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4 reasons why parkour is fastest growing sport

At London’s World Power Show, HealthGauge caught up with Parkour Generations founder Dan Edwardes, who we last heard from at the launch of writer Chris McDougall’s book “Natural Born Heroes” (read more). Such has been the success of Parkour Generations in the UK that the company is now reaching to new communities worldwide given the demand. But why is parkour now the world’s fastest growing lifestyle sport?

#1 Made you look

The increase in visibility of parkour is of course a factor. Whilst less then a decade ago most people wouldn’t have even heard of it, modern audiences have now come to expect parkour as a staple in mainstream action movies, games and even television shows like Ninja Warrior. It has also becoming less unusual to see people incorporating parkour elements into other training practices or training full parkour in public, re-energising the space in which skate boarding has become rather comfortable.

#2 Don’t need dollar bills to have fun

Gym memberships and equipment can be expensive. Even more so if you live in a big city like London where not only are membership prices astronomical, but so to is the price of the commute to the gym. With no money and informed primarily by YouTube videos, people can start to take their first steps into parkour. In adopting this discipline the world surrounding us transforms back into the playground that we viewed as a child, with the walls, rails, steps and benches of urban planning offering opportunities to run, climb and jump. Without the need for expensive apparel to look the part, it is also a fitness movement that manages to overcome divisions such as status, with Parkour Generations sessions seeing street kids training right alongside bankers and lawyers.

#3 Welcome to the jungle

Whilst bodybuilding is booming, so to is the other end of the spectrum, with people desiring a holistic return to nature that involves not only their food but also their fitness. MovNat and Wild Fitness or “rewilding” are helping to redefine how people approach health and fitness, in tandem with the growth in development of activewear products that, rather than being restrictive or dull sensory feedback (e.g shock absorption), are purposely designed to strip back to the bare essentials and in doing allow the body to return to doing what it does naturally. Whilst more commonly practiced in urban environments, parkour is actually very much a part of this natural movement trend as it enables it practitioners to ‘reclaim the streets’ and once again develop an physical relationship with their environment.

#4 – Human after all

The physical effects of practicing parkour doesn’t always mean broken bones or missing teeth. In fact it has historically been one of the more low-injury sports due to the fact that practitioners are more likely to be aware of the risks and instructors always recommend to develop slowly and safely. Whereas a sport like football doesn’t always have the same focus on safety, making it all to common to see a player come limping of a pitch following a bad slide tackle. Parkour promotes flexibility and range of motion with those who have trained to a more advanced level able to move with more effortless fluidity than your average lumbering person. There is also the calorie burn that comes from continued full body motion, not to mention the full body muscle development from jumping and lifting your own bodyweight repeatedly. Parkour trains the body athletically, densely packing muscle fibre into the lean build that for many is the preferred Bruce Lee/beach body look and not the bulky, pulsating bodybuilder look.

“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies.... Nobody should feel pressurised, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies and I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this.”
Sadiq Kahn, Mayor of London

Adverts that feature lean or athletic physiques are to be banned from Transport in London. The move will see an end to adverts such as the Protein World campaign that caused controversy, particularly amongst so-called feminists who staged a lackluster protest in London, drawing a crowd of dozens, many claiming to have suffered from eating disorders.

The move has raised concerns as to whether Mr Kahn’s “feminist” motives may, in fact, be more to do with religious sympathies. The London Mayor is known to have sucked up to Muslim extremists in the past and shared conference platforms with known jihadis, even calling reforming liberal Muslims, including the Quilliam Foundation “Uncle Toms”. Prime Minister David Cameron is also on record of having accused him of Islamist sympathies, then doing a complete u-turn and welcoming Kahn onto the remain campaign bandwagon as a “true Brit”.

However looking at Sadiq Kahn’s recent political career, the London Mayor voted both in favour of gay rights as well as saving a pub from closure in his constituency – hardly the actions of a closet Islamist. The ban of fit focused adverts is simply a case of political correctness aligning with the regressive left – a growing phenomenon that feeds off supposed feminism as well as religious and social freedoms to impose a culture of offense and censorship.

To ban the right to show inspirational female models who empower women through the celebration of fitness and the healthy female form is a backward step not just for the health and fitness industry but for liberal society as a whole. The fact of the matter is that in the West we are overfed, have growing rates of obesity and to purport that being overweight is the norm is a very irresponsible precedent to set. It is also a move that marginalises women’s freedom to think and form their own opinions. Attempting to protect women from ideas is about as far from true feminism as it is possible to get.

Insects lead the way in sustainability

According to a 2016 Global Food Policy Report (read more), the strategies currently employed to feed our population are proving less and less effective as the population grows, along with an increase in greenhouses gas emissions, water shortages and loss of arable land. At Natural & Organic Products Europe 2016 we had an opportunity to meet Christine Spliid, Founder of Crobar, a brand of cricket energy bars that recently launched in the UK, and part of a food source that experts have tipped as a potential solution to tomorrows nutritional challenges.

