If there was one message that was drilled home to delegates attending the recent Canola Council of Canada conference in Toronto, it’s that canola oil fits the diets of consumers looking for healthier food choices.
As the general North American population gets older and fatter, canola oil can play an important role in helping to reduce heart disease and diabetes, the conference learned. It is all part of a lifestyle that emphasizes the importance of eating a proper, well-balanced diet, coupled with exercise.
The Canadian agriculture industry, from producers through to processors and food retailers, needs to be operating at least one step ahead of consumers, says an expert on North American consumer trends.
Phil Lempert, also know as the “Supermarket Guru”, spoke at the conference. He says the agriculture and food industry has to anticipate consumer needs and provide the type of products and services consumers will be demanding over the next five, 15 or 30 years.
Lempert, regarded as an expert in his field, is the food trends editor and correspondent for NBC News’ Today show, where he reports on consumer trends, food safety and money-saving tips, as well as showcases new products. He makes monthly appearances on ABC’s The View, and has appeared numerous times on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, CNN, CNBC, Discovery Health and MSNBC, as well as on local television morning and news programs throughout the U. S.
A key finding of his research shows that as consumers get older, they are looking for healthier food choices. “As the baby boomers get older and essentially get closer to death, they are becoming more concerned about their health,” says Lempert. “The health benefits of canola oil fit well with this changing lifestyle, but the value and the importance of the product need to be communicated properly.”
Lempert says not only do the health benefits of canola need to be promoted, but it also comes down to packaging with labels that are easy to read and understand, and bottles that are easy to open.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND CONSUMER TRENDS
Most people today say they feel seven to 10 years younger than their actual age, so marketing of products has to be geared toward how they feel and not toward their years.
The consumer obsession with food will continue. Fad diets will always be factor, but “globesity” (a world getting fatter) will shift consumer interest toward fresh, healthier foods.
Major grocery chain stores will get considerable smaller. Costco, Safeway and Walmart, for example, are already looking at building 10,000-square-foot stores versus the 60,000-or 70,000-square-foot stores. Consumers are not only looking for stores that are easier to navigate and provide more personalized service, but it also means the competition among products for space on store shelves will become fierce.
Personal electronic devices such as cell phones and other scanners will make it possible for consumers to scan bar codes on products, and learn about production practices, compare product prices between stores, and where applicable even be able to see a photo of the farmer who produced the particular product. Traceability will be a major factor.
Consumers will be more interested in bargains. More will shop with coupons. Products will have to be price competitive.
An aging population will be more conscious of spending — they will eat out less and eat home more. Fast food restaurants will likely be relatively secure, but mid-price-range restaurants will be at risk.
There will be increasing interest among consumers in “green” products.
Food has to be bulletproof in terms of being healthy, safe and of high quality. There won’t be any second chances for products associated with disease or health risks such as E. coli contamination.
In the U. S. in particular, a major change in consumer demographics continues with more ethnic consumers in the marketplace. Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and Black consumers now out number White consumers, which means food products need to appeal to the various ethnic tastes.
Looking ahead to trends in 2050, Lempert says the world will need twice the food, but it will be produced on half the land base, and both air and water could be considerably dirtier. It will be important for agriculture to dramatically reduce its environmental footprint. The industry will also need to respond to climate change.
And he says all farmers will have to make money from farming. The economy cannot be such that producers will have to say they sold land for urban development just to survive.
As Canadians are getting fatter, which dramatically increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, we need a major emphasis on developing a healthy lifestyle. This
is a combination of more exercise and eating healthier foods.
Laura Syron, vice-president, research, advocacy, and health promotion with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, told delegates attending the Canola Council of Canada conference that childhood obesity is “a ticking time bomb” reaching near epidemic proportions.
Syron says a major initiative of the foundation is to get children eating right and exercising.
“Research shows that 80 per cent of all heart disease can be prevented with improved lifestyle choices,” says Syron. “We know that 28 per cent of the children in Ontario between the ages of two and 17 are either overweight or obese. Only half of the children today get the activity and exercise they should be getting. And 70 per cent don’t consume the minimum recommended daily servings of fresh fruit and vegetables. We are seeing more children today on cholesterol reducing drugs, as well as young people in their 20s and 30s dealing with high blood pressure, strokes and diabetes.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation in Ontario, with support of the Canola Council of Canada, has launched a number of programs to increase awareness and get children active, and eating healthier foods.
Dr. David Jenkins, professor of medicine and nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, says the incidence of diabetes and heart disease has dramatically increased over the past 20 years, “painting a very bleak picture” for the health of North Americans.
Jenkins says canola oil “is a good fat” in terms of increasing the good HDL cholesterol and lowering the bad LDL cholesterol.
He says canola oil and nuts such as hazelnuts and almonds all have the same effect on good and bad cholesterols. He described research in various parts of the world that showed including two to three servings of the “good fats” in the diet each week helped reduce diabetes by 34 per cent and reduce heart disease by 50 per cent.
Other research comparing groups of people eating diets that included canola oil margarine versus diets without canola oil margarine showed a 50 per cent reduction in deaths due to heart disease because of the canola oil.
Jenkins says research clearly shows the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) in canola oil benefit the heart as an anti-inflammatory. They are also anti-platelet, which helps reduce blockages that can lead to stroke, and they can help stabilize heart rhythm.
“We have lots of science that supports the health benefits of canola oil, now we need to mount clinical trials that really nail down these findings,” he says.
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews out of Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by e-mail at [email protected]