Consumers demand more food transparency

Although the U.S. has the dubious reputation of being the fattest nation on Earth, many Americans increasingly favor healthy, organic and wholesome foods. That makes for a favorable climate for small markets and restaurants, farms-to-food providers, and local dairies. As U.S. consumers move toward health food and away from processed, manipulated and junky products, large food manufacturers may well lose a portion of their market share to home-grown eateries.

In order for that to happen, the supply and demand equation must also align. Many organically-labeled items also come with a marked-up price due to the increase in quality. Junk food, by comparison, is often much cheaper, as producers can pump out flavored corn chips for little cost. However, new regulations and developments within the food industry could help shift the market from favoring big corporations to supporting small businesses.

The labeling debate rages on
Genetically modified organisms have been the topic of much discussion in the last couple of years. Opponents of GMOs cite unhealthy additives and inorganic compounds, saying that food should be completely wholesome, natural and untainted. Proponents argue that GMOs are not unhealthy, that the ingredients are not harmful and that they help farmers produce more crops. But there is little debate when it comes to labeling these products – Americans overwhelmingly support it, according to the Associated Press.

In a December poll, 66 percent of Americans indicated they supported the labeling of GMOs, while only 7 percent opposed it. The remainder were indifferent. Many individuals believe the identifier will allow them to better judge whether or not a product is processed or otherwise unhealthy.

"GMO ingredients aren't the number one thing, but more than likely within a processed food I'd find something that is a genetically modified product," poll respondent Andrew Chan of Seattle told the Associated Press.

The FDA has not mandated the labeling of GMOs, claiming that there are no adverse side effects. However, many consumers feel not enough is known about GMOs to safely make that assumption – and still, they feel they have a right to know what's in their food. If the FDA imposes such regulation, companies that rely on corn starch and high fructose corn syrup for their ingredients may find it harder to market their products as being healthy.

Unraveling the 'natural flavors' mystery
Much like GMOs, artificial flavors have permeated foodstuffs across the world. In the U.S., the flavor industry regulates the safety of its own ingredients, according to the Associated Press, and consumers are clamoring for a right to see that data.

"Natural flavors can mean whatever," Sara Budowsky, a New York City resident who runs a vegan eating website, told the Associated Press. "I've always been curious when I see that last part of the ingredient list."

There is a distinction to be made between 'natural flavors' and 'artificial flavors' that also carries some weight. 'Natural flavors' must be obtained through the fermentation or distillation of fruit, meat, spices or other natural ingredients. 'Artificial flavors' can be achieved through chemical means.

Flavor safety is determined by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association. So far, the group has approved nearly 3,000 different flavors. Still, consumers in contact with the FDA expressed their desires to see the information on a website or some other public place, so that they can know exactly what they're eating.

All of these trends puts small, local and organic food providers at an advantage, as they will have nothing to hide.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, leaders in food service equipment financing. Marlin is a nationwide provider of equipment financing solutions supporting equipment suppliers and manufacturers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.