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”

Albert Einstein, a relatively clever guy, quite rightly observed that if an idea isn’t what we would classify today as ‘disruptive’ then it probably isn’t worth all that much. The notion of eating insects is a prime example. For those trying insects for the first time, this seemingly ‘absurd’ food experience is most commonly met with intrepidation. The whole idea seems crazy and gross. But this is often followed by an anti-climactic reaction of “it’s actually ok”. Immediately people overcome this “yuck factor” and all of a sudden something that seemed crazy is actually not so. In fact, when we then consider the sustainability and nutritional benefits, it would seem crazy not to take insects as a food source seriously

Let’s talk ‘ingredients’ rather than ‘insect’

Thanks to securing new investment Crobar have been able to rebrand the bars, this time using only very subtle hints as to its cricket flour content. As Spliid explained, the aim of this rebrand is to shift the conversation away from insects as a novelty and towards good, natural and sustainable ingredients. Indeed this is most likely how Crobar and other insect products can gain further ground. After all, the news is often littered with stories of how consumers fail to read the label. If a product happened to list cricket protein then who will really care that much? It certainly hasn’t bothered consumers who eat sweets and other foods dyed with carmine, a red coloring made from ground up cochineal insects.

Feeding the world with insects

Currently, Europe is seeing migration on a biblical scale, which, in addition to war, some have attributed to climate change. On the borders of Europe, camps are growing with swathes of migrants unable to feed themselves in a situation, which if left to worsen could start to resemble the camps of WW2. Whilst the idea of providing aid in the form of bags of whole insects may seem unimaginable, what if aid could be delivered in a form similar to Bengal famine mixture, which was a primitive soup supplement used to save the malnourished victims of camps such a Bergen-Belsen? What if a starving population were able to not only survive on an insect protein-based food supplement but even thrive? It would not only solve problems now, but it would also solve problems tomorrow. Reports universally concur that alternative food sources may be required to solve our future food challenges. But it may be the case that the future has come a lot sooner than expected.

For more on insects as food click here.

How we feed the world is unsustainable

Factory Farming

Image courtesy of plasticchef1

The International Food Policy Research Institute has released its flagship publication, the 2016 Global Food Policy Report, which provides an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events in the past year, and examines key challenges and opportunities for the coming year.

Today’s global food system has major weaknesses: nearly 800 million people are left hungry, one-third of the human race is malnourished, over half of some crops never make it to the table, and the planet is ravaged from environmentally unfriendly agricultural practices. As the global population is expected to soar exponentially in the coming years, we must examine ways to feed more people efficiently and sustainably, while combatting climate change.

IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan, said:

“This report shows that if we are to meet these goals, we have a lot of work ahead. We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.”

This year’s report takes a look at the latest research on opportunities and challenges the world will face in achieving multiple SDGs. The report includes chapters on climate change and smallholder farmers, sustainable diets, food loss and waste, and water management.

Climate Change & Smallholder Farmers

Evidence is strong that climate change will continue to have negative impacts on agriculture. Every year, 12 million hectares of land is degraded due to drought and desertification—that’s roughly the size of Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America. This is especially detrimental to smallholders, such as the 200 million smallholder farmers in Africa south of the Sahara who tend drylands. Conversely, the global food system accounts for one-fifth of all greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The development of climate-ready crops, which can lead to more efficient water use and improve yields, are key to feeding a growing population and adapting and mitigating against climate change.

Shifting Diets

Worldwide, the number of overweight people is two-and-a-half times larger than the number of undernourished people. Urbanization, increasing incomes, and higher demand for animal protein is changing diets in developing countries. Beef consumption, for example, is growing, and is one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally impactful foods to produce. Beef production requires four times more land (and four times as much greenhouse gas emissions) than dairy for every unit of protein consumed. Additionally, beef is seven times more resource-intensive than pork and poultry, and 20 times more than pulses.

In 2009, adding one American to the global population would have required an additional hectare of land, which is as big as the maximum size of a World Cup football field with more than 1,700 additional square meters to spare. It would also pump out an additional 16.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year—or the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving from New York to Los Angeles and back seven times.

Food Loss and Waste

Measuring food loss and waste is difficult but most studies estimate that between 27-32 percent of food produced never makes it to the table. This number is even higher for foods that are particularly susceptible to loss and waste such as fruits and vegetables. Food loss and waste occur differently in developed and developing countries. In developing countries, most food is lost at the production level—investments in infrastructure, transportation, and packing industries is key. In developed countries, most food is wasted at the retail and consumer level. Here, consumers need to be educated about food availability and appearance to reduce food waste.

Gender Inequality

Women are less prepared to overcome climate change than men. A study in Mali found that for men, access to irrigation allowed them to increase production nearly enough to offset climate shocks. This is not the case for women. According to the FAO, women with equal access to resources can increase yields by almost 30 percent and reduce the number of undernourished people by 17 percent. Removing those inequalities could reduce the number of undernourished people by up to 150 million.


Today, 85 percent of global water use goes to agricultural irrigation. Innovations such as climate-ready crops can greatly reduce this amount. Rice is the staple food of more than half of the world’s population and C4 rice, for example, can double water use efficiency and increase yields by almost 50 percent. Unless significant changes are made in global water consumption, most people will live under severe water shortage conditions by 2050.

