“This is some sort of return of an upward trend. But, unfortunately, most of that is being eaten up by inflation.” Also, consumers are very hesitant to open up their pocketbooks, he adds.
To cope with this, food & beverage manufacturers “may have gone to on-demand production where they can,” says Todd, a 32-year veteran of the industry. “This has probably impacted companies’ expansion plans, too.”
Manufacturers have had to become more creative. “Lots of manufacturers have had some success in producing more convenient packaging. There’s also smaller packages; for instance, the 100-calorie packages,” Todd says.
“As for new products, companies are more aggressively looking for true new ones,” Todd observes. “But that’s not some ‘Lite’ extension of an existing product, or a new flavor of a cereal.” The new products about which The Food Institute has been reporting are health-based ones—functional foods that have health benefits.
“Gluten-free products seem to be one of those new foods,” Todd says.
But, still the biggest current challenge to the industry ties in with the economy, Todd states. “We’re waiting for the economy to increase and waiting for consumers to spend more.” He laments that the industry was used to much more steady growth than it sees now—and that’s whether it was a 3, 4 or 5 percent increase. “But it’s just slowed down so much over the past three years. Growth trickles,” he says.