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The importance of nutrition expertise in food and drink innovation

Make Innovation Happen is a new service that is available to help businesses innovate or develop new products. The Scottish food and drink industry is currently thriving and it is well known that for businesses to grow and be successful, innovation is key.

At the Make Innovation Happen event last week in Edinburgh, there were a variety of very insightful and thought-provoking presentations on food and drink innovation and trends. From a personal perspective, food innovation is one of my main passions, and as Registered Nutritionist, I get so excited helping companies develop innovative food and drink products. It is also a bonus being able to help businesses effectively highlight any nutrition and health benefits of their products to a wide audience. However, I left the event on Friday feeling rather disappointed that public health nutrition seems to have little importance to the Make Innovation Happen service.

Allene Bruce from New Nutrition Business gave a fascinating presentation on some of the key trends in food, nutrition and health. A big trend that offers opportunities to all food and drink categories is the rise of snacking options. With convenience being a key driver in consumer choice, New Zealand fruit producers have taken this to the extreme and have developed a more convenient kiwi fruit. Now, I thought a kiwi fruit was already a convenient snack!, but a kiwi fruit that is skinless and bite-sized does sound good - no need to cut in half and scoop out with a spoon and then find somewhere to discard the skins. Also, flavoured baby beetroots have been developed in a convenient snack-sized peel and reseal pack. With only 3 in 10 adults and 1 in 10 teenagers currently achieving the 5-a-day fruit and veg target, I think any innovation that encourages consumers to eat more fruit and veg is great!

Another trend that was also mentioned by Allene is the use of coconut in products. This is reflected in the recent blog on the New Nutrition Business website. The advice from the blog is to ‘leverage the naturally healthy message’ and ‘use social media to communicate the potential benefits of coconut’. However, there is clear scientific evidence that coconut oil is high in calories and high in saturated fat, which we should be trying to reduce! As a Registered Nutritionist who is passionate about improving public health nutrition in Scotland, this bothers me. I understand that businesses need to develop products that will meet consumer demand and match some of the emerging consumer trends, but shouldn’t we be focusing on innovating healthy food and drink products, or at least not trying to delude consumers by communicating ‘potential’/non-evidence based ‘benefits’ of ingredients like coconut in food products?

Scotland has a rich larder of ingredients that provide numerous opportunities for healthy food and drink innovations….high quality meats, a huge range of seafood and seaweeds, berries, root vegetables, rapeseed oil, oats, barley, milk and cheese to name a few.

In recent years, there has been an upsurge of ‘nutrition’ experts and there is a vast amount of nutrition information available online. Allene highlighted that currently the most influential people to consumers are the vast number of online health and nutrition bloggers. In one of my previous articles I highlighted the importance of seeking advice from a Registered Nutritionist. Thankfully, Dietitians and Registered Nutritionists are beginning to flag up some of the misinformation on nutrition and diets that is available on social media and on product labels and marketing materials. Check out @One_Angry_chef @FightTheFads and @Rooted_Project who regularly correct nutrition misinformation.

What would be really useful is if there was more engagement between Registered Nutritionists and food and drink businesses, marketing professionals, PR companies, and high profile health bloggers. This would help reduce the misinformation consumers are faced with and help consumers make evidence-based informed dietary choices. It could even help Scotland progress towards being a Good Food Nation!

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