boldly went where no vintner had gone before.
Grahm decided to list all the ingredients used in making his wines. Included in the list, in addition to fermented grapes, you will find things like tartaric acid, sulfur dioxide, or French oak chips–all spelled out on the label in the name of consumer transparency.
After all, he figured, one of the most ballyhooed trends in the food and beverage world today is the public’s desire to know what, exactly, is in our food and drink.
But, according to a story by Eric Asimov in The New York Times, Grahm’s bold move has met mostly with indifference.
“I imagined it would have an impact,” Grahm told Asimov. “I wasn’t sure if there would be a backlash, or they would be freaked out, but most people haven’t really noticed. In a perfect outcome, I would have liked to see interest, and gradually the start of a drumbeat about transparency.”
The lack of reaction is surprising, considering all the avid label readers who prowl the aisles of supermarkets and natural food stores today. And wine connoisseurs are always interested in things like year of vintage and growing region, as well as subtleties like flavor notes and oakeyness.
But so far, wine drinkers don’t seem to care much about reading a list of ingredients, and very few wine makers are following Grahm’s lead.
Shinn Estate Vineyards on Long Island, N.Y., is one winery that thinks Grahm’s idea is a good one. “I had read about what he was doing and realized that if full disclosure, transparency and honesty were important, we should be labeling our wine,” said David Page, the owner of the Shinn winery along with his wife, Barbara Shinn.
Some other wineries have begun to post ingredient information online, so perhaps there is a movement afoot. But many vintners are still reluctant.
The fact is, the more sizable industrial wineries today manipulate their wines much more extensively than small players like Bonny Doon and Shinn. Most of these big wineries would rather not talk about, much less print on the label that they add stuff like Mega Purple or Ultra Red–grape concentrates used in red wines to darken color or improve the texture.
So we’ll call this an emerging trend, one that may take years to go mainstream—or perhaps never will.
But we think it’s a pretty good idea.
Childhood Obesity Declines in Some States
Efforts to improve nutrition in meals served at schools are beginning to show some positive impact in the fight against childhood obesity.
In places where schools took an early lead on nutritional improvements, childhood obesity rates are down slightly, as reported in a story by Nanci Hellmich for USA Today.
Rates have declined in several cities and states including Mississippi, California, New York City, Philadelphia, El Paso and Anchorage, according to two groups tracking the childhood obesity trend.
Hellmich quotes pediatrician James Marks, a senior vice president for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which issued a summary report on the topic. “We’ve had 30 years of increasing rates of obesity, but we might be seeing the turning point for this epidemic,” said Marks. “There are enough communities that have had declines that it shows any community that makes these kinds of changes could see their children get healthier.”
A law passed in 2010 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve nutrition standards for all food served in schools. The standards were set up to improve the health of about 53 million children who attend primary and secondary schools, where kids consume some 30- to 50% of their daily calories.
The changes went into effect nationally this school year, and most students are now consuming fewer calories than in previous years. And of course, first lady Michelle Obama has famously made the fight against childhood obesity one of her high-profile projects.
Not that there hasn’t been some push back from students and even teachers, especially at the high school level. They claim they are still hungry after eating the new slimmed-down lunches.
A YouTube video parody was posted earlier this fall, created by two teachers and some high school students in Kansas. It shows students singing We Are Hungry as they try to make it through the school day. Among the lyrics: “Give me some seconds/I need to get some food today/ My friends are at the corner store/ Getting junk so they don’t waste away.”
Many students from across the U.S. have criticized the new healthier meals on websites and blogs. Some have decided to boycott the new meals, and now bring their own lunch.
Now that evidence has begun to show the new school lunch guidelines are having a positive impact, perhaps students will be more likely to embrace them.
Or at least stash a granola bar or two in their backpacks before they head to school in the morning.
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