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Food Forethought

Trends, fascinating or frightening?

BY SUSAN ALLEN

The dawning of each new year finds many of us contemplating the proverbial question, what is in, and...what's out? Despite the fact that trends become obsolete seemingly overnight, top ad agencies still invest millions with forecasters who attempt to decipher what it is that you and I will watch on television, download from the internet, subscribe to on our cell phones, decorate our houses with, wear or drive.

In the case of 2006 trending, the move towards sleek contemporary styling will prevail in fiber, technology and fashion. The one notable exception to this modernist movement will be in the food we consume.

Trend expert Faith Popcorn is predicting that Americans will return to the traditional dinner table. Mealtime values will grow in importance and Ms. Popcorn expects a new category of "faith-friendly" foods to emerge like Christian-raised chicken.Tyson Foods has helped initiate this movement by offering downloadable mealtime prayer booklets available in a variety of faiths with their meat products.

In 2006, the fact that meat and produce are locally grown will supersede the importance of the organic label. Organic will lose its pristine image and rapidly morph into simply another line extension for mega food corporations.

Graying baby boomers weary of maintaining large expanses of lawn and gardens will look to alternative methods to connect with the land. Their "terroir" (soil) fix will be satisfied through innovative agricultural concepts creatively marketed by farmers.

To guarantee a sustainable holiday turkey, urbanites will be able to raise 'e- birds", e-mailing diet specifics to their farmer while monitoring the turkey's daily progress via live internet. Farfetched, not really, given that wine aficionados have already succumbed to savvy vineyard marketing and can now become quasi-grape growers by financially supporting and naming one vine in the vineyard as theirs to prune, nurture and harvest.

Of course, ranchers have been ahead of this curve for years enticing dudes to pay to move their cattle from one pasture to another. (Think City Slickers.) The time is ripe for the dairy industry to market cuddly milk producing "Norma" rather than Norman, to the masses.

Seattle gave us Starbucks, forever changing the way we drink coffee. In 2006, the Northwest is again poised to influence our national dining habits.

A new of chain of markets fresh from the "Mecca for the sustainable food movement," Portland, Oregon, will change how we shop for food. (Notice "markets" is used rather than "grocery store" a term considered obsolete in the industry). New Seasons, thriving in Portland's suburbs, is a regional co-op of sorts with an emphasis on homegrown food. Their success attributed to recognizing that the same segment of our population that will wait in line 20 minutes for a latte, longs for the return of the corner market to experience a special connection to the food, farmer and the neighborhood.

The New Season's chain has masterfully created an aura of patriotic demographic marketing, successfully bridging the gap partisan politics has created between traditionally conservative farmers and liberal urban dwellers. New Season consumers strongly support country of origin labeling and request a face to farming, not only to connect them to the land but also to pacify food safety anxiety. This growing trend is already apparent in affluent circle,s evidenced by a notable return to heritage, artisan and heirloom foods, even in packaging.

It is the latest irony in a food industry working to develop innovative packaging techniques, (like edible soy in place of plastic wrap) that the technologically astute who covet the latest blackberry, still desire their "edible" blackberries in retro colored containers.

When it comes to our food in this coming year, forget the Jetsons, think slow, sustainable and comfort. As a nation, we are simply tired.... tired of the frantic pace, tired of gizmos, gimmicks, diet fads and especially tired of being disconnected!

Instead of a cheesy toy in the cereal box, creatively tell our children how cereal is grown and harvested. In 2006, we will be wise to remember that it will be all about relationship marketing. Those in the agricultural community who understand and embrace this concept will be in for a very good year.

Susan Allen represents the Food Forethought Foundation, an advocate of the American farmer.

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