Cam Expo 2015

Complementary health will for many conjure up ideas of quack practitioners performing strange voodoo rituals to exorcise the demons that cause you to get a headache. The swamp where spurious health misinformation runs rife. At CamExpo, an exhibition for complementary and natural health held at London’s Olympia we did indeed witness some kooky treatments like reiki, magnet and even tuning fork therapy for which the supporting science ranges from lacking to non-existent, but there was also a lot of good stuff spanning nutrition, supplements and fitness.

Proargi-9Proargi-9 was the winner of this year’s Best New Product Award. Designed primarily to support cardiovascular health uses l-arginine as well as five essential vitamins C, D3, K, B6 and B12 to give the additional benefits of supporting nervous, immune, bone, and blood health. The supplement comes in a single serve sachet in fruit flavours that are sweetened with Stevia.

the healthy juice companyThe Healthy Juice Company is a premium, organic, cold pressed, juice cleanse company. Packages (at prices starting from £87 per day) are delivered to your door in high quality packaging complete with sheep’s wool insulation and bee’s wax lined straws, containing 4 different juices and a cleanse elixir. The drinks contain a blend of high grade natural
whole super-food ingredients that boast a range of benefits such
as wheatgrass, milk thistle and coconut oil.

Food DetectiveFood Detective is a product that has caught our eye previously this year at Be:Fit London. It provides a potential solution to the problem of false self diagnosis of food intolerance, which that is currently plaguing the world of health. It has become an all to common occurrence for someone who’s health may not be at its peak to convince and then declare themselves as intolerant without a single shred of evidence. This can result in people removing foods from their diets unnecessarily whilst failing to address the root of the problem. The is an intolerance testing kit that works by the user adding a pin-prick of blood to developer solutions which are then applied to a dish containing tiny samples of 59 different food proteins including common allergens like dairy, wheat, gluten, soya, nut and shellfish. The results can be analysed at home or sent to Cambridge Nutritional Sciences to be analysed in laboratory conditions.

power board by casadaThe Power Board by Casada is an instability training device. The remote controlled platformed vibrated in an alternate tilting action which causes the body to reacts with rhythmic muscle contractions. These do not require great physical effort as muscles from head to toe are activated automatically. Larger areas of the muscle groups involved leads to sensational results, and your exercise becomes significantly more effective. It boosts your metabolism and fat burning, and helps you build muscles.

Footwear for the urban ninja

The Vivobarefoot Motus is the new shoe from the British barefoot style shoe company founded by Tim Brennan and Galahad Clark. The concept of barefoot style running attempts to reintroduce the many biomechanical benefits of walking, running and working out without shoes, as people commonly did 40,000 years ago and still do in many of the less developed areas of the globe. Adopting barefoot style can help to improve positive and the natural arch of the back, develop natural shock absorption using muscles and tendons, develop more precise motion control and improve sensory feedback. Ultimately what barefoot running does is stop your foot and body being a rubber encased nub, helping the body to feel more and react more.


The Motus is immediately striking with its appearance reminiscent of a ninja assassins shoe, specially in black with the red details. They are also available in Navy and White which all look equally as impressive. Vivobarefoot have been very keen to market the Motus as a shoe for Parkour and those who follow Parkour will identify that the Motus is very in keeping with that style.

Build Quality

The upper material is a dual ply mesh for maximum breathability as well as two outer layers with a fibrous centre keeping the fabric breathable. It is held on your feet with woven ropey laces as apposed to the flat ones you normally get on trainers and the eye placement seems to follow the natural curve of the foot rather than just being in a dead straight line. In addition the v-lock velcro strap holds the mid-foot firmly in place. The rubber protected toe box keeps feet safe from any sharp landings and is significantly wider than the toe box you normally get in conventional shoes and this is to enable the toes to splay and recoil. 

The v-move sole uses a hexagonally pattern grip with the grooves in between the hexagons allowing water to pass through, helping to stop any aquaplaning and any loss of traction. The varying size of the hexagons also helps to maintain the right balance. Whilst it is ultra-thin at just 4.5mm, it is extremely tough. So whilst you will feel more there is virtually zero risk of puncture. The shoes also come with insole liners, which is more for thermal insulation when running in the cold, but it does act to numb the ground feel a little.

Feel and Performance

As the majority of the shoe’s construction is a rigid plastic they have a harder overall feel when compared to barefoot style shoes like Vibram Fivefingers which can include more fabric. Despite this the shoes still provide sensitive ground feel. There has been some crafty design work around the toe box as it seems to produced something of a tardis effect, whereby the feel is almost like clown shoes given the amount of room for the toes have to move around, but from the outside they don’t appear that different from normal shoes.

The Motus are designed more for harder surfaces and are great for urban running, parkour and in the gym with the hexagonal grips great for holding onto hard, flat surfaces. On the downside they fair less well off-road and can be slippy on mud. The wider toe comes as a trade of for less raw climbing grip and foot placement precision when compared with Vibrams. The ropey laces are also prone to working themselves undone very quickly but there is plenty of slack for a double knot.


The Vivobarefoot Motus absolutely deliver on their proposition. They look slick and for free-runners, urban ninjas and those who embrace both barefoot and gym based functional training concepts it is the ideal shoe.

