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If artificial ingredients are out, what's in for 2016?

The trend for 2016 is clearly away from artificial ingredients — though Sensient's CEO told Food Dive synthetics will always be an ingredient in the food supply. If Innova Market Insights is right that clean label has moved from niche trend to industry standard, what will 2016 bring in ingredients?

Beyond clean to clear and transparent

Ingredient companies still have work to do to help more food companies achieve clean labels. "The single most important trend for 2016 global food ingredient markets will be the overriding momentum for food ingredient suppliers to deliver simple ingredients for clean labels," said Mark Hughes, President, Anderson Partners Food Ingredient Marketing, in an email.

But clean is not enough. The demand for transparency is on the rise, supported by the SmartLabel initiative and new types of food testing offered by Clear Labs. Innova calls the transparency trend "clear label," making its growth the company's top trend for 2016.

MSL Group calls the trend "radical transparency." According to a draft forecast provided by Steve Bryant, Director, Food & Beverage Marketing & Public Relations, "As faith in Big Food erodes, food companies large and small will earn consumer trust by engaging consumers in product development, stripping down ingredient labels and disclosing ingredient origins and production methods to satisfy even the most demanding consumers."

Stevia to take off

Due to concerns about obesity, diabetes, sugar intake, and artificial sweeteners, companies are looking for low-calorie natural sweeteners. Kevin Sherman, CMO of True Drinks, believes stevia will become the sweetener of choice for more companies. He says it's natural and non-GMO, fitting current consumer demands, though he admits formulation with stevia takes longer because of its bitter taste. One option for companies is to blend stevia with other natural sweeteners, such as monk fruit and coconut sugar.

Cargill agrees about the potential of stevia, pointing out the plant grows easily almost anywhere in the world and is sustainable. The company has made a big commitment to stevia, announcing EverSweet earlier this year. Persistence Market Research estimates the global stevia market was $347 million in 2014 and will be $565.2 million by 2020.

Bring on the savory

Savory is coming on big, especially in yogurts. "We'll still see the sweet yogurts, but people are shying away from all the added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Savory yogurts like dill and cucumber will be coming into stores soon,' said Libbie Summers, Creative Culinary Director for Terra’s Kitchen, in an email.

"Sweet and savory is a trend set to soar in 2016 as it continues to excite the consumer," according to Ciara McCabe, Consumer Insights Manager at Kerry Group, in an email. "Salted caramel has become a mainstream offering. As a result, consumers know that sweet and savory works. The beauty of this ingredient trend is the lack of restrictions with regards to food or beverage categories. The possibilities are endless."

Some fat is OK

Trans fats from PHOs are mostly on the way out, per the FDA, but consumers are no longer ubiquitously focused on low-fat products. "We're slowly starting to push aside the notion that we should exclude all fats, to becoming more aware that good fats create a balanced diet," said Darby Hughes, Trends Analyst at quench, in an email.

Mintel made one of its 2016 trends "Fat Sheds Stigma," saying, "Consumers’ awareness of the many sources of good and bad fats is ushering in a paradigm shift in which fat content is not the first and foremost consideration in the search for healthy products." The Specialty Food Association concurs, saying "Fat is Back."

Plant protein and the take on pulses

"2016 will begin to see more of the part-time vegetarian—the consumer who desires more food options made without meat," said David Spencer, President of S&F Foods, Inc., in an email.

"We see strong interest in the full range of plant-based proteins, specialty grains and seeds, nuts and nut butters and edible beans," said Jackie Anderson, a spokesperson for ADM, in an email.

In particular, the use of pulses appears set to trend. "The Pulse family, including quinoa, is a great way for consumers to explore a high-protein, high-fiber and gluten-free diet," said Brad Holley and Jim Adams, co-founders of Qrunch Organics, in an email. McCormick & Company agrees, listing "Alternative 'Pulse' Proteins" in the company's 2016 Flavor Forecast.

Ingredients that provide functional benefits

Ingredients currently trending in the functional food and beverage category include fibers, whole grains, dairy ingredients, proteins, and probiotics, according to Natural Products Insider.  "Digestive health, immune health and brain/memory health are gaining momentum in the food and beverage sector," said ADM's spokesperson Anderson.

Expect booming demand for fermented foods, such as kimchi, yogurt and sauerkraut, rich in "good bacteria," according to Bryant of MSL Group. Greg Malsin, co-founder of Project Juice, sees probiotics as the top ingredient trend for pressed juice.

McCormick & Company recognizes "Blends with Benefits" in its 2016 Flavor Forecast, specifically mentioning matcha green tea, flaxseed, chia seed, and turmeric.

From transparency to functional ingredients, 2016 promises to bring more challenges for ingredient companies as they strive to meet changing consumer demands.