CHICAGO -- The state of the food industry can be summed up with F-words -- nine of them, in fact.
At the recent Food Marketing Institute convention, Martin Friedman, editor of New Product News, reviewed product introductions and trends of the past year, in categories from Fitness to Fun. Here's his perspective on some of the 13,244 new products reported by the magazine in 1990. Note that some products might not be available locally.
Fitness -- Consumers are snapping up anything that will make them healthier and help them live longer. This includes diet foods as well as foods with some nutritional benefit.
The "light" is on, with everything from fast food to cat food coming out in reduced-calorie versions. Witness the proliferation new items tied to diet products: Ultra Slim-Fast entrees, hot cocoa and frozen desserts and Lean Cuisine desserts.
Fiber -- In the last year, "the fiber hit the fan," Mr. Friedman noted. The fiber category has seen its heyday, though there are still a few new entrants, including oat bran pancakes, pita bread and pasta. There's even a high-fiber juice from Gerber. Rainbo's IronKids Bread -- a fiber-enriched white bread -- has already added a line of hamburger and hot dog buns.
Fat -- This is "the most important nutritional buzzword of the early 1990s," Mr. Friedman said. Take the express train out of Fat City with the likes of fat-free cheese, salad dressings and yogurt. There's even a fat-free sour cream.
Reduced-fat baking mixes from Duncan Hines, Pillsbury and Betty Crocker let the home baker turn out low-fat goodies similar to those now flooding the stores.
Big winner in the low-fat category is ConAgra's Healthy Choice, which started with frozen dinners and entrees and now sells low-fat entrees in microwavable buckets as well. There's even a Healthy Choice egg substitute and a frozen dessert. Kids can lighten up with Snoopy's Choice frozen meals, also from ConAgra.
Fast -- Time is at a premium in the morning. Thus, the market has seen a flood of a.m. quickies. Most bizarre: Jimmy Dean Flapsticks, a sort of breakfast corn dog that consists of pancake-wrapped breakfast sausage -- on a stick.
Shelf-stable microwave foods are big in this category, particularly those in microwavable cups or buckets. You can find light buckets, big buckets for hearty eaters and child-size buckets. Gerber has introduced Graduates, mini-bucket meals for children ages 1 to 4, while Hormel sells Kid's Kitchen entrees.
Another big category is the microwave "helper" -- products that require more than simple heating. Examples: Del Monte Pantry Express, Kraft Mac and Cheese Dinner, Budget Gourmet Quick Stirs.
Fresh -- Fresh has been a problem for food manufacturers; consumers have been slow to embrace name-brand, packaged produce. Some newcomers: DeGiorno, a line of fresh pasta and sauce from Kraft, and Green Giant Potatoes. Weather has halted the supply of Summerfield's Tomatoes, which are vine-ripened tomatoes shipped and sold in hard plastic containers.
Fractional -- Forget the environment; this category includes products in smaller packages for single diners or smaller products for children. Examples: Ritz Bits Sandwiches, Keebler Elfkins, Single Serve Bac-Os.
Single-serve buckets also fall into this category.
Fun -- The fruit snack category is ripe for fun stuff. Brock Candy Co. makes sharks, dinosaurs and apes; the newest collection will include Peter Pan characters. Fruit by the Foot is a 1-inch-by-3-foot roll of "chewy fruit snack."
Of course, the undisputed champs in this category are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in everything from fruit snacks to cookies.
Famous people's foods -- Real people are hard to find in this category. You've got Flintstones Push-Ups and Bart Simpson bubble gum, not to mention Mrs. Fields selling chocolate chips in the grocery store. Restaurants got in on the act, with Bennigans, Domino's and Ma Maison all coming out with bottled condiments.
Ben and Jerry, who became famous because of their ice cream, are now, as famous persons, pushing Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream.
Friendly (to the environment) -- The convention floor was full of recycled and recyclable bags and boxes. If you're looking to stock an environmentally friendly pantry, start with recycled paper products and cleaning products that come in concentrated formulas.
Fun food facts:
*It wasn't enough for Conway Twitty to develop Twitty City, a Nashville-area tourist complex. Now he's the name behind Twitty Bird Wild Bird Food, "the only brand that really sings." Target audience: female fans of the country crooner and kids who will go for the cartoon bird in the product logo.
*Expect to see iced coffee and more iced coffee on supermarket shelves. The convention floor held at least four brands: Hillside Coffee, Prince of Peace Jamaican Gold, P'Nosh and Original New York Express. This is a relatively new product, but more variations on the theme will appear this summer, including new flavors, decaffeinated, unsweetened and cappuccino style You may not see all brands in your local market, but keep looking. Some stores put the cans on the coffee aisle, while others keep them refrigerated, near the milk.
*If Coors Light isn't quite light enough, wait for the introduction of Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water, in original, lemon-lime and cherry. It's in test markets now.