Vivobarefoot footwear can be purchased from Camping World.

Is food industry guilty of ‘sleight of hand’?

is natural healthy sleight of hand trick
You don’t have to be any kind of food expert to recognise that, as a rule of thumb, the closer to nature that you eat – the better your diet will be, which could be beneficial to your overall health in the long term. But is it really that straightforward?

Global consumer research consistently shows that consumers perceive this link between natural and health. DSM recently conducted a study into the perceptions of naturalness and health of 1,419 consumers from Europe and South Africa (read more). It found that 84% of shoppers consider natural products to be healthier than conventional equivalents. Qualitative consumer research on a group of 7,000 European consumers carried out by Beneo also found that when asked to prioritise different statements in order of importance, 70% of respondents from the five countries surveyed replied that ‘natural products are better’; with 65% of UK respondents preferring ‘all things natural’. This preference for natural ingredients was also reflected in terms of ingredients names: ‘chicory root extract’ outperformed other fibre names, such as maltodextrin and polydextrose with respondents, in terms of sounding healthier, safer and recognisable (read more).

In the UK a study conducted by MMR Research Worldwide found that consumers see natural to be a proxy for healthy (read more). Of the 3,100 surveyed, 44% claimed to be health aware and motivated to eat healthily. Food categories perceived as natural are most closely associated with a strong health profile. The five categories perceived as most natural were also considered the healthiest; bread, baked beans, fruit juice and smoothies, breakfast cereal and yoghurt.

A Canadian Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report also revealed that consumers are most likely to pay more for items with claims signifying natural production methods, such as “hormone-” and “antibiotic-free”, with 46 % of consumers say they are now more concerned about additives in food than they were in 2012 (read more).

Natural to be even bigger business

Food companies have become very aware of this association between natural and health, and if recent moves by global food giants are anything to go by then natural is looking to be an even bigger business over the next 4 years.

The retail market for natural and organic food and beverages is expected to grow at 10.1 % between 2014 and 2019, bringing the annual sales of natural and organic foods and beverages up to $86.7 billion in 2019. Coca-Cola, already riding the natural wave with the global rollout of Coca-Cola Life, decided to invest $90 million for a nearly 30% stake in Suja Juice – a company that produces beverages using non-GMO ingredients and high pressure instead of heat pasteurisation. Alongside other investors including Goldman Sachs, who invested a 20% stake at $60 million, Suja Juice is now valued at $300 million. Consumer desire for healthier drink options and the Coke’s need for product diversification were key drivers behind this decision to venture into the small but fast-growing organic market. But what will be the implications of this move to natural for food companies and consumers alike?

From natural niche to mainstream

Natural drinks are one current natural niche making it into the mainstream. They join a number of categories that have blazed the trail before with one of the biggest being yoghurt. Originally introduced as a niche health food product, yoghurt then went on to become a household staple following successful launches of products like the Swiss-invented Ski or the Japanese Yakult. What makes natural drinks different is that by the intrinsic nature of a drink being a transparent vehicle for it ingredients, it places those ingredients at the forefront. For instance, if you are talking about a cold-pressed apple and celery smoothie then the ingredients as well as the cold pressing process become the point of focus. Likewise, to declare that a drink is sweetened using only natural ingredients like stevia acts to ameliorate the issue of sweetener use. Ingredients are becoming the center of the conversation.

As a result, it has become and will continue to be even more difficult for food manufacturers to enjoy long-term success in the mainstream market with products perceived to be artificial. Beverage brands are already seeking alternatives to less healthy drink options. Earlier this month, Pepsi announced its decision to eliminate the artificial sweetener aspartame from Diet Pepsi. Even at the budget end of the market discount retailers are offering products that cater for this natural & organic market as consumers across the spectrum have become aware of potential adverse health implications of buying and consuming low-cost products containing ingredients like artificial colours, flavourings, and sweeteners, benzoate preservatives, brominated vegetable oil, high fructose corn, MSG, olestra, hydrogenated oils and nitrates.

The shift towards natural will almost certainly mean more food companies replacing artificial ingredients with natural in order to compete for market share, which is a good thing. But is there also the risk that food companies might exploit this perception, selling us food that we think is healthy when that might not be the case?

Is natural always “good” and healthy?

Whilst on the whole sticking to natural foods will often guide most of us towards a healthy diet, this is not always the case. Diagnosis of food intolerances have rocketed with the autoimmune condition ‘celiac disease’ thought to affect 1 in 10. Many of the foods that cause allergic reactions, such as gluten and lactose, come from natural sources. This creates something of a conflict in the perception that natural is always good for health. The resolution in the minds of consumers is a movement away from ‘bad processing’ with food products made using vegetables or more exotic ‘superfoods’, seeds and whole foods like quinoa taking more and more shelf space from conventional wheat or corn-based products like breakfast cereals as well as cheap processed foods bulked out with fillers. This has resulted in the rise of the free-form market, with the most optimistic reports predicting the global market to be worth over $8.8 billion by 2019. Sectors such as the bread and baked goods industry have had to adapt to this change with national brands developing gluten-free product lines or enriching their products with additional health ingredients as bread is no longer viewed as the healthy staple food it once was. According to Euromonitor International, gluten-free bakery products are the third fastest growing health and wellness category with sales up by 16% in 2014.

