Top food trends for 2005 are expected to include whole grains, allergy-free foods and probiotics, according to Datamonitor's NPD database Productscan Online.

The low-carbohydrate trend swept through the packaged goods marketplace in 2004 with more than 3,100 new low-carbohydrate food and beverage launches for the year-to-date through to 22 November 2004 in the US alone. But the trend has been winding down of late, leaving the door open to new developments that could prosper in 2005, ranging from beverages packaged in metal bottles to allergy-free foods and indulgent pet items.

Whole grains take centre stage

The news on whole grains just keeps getting better and better. Most recently, the results of a recent study found that increased consumption of whole grains was associated with weight loss. Productscan Online expects marketers of grain-based products like bread and cereal to take advantage of whole grain trends in 2005.

Get ready for aluminium bottles

Already a sensation in the Japanese market where they are called "bottle cans", aluminium bottles are just beginning to hit the US market and could be the "next big thing" for the beer category. Pittsburgh Brewing Company made a statement in August when it rolled the bottles into selected markets for its Iron City Beer, boasting of their ability to keep beer colder for up to an hour longer than glass bottles. And depending upon the product, the cans can be resealable, a big plus over regular aluminium cans with tab-type, non-resealable openers. The cans are also making a splash in Europe with launches like Bavaria 8.6 Red Beer which is sold in brushed aluminium bottles in the United Kingdom.

A Splenda nation

A weight-obsessed world is looking for fast and easy solutions to weight control.  Enter Splenda (a brand name for a substance called sucralose), a sugar-based sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than sugar with little aftertaste. Use of the sweetener exploded in 2004, with the number of new products made with the sweetener more than doubling during the year, according to Productscan Online. Among the more unusual Splenda-formulated foods are pickles and beef jerky, in addition to soft drinks, breakfast cereals and ice creams. In Europe where the low-carb trend is just kicking in, consumers are seeing sucralose pop up in product lines like Carb Options soups, salad dressings and sauces from Unilever Bestfoods.

Getting cultured

Europe and Japan have made so-called "intestinal health" drinks packaged in tiny little bottles into a multi-million dollar market. Americans have yet to jump on the bandwagon, but the success of yoghurt-based beverages and smoothies shows promise. Shortages of flu vaccine across the country may also make the case for cultured beverages which have the potential to strengthen the immune system and stave off sickness thanks to "friendly bacteria". The movement of some new brands into the category should help things too. Ocean Spray Plus Probiotic Yogurt Drink made its debut in the United Kingdom this year, a potential test for a US launch down the road.

Dissolving strips expand to new territories

The revolution in wafer-thin dissolving strips started with breath strips, but is not likely to end there. Riding the crest of a five-fold increase in dissolving strip product launches since 2002 (according to Productscan Online), strips expanded into dietary supplements, cough medicine, oral pain relief and blotters for shaving nicks this year. The strips even found their way into the soap category with Pocket Suds Soap on the Go! Dissolving Soap Strips, a new entry in the US and UK. Expect further expansion in new strip products in 2005.

Energy drinks expand into alcoholic beverages

In Europe, it's not uncommon to have an "energising" alcohol-based beverage like Engine Energy Gin Energy Drink, a new entry in Russia that combines gin with guarana. The popularity of Red Bull as a mixed drink ingredient has helped energise this trend. Now we are beginning to see American beverage makers flirt with the trend led by Anheuser-Busch with its Budweiser B-to-the-E, a new beer infused with caffeine, guarana and ginseng from a major brewer. Will other alcohol beverage makers jump on the trend in 2005? Time will tell.

Allergy-free foods catch fire

According to a 2004 study by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, one in every 25 people in the US suffers from a food allergy. Foods aimed at allergy-sensitive individuals have become one of the fastest-growing areas in the entire food industry. According to Productscan Online, introductions of new gluten-free products have more than doubled since 2001. Similar increases may be in the offing. Earlier this year, it was revealed that three million Americans - many more than originally thought - may have celiac disease, a digestive disorder triggered by gluten protein found in certain grains and one that calls for consumption of gluten-free foods. In Europe, the trend is strong enough that supermarket private labels are chasing allergy-suffering consumers with products like Tesco's Free From Sliced White Bread, which contains no wheat, gluten or milk.