Experts Sum Up The New Value Equation at 2009 IFT Show

Our Food Processing editors report on the most notable presentations given at the 2009 IFT Show.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief; Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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It’s no doubt the new value equation is changing the way consumers shop for food and the their decisions to eat out. Barbara Katz, president, HealthFocus International; Ron Paul, president, Technomic; and A. Elizabeth Sloan, president, Sloan Trends Inc. discussed upcoming trends during the Food Technology Trend Panel, moderated by Bob Swientek, editor in chief of Food Technology, on Tuesday, June 9.

Opportunities for the food industry are 'take advantage of changing global tastes.'

– Todd Buckholz

Sloan pointed out that the generation that is 50+ is the last one raised on European home-cooked meals. “Every time there’s been an economic downturn, it has dramatically changed consumers’ behavior,” Sloan observed. “This time, though, many of the behavior changes are not what was predicted. She pointed out that foods for low-income consumers, up 17.8 percent, are an untapped market, whereas the market for affluent consumers fell 9.2 percent.

How is the recessionary climate affecting the way shoppers view healthful foods? According to Katz, a large number still consider eating healthfully a priority, although how they go about it is different for those whose incomes have been reduced and those who are holding their own financially. “Taste is more of an expectation in all foods and health in food has migrated into being the status quo,” she said. “Brand influencers  (price, taste, nutrition) are about equal.” As for health concerns, consumers are interested in information and products that target vision problems, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, heart health, memory, and hold on to your hats, nutrigenomics.
Paul, an authority on foodservice and restaurants, pointed out the “value equation in restaurants is a fair return on services – price, quality, experience and portion size, “and that even though “frugality” is in for 90 percent of consumers, they “eat out three to fours times a month or more on average.” And he points out that the “mini mania” will continue with small plates and snacks and portion options.

What’s Next?

It’s rather sobering, if not amusing, to hear that Hot Wheels stock is more valuable than venerable General Motors stock, but in this global economic downturn, a good stock tip is always appreciated.

Delivering the Keynote What’s Next? The Current Economy and the Future of Food, on Sunday morning, June 7, at IFT, economists Todd Buckholz, former White House Economic Policy Advisor and Harvard professor and Jeffrey Alan Rosensweig, media commentator and professor with the Goizueta Business School of Emory University, were cautiously optimistic in their forecasts for an economic recovery.

“Ninety percent of Americans will keep their jobs, and everything is on sale,” said Buchholz, and added “consumers are building up buying power.” His prediction is “the beginnings of an economic recovery” will emerge in the U.S. this fall.

Bucholz also predicted the money supply will rise and prices will go down. The cost of advertising, too, has dropped, he said, and advised attendees that “now is the time to take advantage of lower ad prices.” He pointed out that Kellogg Co., which opted to maintain a strong advertising program during the Great Depression, emerged in a stronger position as the economy recovered. He advised it is especially important to pick your business partners well and treat them well in trying economic times. Another plus for a recovery is “the multicultural word will provide great opportunities.” Opportunities for the food industry are “take advantage of changing global tastes.”

Rosensweig, who presented a detailed analysis of the international markets that will show growth in the next year or two in addition to the U.S, cited India, China, Brazil, Russia, and Mexico. “I am optimistic about the future of the food industry, since the world population will grow at the rate of 75 million people a year for the next 25 years.”

Both Buchholz and Rosensweig urged Americans to guard against a protectionist stance and to embrace the global economy, cautioned that economic improvements will be incremental rather than dramatic.  Rosensweig added that the U.S. deficit would climb even more dramatically next year because the U.S. stimulus package is “back-end loaded.”

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