Diet trends affect market

Those in the food processing and retailing business are on the front lines of consumer food whims.

Those in the food processing and retailing business are on the front lines of consumer food whims. They are usually the first ones to feel the economic effects of consumer buying preferences and they try to respond by adjusting their marketing plans. One of those food whims involves fad diets, and their impact on agricultural commodities can be bigger than many might presume. It has to do with the power of media on a gullible public that wants instant gratification for the least effort. The diet promotion industry is probably the number one exploiter of that human predilection. In fact it probably generates billions of dollars through clever marketing schemes that prey on the foibles of human nature.

The most recent fad diet scheme involves gluten-free food products. Hucksters on TV talk shows have painted gluten as being the new poison in the human diet. Instant health is claimed for those that buy anti-gluten books, CDs and food products. There may be a case for those that are indeed allergic in some way to gluten. But over two thousand years of gluten consumption and an ever expanding world population would indicate that the dangers of gluten may be exaggerated.

But never underestimate the gullibility of consumers and their impact on food marketing. Recently grain milling organizations have reported that the amount of wheat being milled is either lower or static. They blame reduced demand from the baking industry, and they in turn blame reduced retailer and consumer demand.

It comes down to the perception that bread and other bakery products are the source of all the bad gluten, and consumers are changing their food buying practices and eating habits. The contention is that consumer buying is being pushed by misleading anti-gluten promoters. Clearly there is some truth to that reality if bread and bakery sales are in the decline. The milling industry is concerned, but clings to the hope that this is just another fad diet that will run its course in a couple of years. In the meantime processors and marketers have been rushing new gluten-free products to market. Some marketing deception was bound to occur with marketers promoting products as being gluten-free even though they never had gluten in them in the first place – it seems all is fair in the advertising war. It reminds one of the bogus organic marketing advertising where products like tea, coffee and maple syrup are marketed as being organic. The naïve consumer of course would be unaware that the vast majority of those products were always grown without chemicals and fertilizers because it’s too costly to use them on a commercial scale.

Another diet that affected commodity pricing was the Atkins diet, it promoted weight loss through the consumption of high levels of red meat particularly beef. That diet for a number of years actually had an impact on increased demand and higher prices for beef. It took a few years but the impact of the Atkins diet on the beef has faded, no doubt to the disappointment of the entire cattle and beef industry. Be that as it may, even though fad diets have the ability to impact certain commodities, they are themselves affected by that old disciplinarian of the marketplace that being the threshold of price pain. Consumers it seems are willing to buy into diet fads and food trends until they feel the pain of high prices – at that point they vote with their wallet.

The organic industry found that out in 2008/09 when the global economic downturn saw many consumers become much more concerned with their food expenditures and returned to buying less expensive regular food. Apparently the supposed health benefits of organic food wasn’t enough to stop many of those consumers from abandoning the cause. It shows that these types of niche foods can be on shaky economic and marketing ground with consumers.

Although millers may be grinding less wheat because of the impact of a fad diet that hasn’t impacted the overall wheat market. That’s because consumers in most parts of the world aren’t concerned with gluten content, they are much more concerned with where their next meal comes from and at what cost. The same goes for organic food; one is less inclined to be concerned about how food is raised when impending starvation is a fact of life. Only in overfed North America and Europe can we indulge in these fad diets and food trend absurdities.