Fruit Bowl Yoghurt Flakes Sugar

Even foods that have been presented to consumers as the pinnacle of natural have come under fire. From ingredients to marketing Innocent Smoothies screams natural, and whilst the company may still be on track to global domination with positive sales results from its European rollout, the company did face something of a stumbling block when mainstream media brought it to the public’s attention that smoothies contained more sugar than virtually all other mainstream drink options on the market. Smoothies make it easy for us to consume quantities of fruit that would seem ludicrous if it were attempted in whole-fruit form. Fructose is of course completely natural, but the danger is in the dosage, and too much can contribute towards diabetes, obesity, tooth decay and even compromised liver function. Juices can also eliminate a lot of the fiber from fruit. Sure, consumers in the know will be aware that the occasional small sip or swallow or a smoothie will provide lots of vitamins, anti-oxidants, and other beneficial nutrients. However, those who are less informed may well gulp down a whole carton in a single sitting. Even higher sugar content still can be found in natural kids treats with Fruit Bowl’s Fruit Flakes containing 62% sugar. In fact of all tactics employed by the most popular confectionary brands, promoting that their product is made from natural ingredients has been the most effective in disguising the fact that their product is inherently unhealthy.

Another common misconception is that natural products support nature. The cute child’s crayon scribble of a happy and idyllic farm can be far removed from the realities of modern farming practices. Soy and palm oil production for example causes mass deforestation and resulting in the extinction of many animal species (read more). The damaging effects of such practices are key to the arguments in supporting research into artificial protein production such as lab-grown meat. In this instance, artificial has the potential to be more environmentally friendly than natural farming techniques.

Where does the buck stop?

Where does the responsibility lie in how the ‘natural’ tag is used to market foods? Should there be more stringent regulation around the use of ‘natural’, similar to that which surrounds the use of ‘anti-oxidant’, where it is understood that these terms carry with them an implied health benefit? Or perhaps the implementation of more clear labeling such as a set of universal symbols that clearly indicate if foods contain soy, gluten, nuts or GM ingredients on the front of pack?

Innocent Smoothies Strawberries & BananasPerhaps more could also be done by the food companies themselves. After all is it not irresponsible for Innocent to offer its smoothies with a recommended serving size of 250ml (including 26g of sugar), or for Fruit Bowl to market sugary treats as healthy snacks for kids? Thankfully Innocent has already set about addressing some of these concerns with its most recent product development where smoothies have been effectively watered down into juicy waters, blended with vegetables or offered in smaller servings. Companies who choose not to pull ‘sleight of hand’ tricks, but rather adopting a more clear and transparent approach will most certainly be better positioned as consumers become better informed of what their food actually contains.

Indeed a huge share of the responsibility does lie with consumers. Not only do they need to ensure that they are clued up about which ingredient is which, but also how to read and understand what food packaging really is and really isn’t telling them. Thankfully this is something consumers have been getting a lot better at lately. For those suffering an intolerance, paying close attention to ingredients is a necessity. There are also many consumers who observe strict diets due in order to achieve weight or athletic performance goals, carefully studying a product’s ingredients and macros, with the aid of smartphone apps, before making an informed and often repeat purchase. As it is these groups who are leading some of the biggest trends in food (e.g free-from, paleo and mainstream active nutrition), there is hope that the products and brands that they choose will begin to set a new standard for the rest of the food industry to follow.

Insects on supermarket shelves

weetabug edible insect cereal
Walk into your average supermarket or convenience store and you’re never more than a few paces away from the food-to-go section. An area of refrigerator cabinets, drinks, and snacks from which we are entrusted with the responsibility of constructing something that might pass for a lunch. Here we are presented with familiar options like sandwiches, pasta salads, fruit or vegetable snack portions, crisps, popcorn, confectionary bars as well as the odd healthier or low-calorie option.

Sushi, once a rank outsider, has now become a rather common food to-go option. Older generations, used to cooking food to ashes for fear of food poisoning may still view this curious assembly of raw fish and rice with great suspicion, but to younger generations, sushi has become the norm. But what is the norm? For instance, the concept of the sandwich, where meats and other fillings are neatly packaged in bread (which in fact long predates the 4th Earl of Sandwich), is just that – a concept. At one point this idea of using bread to pick up food would have seemed novel. Similarly, pasta salad as an on the go lunch option, whilst completely normal now, only really gained popularity in the 90s when it became viewed as a healthier option.

Our perception of normal continues to change as new concepts seek to resolve the conflict between our need for nutrition and our ever more complex lifestyles. But what are the modern challenges that our food must overcome and are current strategies proving successful? Depending on your perspective, yes and no.

