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Is Eating Wild the Next ‘Real Foods’ Trend?

Recognizing a need to educate American consumers, food manufacturers and food-service providers about the value of indigenous foods, the Wild Blueberry Association of North America is bringing together food-industry thought leaders, elite chefs, research experts and health influencers for a six-course dinner called “Eat on the Wild Side” February 2 at the Green Table in New York City.

America’s Appetite For Wild Foods is About to Be Tested

PORTLAND, MAINE — One of only four indigenous North American fruits, the Wild Blueberry has grown for 10,000 years in the windswept corner of Maine and Eastern Canada, and today millions of pounds of Wild Blueberries are harvested annually from this rocky landscape. Yet many consumers do not understand the powerful story behind this tiny potent fruit, or that 99 percent of the crop is frozen at harvest, making it one of the few American wild foods that is widely available in grocery stores and food service all year round.

“A lot of people are trying to get back to real food; we see this driving so many of the food trends,” notes award-winning Canadian journalist Mark Schatzker, author of “The Dorito Effect.” He traveled last summer to the Wild Blueberry barrens of Maine to experience them firsthand. “People want food that is authentic … and these wild blueberries taste the same now as they did 10,000 years ago. This is what fruit is really like in nature.”

Bringing Together Experts to Tell the Story of Wild

Recognizing a need to educate American consumers, food manufacturers and food-service providers about the value of indigenous foods, the Wild Blueberry Association of North America is bringing together food-industry thought leaders, elite chefs, research experts and health influencers for a six-course dinner called “Eat on the Wild Side” February 2 at the Green Table in New York City. Pioneering Maine Chef David Levi of Vinland will prepare the dinner featuring wild ingredients sourced in Maine, such as seafood, seaweed, mushrooms, and Wild Blueberries.

The dinner will kick off a multiyear Wild Foods initiative and educational campaign designed to inspire chefs, menu developers and food manufacturers about the value of wild foods because of their exceptional taste, potent nutritional value, authentic relationship to the land, and connection to consumer’s yearning for foods as nature intended.

At the dinner, compelling research will be unveiled that examines consumer attitudes toward wild foods. The research reinforces the notion that people are turning their backs on overly processed foods that include unrecognizable ingredients and turning toward clean, unaltered food.

Attending the dinner will be leading health researcher – and one of the nation’s preeminent experts on Wild Blueberries –Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University. Lila’s research reinforces that wild foods, such as Wild Blueberries, produce higher concentrations of phytoactive chemicals than are typically found in ordinary cultivated foods, such as cultivated blueberries.

A wild plant can’t just get up and walk away when confronted with a stress,” says Lila. “It has evolved over thousands of years to combat stress by producing powerful phytochemicals to protect itself. These are the same natural plant compounds that protect us from inflammation and chronic disease when we eat wild foods.”

The Time has Come for Wild Foods

The multiyear Wild Foods initiative is designed to foster, develop, and synthesize content from authors, health researchers, social-media influencers, savvy food manufacturers, and food-trend experts, to inspire a national discussion about the power of wild foods.

“Consumer demand for healthy, natural, and more sustainable food continues to be the leading food-trend story of our time, and Wild Blueberries have a central role to play,” said Todd Merrill, a fourth-generation Wild Blueberry grower and president of the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. “In epic proportions, consumers are moving away from processed foods and choosing clean alternatives. The story of wild foods – and Wild Blueberries in particular – is uniquely powerful and resonates with consumers, forward-thinking chefs, and food manufacturers who are searching the world for superior ingredients that can help them differentiate their brands.

“When people think of Maine and eastern Canada, they often think of lobsters, lighthouses, and Wild Blueberries. My hope is that they will go beyond the postcards and begin to understand the incredible role that wild indigenous foods, like Wild Blueberries, can play in our everyday diet,” Merrill said. “By incorporating more wild foods into your family’s meal plan, you not only support good health, but you support a rural working lifestyle and a food system that honors food as Mother Nature intended it.”

Panera Bread® is just one example of a forward-thinking company already using wild ingredients like Wild Blueberries. According to Head Baker Tom Gumpel, who travels the world seeking out superior ingredients and who developed the recipe for Panera’s winning Wild Blueberry Scone, “I believe the story of the Wild Blueberry has yet to be told, and I think it’s going to be told. Our customer is looking for ingredients that tell a story, both through flavor and origin.”

