Trend Watch 2010: Food Trends

A few more nitty-gritty consumer trends and trendlets to watch in the new year.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Trend watching, just like your personal resolutions, takes on new significance at the end of one year and the start of another to make sure your company ship is headed in the right direction. Here is my second installment of trends and trendlets, especially from the consumer perspective, to look out for in 2010. (See the first installment, Trend Watch: Food Trends to Watch in 2010)

Less is More Desirable -- Consumers yearning for simplicity don’t want to use a dictionary when they check a food label. Fewer ingredients reassure them of the purity of the food and sends signals that the food is healthier and safer. Simplicity is a continuing trend. From 2005 to 2008, there was a 65 percent increase in new products using the words “simple” or “simply” in the product or brand name, according to Datamonitor, New York.

Fewer health claims on a package are better; it’s less confusing. Concentrate on the ultimate benefit – taste and heart health. Included in this trend is “free from” – allergen-free, salt-free, sugar-free, preservative-free. Now if only we could get those products for free.

Authentic and natural products continue to resonate, although they have to be affordable. Meanwhile, organic seems to have stalemated due to pricing and critical reporting on whether those foods are any healthier than non-organics. Products made in the U.S. by American-based companies also resonate well, as a back-to-basics trust mentality becomes more entrenched.

Healthy Is as Healthy Does – Consumers do want to eat more healthily, but are more skeptical of health claims, functional foods and vitamins in products not inherently healthy. It’s going to be a real challenge for manufacturers, as the FDA scrutinizes health claims. However, adding nuts of all types, vegetables, grains, live probiotics and fruits to products brings them up a notch in consumers’ minds and toward the naturally good-for-you trend.

Some 20 percent of the population is 55 or older, and they seek healthier ingredient profiles. Looking for the fountain of youth will continue to grow as a trend for aging baby boomers, and food and beverages that can latch onto those youthful energy and beauty benefits should do quite nicely. Immunity-enhancing and antioxidant-rich products are golden, as consumers do believe in those benefits.

Assemblage and Nukability -- The economic downturn can be blamed for a number of lifestyle changes, but causing Americans to cook more is not one of them, according to the 24th annual report on “Eating Patterns in America,” recently released by The NPD Group. Americans are eating at home more, and have been since the beginning of the decade, but last year they turned to their microwaves.

“Microwaving has been flat for two decades, but it increased last year as Americans found a way to eat at home and not cook,” says Harry Balzer, NPD’s chief industry analyst. “We’re using our microwaves to warm and heat more, but not prepare more dishes from scratch.” It is notable that approximately 20 percent of all meals prepared in U.S. homes from 1990-2007 involved the use of a microwave, until last year when usage rose 10 percent.

Balzer said stovetops remain the most popular cooking appliance but the percent of main meals prepared on a stovetop dropped from 52 percent in 1985 to 33 percent in 2009. "There was a lot of speculation last year as to how our eating behaviors changed as a result of the economic crisis. The truth is that consumer behavior changes slowly,” says Balzer. “I’ve observed America’s eating patterns in good and bad economies, and the constant is that there is no recession in eating ─ and Americans don’t want to cook what they eat.”

Perimeter Shopping -- What the recession has wrought, among other things, is a transfer of dollars away from dining out toward spending more on prepared meals at retail. A 2009 Nielsen survey for 12 months ending September 2009 finds that 46 percent of American households are eating out less. Perishable departments, those located on the perimeter of your grocery store, were the most productive departments at retail, according to new research from Nielsen. Fresh meat and seafood cooked up sales of $437 per household per year for a 4 percent gain, and produce increased 3 percent based on annual average sales of $279 per household. Deli spend was $200, a 5 percent increase from last year, and Bakery whipped up average annual household sales of $174 per year with a 3 percent increase. Nielsen also found that more than one million viewers watched the Food Network during prime time in 2009 — a 16 percent increase over full-year 2008 -- for inspiration. It should be no surprise that Rachel Ray, whose recipes are simple and inexpensive, is the most popular show host.

New Frugality -- As long as consumers are worried about the economy, price will continue to be an important ingredient in shopping behaviors. Consumers believe name brands are more reliable (37 percent) and are better quality products (39 percent) than store brands, but more than eight of 10 (84 percent) also believe name brands are more expensive. Private label items keep taking share from branded products because they are less expensive, and consumers won’t return to name brands in the foreseeable future, predicts “supermarket guru” Phil Lempert, of the Lempert Report. And now Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand, with its 5,200 SKUs in 100 categories, is the largest grocery brand. If you can’t beat them, join them.

The Integer Group and M/A/R/C Research, who are jointly conducting a year-long shopper experience study, say it is inevitable that CPG brands will join forces with private label to co-brand products – for example a Wal-Mart private label macaroni and cheese boasting Kraft cheese.

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