Solving today’s food challenges

From a narrow, short-term perspective the priorities for many are taste, price, and convenience. In solving this problem the global food industry has been very successful indeed, working like a well-oiled machine to deliver decent tasting, low-cost food to a local store or even your front door. However if look at our current global food strategy from a wider, long-term perspective then not only is it failing but it is, in fact, creating problems of its own. Our dependence on meat and animal protein is the second biggest cause of greenhouse gases at 18%, just behind energy production at 21% but bigger than transportation which trails behind at 14%. Cattle grazing is also the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon, accounting for 80% of the 3 million hectares of annual deforestation. On top of the problems caused by meat production is the depletion of fish stocks, droughts brought about by the production of crops like corn, used as feed for fish and cattle as well as to make food and a vast list of ingredients and additives.

As our population continues to grow the problems caused by our current food strategy are only going to get worse. The global population currently stands at 7 billion and may grow to 9 billion by 2050. Already 1 billion people around the world go hungry on a regular basis, meaning that once again a new strategy or concept is required to solve our latest and greatest food challenge.

Edible insects in 2015

Currently, 1,900 species of insects are eaten by 2 billion people around the world. They provide a source of protein that requires just a fraction of the feed, water and land resources of livestock. In fact whilst 10kg of feed will produce 1kg of beef, the same amount of feed could produce 9kg of locust meat.

Understandably this has resulted in a wave of entrepreneurs keen to jump at the opportunity, launching their own distinct edible insect brands across a whole range of categories. There are bars (Chapul, Exo, CroBar, Get Sharp), Insecta burgers, Green Bugs sauce, The Green Cow Co. spread, Chirps chips, Bitty cookies, Crickers crackers and Eat Grub ingredients to name few.

What’s more is that whilst many of these businesses may have launched independently they have gone on to secure significant investments. Six Foods raised $70,599 on Kickstarter, Exo was able to raise $1.2m in seed funding and Chapul secured $50,000 of equity after founder Pat Crowley appeared on television show the Shark Tank. Insect farm Next Millennium has also confirmed that they are in talks with some of the worlds biggest food producers.

Investors clearly have faith in the long-term potential of the market and indeed the signs are positive. Market research company Mintel looked at consumers who would be willing to try insects and found that 21% of Germans, 26% of Americans, 27% of Brits and 52% of Chinese would be willing to give it a go. Other reports have forecast that by 2025 the edible insect market in Europe and North America alone will be worth $33 billion.

However, before this market can truly be established there are some considerable hurdles that need hopping. Insects have until now been something to keep out of food, so to able to produce insects on any kind of scale will require for whole new infrastructures to be developed. Because of this, there isn’t currently the same economies of scale that we find in traditional farming, which explains why insect products are still priced the same as or more than comparative non-insect products, as Crobar Founder Christine Spliid explains:

“Because production is so extremely tiny compared to that of cows, chicken etc. We need to get the cricket farms up to a much, much bigger size before the output produced exceeds fixed costs… The cricket flour it literally the most expensive ingredient in my bars, and I believe also in other people’s cricket products, so the price of the product reflects the price of the ingredients… The more people buy into the insect-eating trend, the quicker prices can come down.”

Because insects are eaten whole, current methods of insect farming for animal feed would be unsuitable for human consumption. The same strict protocols as all other areas food production would be required and EFSA is currently planning to revisions to Novel Foods Regulation to resolve legal disputes between member states.

Getting over the yuck factor

Once infrastructure and regulations are in place will it really open the floodgates as insect products take over our supermarket shelves? Sure the environmental, economic and nutritional benefits are a no-brainer, but since when did consumers eat with their brains? Insects in or around food is something that in the West we recognise as a contaminant. Is this really something consumers are going to be able to get over? Those within edible insects think so and are confident that once people stop exploiting the “yuck factor” of eating insects as a gross challenge, it will not be difficult to convince tomorrow’s consumers to accept insects as food, as Eat Grub Co-Founder Neil Whippey explains:

“It’s very important to keep away from the novelty side of things. Products that use insects as the nutritional element rather than the main event (i.e whole insects) will be the key to a larger market and gaining the public’s trust. We are currently in R&D for a ready to eat product using cricket powder which we strongly believe will propel us more into the mainstream.”

Edible insect brands will often compare this strategy of using insects as an unseen ingredient to how the California roll was used to introduce (sashimi) sushi into the mainstream, by hiding the raw fish in rice and enabling for the people to get over any initial disgust. In fact, consumers have been accepting insects on the ingredients list for many years. The red food colouring carmine, made from cochineal beetles, is used in many mainstream products including Nesquick, Mentos, Yoplait, Werther’s Original and Betty Crocker Cake mix.

Whilst this strategy may be comparable, there are crucial differences between sushi and edible insects which highlight the need for product development in order for the category to advance. Much of the appeal of sashimi can be attributed to how “clean” the concept is, whereby prime cuts of fish and meat are presented in a very simple and transparent manner. This aligns well with the current trends of clean label and clean eating. Whereas currently, edible insect offerings come in the form of either processed ingredients in foods such as bars or eaten whole as part of an Asian style dish, often involving ingredients that have been deep fried, aligning less well and even conflicting with what consumers may know or recognise as clean and healthy.

