The Economics of Trends and Food Science

Scott Rankin – Chair and Professor Food Science The University of Wisconsin-Madison

Professor Scott Rankin’s research has primarily focused on the characterization of primarily dairy food flavor with sensory and instrumental techniques. With a majority Cooperative Extension appointment, he offers numerous programs and short courses in support of the dairy foods processing industry. We caught up with him to talk about food science and how it is affected by trends.

“In the last 10-15 years, there have been many influences in terms of what food is on our table. First and foremost, food scientists work to ensure that food is safe and meet standards of compliance. Various trends such as organic, all natural, low sodium, low fat, no gluten, no high fructose corn syrup…pop up on Good Morning America and in USA Today,” said Rankin. “The food industry responds to these trends to meet consumer demands. For instance, organic foods sound good, but then various definitions exist for what organic really means – 100% organic, made with organic, contains organic…. To use any term fairly to describe a food, we need to define it properly to protect against economic adulteration.”

“For instance, the milk we buy at the store has been defined by how it is handled, component levels, storage and shipping requirements,” said Rankin. “There are thousands of such regulations that a company must comply with to label a even a common food product such as milk.”

As a discipline, Rankin said food science is growing considerably with food becoming central in nearly every discussion whether it be obesity, nutrition, athleticism, indulgence, etc. He added the food science major has tripled over the last few years at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

When asked how the maple industry can get more maple incorporated into different products, Rankin said “I would recommend that you become more involved with the food industry – attend local and national Institute of Food Technologists meetings, conduct research with maple syrup, work to strengthen industry ties.”

According to Rankin, the best way to stay informed on food science is with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). The organization publishes two journals, Food Technology Magazine and the Journal of Food Science, both of which Rankin said are well regarded by food scientists. IFT also publishes a weekly newsletter with up-to-date information on the latest news and technology from the food industry