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Food Briefs

The Industry Is Growing by Leaps, Bounds

October 16, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Three distinct developments are fueling the explosive growth in the food industry's new products category: technological innovation, the gourmet upgrade and appeals to health consciousness.

On the various fronts, manufacturers are unveiling food and household items at a record pace this year in what amounts to a wholesale redesign of grocery cart contents. What was once considered an extremely conservative industry is beginning to acquire the short attention span of the fashion trade, where new styles are unveiled each year.

For example, while juice companies are further fortifying their products with essential minerals, dairy firms are using fizz and flavors to make milk more sultry than its wholesome, but somewhat dull, image.

Then there are the food technologists and genetic engineers who are bringing different shapes not only to packages, but to familiar produce items and protein sources. And while the snack food people add every conceivable variation to chips and dips, other companies continue to enter the lucrative between-meal eating derby with yet more temptations.

This year's significant evolution prompted New Product News, a DFS-Dorland Worldwide publication, to comment recently that "Americans are rapidly becoming very adventuresome eaters."

In addition to their curiousity, consumers will also need voracious appetites to sample their way through some of the latest entries in the competition for supermarket shelf space. In the first eight months of 1986, for instance, there have been 1,659 food and household items making debuts. The total exceeds by 200 the number of introductions during a corresponding period in 1985, according to New Product News.

Still open for speculation, though, is whether perceived changes in public consumption are driving manufacturers to constantly update. Or is the innovation glut a result of the companies' quest to increase market share with ever enlarging product lines? Whichever is true, surveys have shown that most new products fail to reach sales goals and are withdrawn from the market.

Some of the latest hopefuls follow.

The Fortification Game--Sources of calcium are coming in many different forms apart from the over-the-counter supplemental tablets. The proliferation is encouraged by medical research, which indicates a significant portion of the population, primarily women, is deficient in the mineral.

Now, Citrus Hill Plus Calcium makes it possible to obtain 33% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended daily intake of calcium in only an eight-ounce glass of juice drink--or the same as found in a similar serving of milk. The Procter & Gamble Co. product is being touted as one of the best available food sources for the mineral. The 300-milligram level in a single glass of the orange or grapefruit varieties is exceeded on a per-serving basis only by fresh collard greens, sardines with bones or plain, low-fat yogurt.

The firm also claims that the calcium in Citrus Hill is more digestable than that found in other food sources. What is likely to be the first highly fortified juice drink was made possible by the development of a manufacturing process that maintained an acceptable citrus flavor in addition to the mineralization.

Other calcium-laden items still in limited test markets include Coca-Cola Co.'s reformulated Tab soft drink and an experimental product developed by the California Milk Advisory Board called Vital 15. The latter is a calcium- and vitamin-fortified milk in the midst of a San Diego-area trial run.

Milk's Makeover--Vital 15 is another in a procession of dairy products being introduced in hopes of stemming the decline in national milk consumption while making inroads on the lucrative soft drink segment. One of the most promising such beverages is a carbonated milk being tested by the United Dairy Industry Assn., a Chicago-based organization. Despite considerable press attention, the product has not moved beyond the laboratory.

Another hopeful is Dad's Old Fashioned Root Beer-Flavored Milk now being distributed in Detroit. The beverage is a more drinkable version of an ice cream float made with Dad's Root Beer. At present, a 32-ounce carton sells for $1.19.

Flavor is also a key word in the recently introduced Tootje, a liquid dessert which originated in the Netherlands and is now manufactured in California. Tootje is a rich, fluid, pudding-like product in chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. Known generically in Europe as vla , the dessert is made with as much as 90% milk and with a lower sugar content than either ice cream or yogurt. Vla is so popular with the Dutch that the per-capita consumption is about 28 pounds annually, according to Mach Schoneveld, who introduced the product to this country.

However, Tootje is having a little trouble breaking into the U.S. market. It will soon be renamed Touje because its current spelling and pronunciation too closely resemble that of the candy roll trademarked as Tootsie.

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