Potential to hit it big

For edible insects to make it in the mainstream not only does it need to ditch its gimmick only appeal but it also needs innovative adopters and proponents who will rave fanatically about these products from day one. Health is the key. According to Packaged Facts, sales of gluten-free products will be worth $2.34 billion by 2019 in the U.S. alone. This represents a huge opportunity for insect ingredients to replace potential allergens from commonly used ingredients such as dairy and soy. In addition is sports nutrition, a category that gave birth to the current mainstream protein boom, where there is ever more demand for low-fat proteins offering a complete amino-acid profile.

The opportunities of edible insect are as clear as the challenges the category faces in developing the market, but eventually, bugs could prove to be one the best possibilities to tackle our global nutrition and environmental challenges that we’ve ever had.

New shape of sports nutrition

Quest Bar

Mainstream appeal, specialist diet awareness and convenience are key drivers in evolving sports nutrition market

The world market for sports and fitness nutrition products (including foods & drinks) is currently undergoing a transformation, emerging from a niche segment to a mainstream market that is projected to reach US$60.8 billion by 2020. The main reason for the transformation is the expansion of the customer base from high endurance athletes and body builders to general customers ranging from women and teenagers to college students and even older individuals displaying strong interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This divergence in customer profile and how the different customers use nutritional food and drink highlights the need for marketers to adopt tailor-made strategies for targeting such varied groups of consumers in order to gain greater penetration in the market.

These days, when it comes to sports nutrition food and drinks, there is more emphasis on general health and well-being rather than on performance. Customers today are more interested in doing exercise which has meant that the products within the world of sports and fitness nutrition have also had to shift. Younger generation, health-conscious consumers, and weekend fitness warriors are now all a part of the core consumer cluster.

Focus in this segment is still, to a significant extent (although diminishing), on traditional customer group such as athletes as these customers have greater awareness and understanding of the products. These customers constitute the early adopters and are also loyal customers, using the products to gain targeted benefits such as muscle enhancement or for post-workout recovery.

Alternatively, the newer groups of customers consisting of non-professional sportspersons, recreational users, casual athletes, gym-goers, women seeking fitness control, young adults, or weekend fitness enthusiasts and others, use such products to receive a boost in stamina and enhance overall physical and mental performance or as a preventive measure against illness.

The U.S. enters new era of sports nutrition

The United States makes up the largest market worldwide[1]. Favorable demographics, aging baby boomers, and a sedentary lifestyle are the major growth promoters of the fitness industry in the country. The sports nutrition market has witnessed exponential growth over the years due to new innovations, novel packaging and marked changes in consumer preferences. Sports supplements and sports nutrition functional foods are among the leading categories exhibiting strong growth. Latin America represents the fastest growing regional market displaying a CAGR of about 8.5% over the analysis period. Despite accounting for a small portion of the world’s food and beverage market, Latin America is expected to emerge as the hotspot in the coming years. The market for sports and energy drinks in Latin America is expected to surge in the near future primarily due to rising income levels, increased focus on health and wellness and willingness of consumers to spend on the category.

As the nation struggles to shed extra pounds and keep them off, more consumers are recognising the importance of engaging in regular physical activity to promote overall good health. Adults of all ages are seeking out foods and beverages to help them maintain enough energy to support fast-paced lives that less and less frequently involve food preparation and healthful, sit-down meals with family or friends. This is all helping to drive a robust functional foods market in 2015.

Among the most popular functional foods are sports drinks and nutrition bars. According to a recent report[2], 36% of all U.S. adults consume sports drinks. Meanwhile, sales in the nutrition bar segment grew an impressive 8% last year to reach $2 billion. Despite the popularity of both segments, several factors—including a shift away from sugary sports drinks to more natural formulations, as well as increased consumer demand for nutrition bars featuring savoury rather than sweet ingredients—are ushering in a new era of sports nutrition.

Growing consumer interest in recent years for more natural food and beverage products as well as those made without pesticides, artificial colors, flavors and other additives extends to sports drinks and points to a gap in the market that several small start-ups and, increasingly, not-so-small acquirers and new entrants, are actively attempting to fill.

Many of these new products highlight the use of natural and organic ingredients, including greater use of natural sweeteners, both caloric, such as cane sugar and agave, and zero-calorie, stevia, monk fruit and erythritol. Focus on added sugars is also resulting in more use of other zero-calorie sweeteners to help keep caloric content down, notably sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Mention of vegan, Fair Trade and sustainability are just beginning to emerge as benefits associated with sports drinks. Packaged Facts expects focus on sugar to dominate in the year ahead with continued attention to these other important differentiators as this dynamic market evolves.

Meanwhile, the future of energy and recovery foods designed for athletes and others who are physically active appears destined to be dominated by savoury flavours and ingredients, including meat. Many athletes have long requested energy products that are less sweet than standard nutrition bars and drinks, and now that national attention has turned to reducing added sugar in the diet, a new wave of savoury products, including bars, gels, and meat jerky, are being introduced.

Driven primarily by small entrepreneurs and regional companies, the U.S. is currently experiencing a major wave of new nutrition bar and related product introductions based on savoury flavours and ingredients. Sweet potatoes, seeds, meat and fruits are frequently used ingredients. Most notable is the creation of these products with natural and organic, non-GMO, gluten-free whole foods including grass-fed, humanely treated animals while addressing sustainability concerns along with taste, performance and nutrition.

