Forecasting trends in the food industry can be just as precarious as predicting the weather as consumers’ tastes can change on a dime. However, Phil Lempert, known as the SuperMarket Guru, works closely with ConAgra to forecast food trends. For 2011 he expects six trends to emerge.

1. Apps. The use of smart phones for scanning bar codes at the grocery store, downloading coupons, acquiring frequent shopper bonuses and reading about the latest sales are expected to grow this segment.
2. Clear Claims. More stickers on produce to highlight the vitamins and minerals within is expected to become more popular. Food labels are also expected to be slimmed down and simplified.
3. D-licious. Increasing demand for vitamin D in foods will show up everywhere including the dairy aisle.
4. Shift from Local to Regional. Consumers are expected to understand the challenges of acquiring all their food within 100 miles. As a result, consumers will shift to looking for more “regional” food.
5. Big Easy Seafood. As the Gulf recovers from last summer’s oil spill, the region’s seafood industry will rally to recover with significant events planned from Mardi Gras forward.
6. “Free Sample” Makeover. More companies will solicit information from consumers with sampling to control new product failure rates.

The biggest impacts of these food trends on production agriculture will likely come from the push for more vitamin D-containing foods and the shift from local to regional.

The craze for vitamin D is likely to really ramp up in 2011 after gaining publicity through mainstream media channels. This will bode well for the dairy industry, which is expected to take advantage of this new demand by rebranding containers and adding notes about the benefits of vitamin D. Any extra demand generated by consumers wanting these foods will only help the dairy industry.

Perhaps the biggest trend for production agriculture could be the shift to “regional” foods instead of “local.” However, don’t expect the “locavores” to be quiet this year. They will continue to fight for their movement. With some support from the White House and Mrs. Obama’s mission to improve nutrition, reduce food deserts and fighting childhood obesity, the local movement will remain in the limelight.

However, consumers will realize the challenge of obtaining all of their food from within a 100-miles radius to where they live. With the stresses of modern day life, a continuing recession and a struggling economy, consumers’ passion for the movement may wane in lieu of closer, cheaper food.

The locavore movement will continue to remain strong in 2011. Locavores are passionate about their cause, and this will not be deterred from a shift to “regional” food. They likely won’t see this as a significant loss—more likely, it’ll be seen as a progression away from modern production agriculture grown hundreds or thousands of miles away.

As this movement is expected to continue, its impacts at the regulatory level is yet to be determined. Ag Secretary Vilsack has already shown a willingness to bring the organic sector into discussions. It’s not out of the question to see new legislation being drawn to support more local and regional food production.

By Colleen Scherer, managing editor, AgProfessional