The introduction of new food and beverage products in the United States is up by about 15% over the last half of 2009, a good sign for the economy, according to a study conducted by Chicago-based Mintel International Group that was shared at the 2010 Institute of Food Technologies (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago last week.

In fact, the increase in food and beverages has been driven by new “treat foods,” such as pretzel M&Ms and those that make it easier to create restaurant-type food at home, said Lynn Dornblaser, director, CPG Trend Insight for Mintel.

U.S. manufacturers have not come back to the natural/organic food category, Dornblaser said. Organic offerings peaked at 12% of new products in 2008, and have since dipped to about 7%. Those new products now are largely driven by products from smaller companies or by private label organics.

Overall, private labels are driving many food and beverage decisions as consumers try to cut dollars from their grocery budgets, said Barbara Katz, president, HealthFocus International, a market research firm based in St. Petersburg, Fla. Among those surveyed who have had their income reduced, 40% reported buying more private label products.

For all shoppers, only one out of 10 reported being loyal to a brand, with the least loyal in the 18 to 29 age group.