Nutrition bars in flavours such as Roasted Jalapeno, Honey Smoked BBQ and Pizza Marinara are becoming increasingly commonplace as are those based on meat and other non-sweet proteins that rival jerky, in the footprint of a bar. More professional athletes can be found backing meat snack brands. Behind this growing trend is greater awareness among casual sports participants of the importance of consuming protein following exercise to help rebuild muscle.

Expansion is preferred strategy in protein ingredients

The protein ingredients market is predicted to be worth $39.08 Billion by 2020 driven both by consumer demand for health-focused products as well as other growing demand for protein ingredients in other industries such as animal feed, cosmetics & personal care, and pharmaceutical. Expansions formed the most preferred strategy among the key players, to expand their geographical reach, retain existing client base, and attract new customers, globally. Industry players have focused on expanding their business and establishing new business units in the emerging markets in order to enhance their global reach and sustain the competition prevailing in the market. Acquisition also helped key players in strengthening their product portfolio.

Choosing the right whey

Choosing the right whey

With the global market for protein on the rise, it is as important for food producers to pick their proteins with as much consideration as do their customers. Deirdre Claesson, Sales & Marketing Manager, Carbery, explains how to differentiate between the forms of whey protein currently available on the market… (read more)

A key factor in the sports nutrition market moving forwards is for producers to take into account the varying dietary needs of the wider market. The growing free-from market has entered a point of intersection with sports nutrition and a group of consumers looking for products beyond dairy or soy-based proteins. Amongst ingredients suppliers exploring new solutions in this area is Glanbia Nutritionals, who has announced the European launch of its HarvestPro line of vegan plant proteins. Derived from ancient grains, flax, and chia, the HarvestPro range of plant-based ingredients includes protein crisps and protein powders, which can be incorporated into a wide range of applications, including beverages, bars, baked goods and gluten-free foods.

Offering a high source of protein with levels ranging between 50 and 60 percent, HarvestPro crisps constitute a great-tasting, gluten-free alternative to soy equivalents and a unique offering in the marketplace. Comprised of pea, tapioca, amaranth and chia, HarvestPro CA Crisp 60 can enhance the flavor, texture and nutritional profile of bars, clusters and cereals. Plus, the vegan product enables on-pack labeling of ancient grains, tapping into the increasingly popular trend.

HarvestPro Protein, a clean flavoured, 85% vegetable protein isolate, will be the first of the range to be launched in Europe. Extracted from non-GMO yellow peas, HarvestPro Protein is suitable for a wide range of applications such as sports and weight management products.

Carla Clissmann, EMEA Regional Director, Glanbia Nutritionals Ingredient Technologies, says:

“With new product introductions incorporating ancient grains on an upward trajectory, it is clear that consumers are seeking these ingredients and their inherent benefits in their diet. Following the launch of HarvestPro in North America earlier this year, we’re excited to be leading the way in the development and diversification of plant protein sources with ancient grains, flax and chia in the European market.”

Glanbia Nutritionals bar with blueberries

[1] Global Industry Analysts, Inc. – “Sports and Fitness Nutrition Foods and Drinks: A Global Strategic Business Report”
[2] Packaged Facts – “Functional Foods: Key Trends by Product Categories and Benefits”
[3]  MarketsandMarkets – “Protein Ingredients Market by Source”

Nutritional solutions counter air pollution impact

Air Pollution

Image courtesy of Ben Amstutz

Air pollution is a significant global environmental issue and exposure to major contaminants in the atmosphere, including fine particulate matter (with particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, otherwise known as PM2.5), has been associated with a number of serious health issues. These include increased cardiovascular mortality and the risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer, via oxidative stress and inflammatory mechanisms. The paper provides an overview of current understanding about the health risks of PM2.5 and summarizes data from human studies on nutritional solutions such as marine omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins as an intervention for the detrimental responses to PM2.5.

In the ‘Global Update of Air Quality Guidelines (AQG)’, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes that “clean air is considered to be a basic requirement of human health and wellbeing” (WHO 2005). According to the AQG, the recommended PM2.5 concentration, selected to minimize likely health effects based on existing literature, is an annual mean of 10μg/m3. The WHO also sets an annual mean of 35μg/m3 as an interim target-1 (IT-1), exposure to which is associated with an approximately 15% increase in mortality risk. It has been estimated that 80% of the world’s population lives in regions that exceed the AQG[1] and it is a growing problem.

Co-author Professor Manfred Eggersdorfer, Senior Vice President, Nutrition, Science & Advocacy at DSM and Professor for Healthy Ageing at Groningen University, said:

“Inhaling polluted air, especially air containing PM2.5, constitutes an environmental risk that has a proven impact on the quality and duration of human life. The objective of this scientific paper is to highlight human clinical investigations in which vitamins and marine-derived long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids were administrated to significantly reduce certain detrimental responses to PM2.5 exposure.”

Results from both randomized and cohort studies in the last decade demonstrated that PM2.5 exposure induced unfavorable physiological and biochemical responses (i.e. heart rate variability reduction and oxidative stress) in the human body. Supplementation of fish oil, some B vitamins, vitamin E and C were shown to intervene with these responses.

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