Consumers Want Real Food

The trend toward real foods is building. According to a special report by Fortune magazine, major packaged-food companies lost $4 billion in market share alone in 2014, as shoppers turned to healthier, fresher, organic alternatives. Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow found that the top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009 as more shoppers choose natural foods.

Large brands like Hershey, General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, and Kraft Foods have heeded the warning and are actively recasting their tried-and-true recipes –removing synthetic coloring, dyes, artificial preservatives, artificial ingredients, and GMOs in an effort to create cleaner, simpler labels.

Given increased demand for pure ingredients that are closer to nature, the Wild Blueberry Association of North America wanted to understand how wild foods resonate with consumers and how a 10,000-year-old crop like Wild Blueberries could provide a solution for savvy food professionals. They interviewed authors, thought leaders, and cutting-edge chefs, and conducted a national consumer habit and attitude study titled “The Power of Wild” that examines consumer product preferences of wild versus regular blueberries.

People are increasingly interested in the source of their food; they care about its origin and heritage, including who grew and harvested it. “Wild Blueberries are one of a select few wild foods that are indigenous and ubiquitous, since they are grown in only one part of the world and are available in the freezer aisle of supermarkets across America,” notes Merrill. “When you eat Wild Blueberries, you are participating in an ancient act that was vital to Native American life, and you are sharing a direct experience with nature.”

The Power of Wild Research

A nationwide survey reveals that consumers believe products containing Wild Blueberries versus the same product containing regular cultivated blueberries will taste better (73%), are healthier (67%), are more sustainable (63%), and that they have an emotional connection to foods containing this wild ingredient (64%). This was a consistent theme across all eight food-service and packaged-goods categories tested. In some rapidly growing and healthy categories like smoothies, the consumer preferences for Wild Blueberries versus regular blueberries were even more pronounced: (tastes better (85%), believed healthier (81%), better supports sustainability (78%), feel better about (80%).

“According to the research, what this means for packaged-food manufacturers and the food-service trade is that if they label a product as containing Wild Blueberries, it helps differentiate a brand,” noted Merrill. “It also increases purchase intent, purchase volume, and price premiums, because the inclusion of Wild Blueberries versus regular blueberries adds value in the mind of consumers.”

Visit wildblueberries.com/powerofwild to read The Power of Wild research report.

Pioneering Portland Chef Advances Wild Food Movement

At Vinland in Portland, Maine, Chef David Levi is staking his reputation on serving wild foods prepared with ancient techniques. David uses a range of wild ingredients on his menu, including his favorite fruit, Wild Blueberries. When it opened in 2014, Vinland made headlines as Maine’s first restaurant to use 100% local ingredients in every dish. Levi studied at Copenhagen’s renowned Noma, which was named best restaurant in the world in 2014 for a cuisine rooted in wild and distinctly cold-weather foods. Two years into Vinland, David thinks it’s safe to say that he’s using more wild ingredients than any other restaurant in Maine. “I expect that next year and in the years to come we will use even more wild foods,” he proclaimed.

Levi is downright philosophical about wild food and likens the experience to a sacrament. “I think we make a mistake when we distinguish what is and what is not holy,” he says. “If we regard all existence as holy and encounter the world that we inhabit with reverence … we live more genuinely, more profoundly, and more honestly.”

About the Wild Blueberry Association of North America

The Wild Blueberry Association of North America is a trade association of farmers and processors of Wild Blueberries from Maine and Canada who are dedicated to bringing the Wild Blueberry health story and unique Wild Advantages to consumers and the trade worldwide. WBANA is dedicated to furthering research that explores the health potential of Wild Blueberries. Every year since 1997, WBANA has hosted the Health Research Summit in Bar Harbor, a worldwide gathering of renowned scientists and researchers whose work is leading the way in learning more and more about the health benefits of Wild Blueberries. Hundreds of studies have been conducted on the potential health and disease-fighting benefits of Wild Blueberries. For news, recipes, and related health information about Wild Blueberries, visit www.wildblueberries.com. For the latest updates, read our blog. Visit us on Facebook or on Twitter.