Here are 12 consumer trends that food/beverage makers should be attuned to in 2012, according to Bellevue, Wash.-based research and consulting firm The Hartman Group. In addition, Hartman's forecasts which foods/ingredients will be hot this year, and which will become passé.
Consumer/Cultural Trends include:
Meal fragmentation -- Today's households are run as "loose democracies" in which children have an equal say in what, where and when the family should eat
Eating alone - Some 44 percent of adult eating happens alone. Most CPG marketing ignores this reality
The snack culture -- Nearly half (48 percent) of all adult eating occurs between meals, a combined result of the increase in eating alone and the decline in family dining. However, a return to commitment to family dining will continue to gain momentum
Immediate consumption -- More than 11 percent of all adult eating today includes foods or beverages consumed within one hour of purchase. Immediate consumption reflects a long-term shift toward impulsive, unplanned eating
The new American family -- Marketers need to focus on today's nontraditional, intergenerational, unmarried, single-parent, multi-ethnic families
Wellness is driven by quality-of-life issues -- People strive for health/wellness in order to enjoy a better life. That's why people are increasingly using dance for exercise, rather than treadmills
Food culture is more complex than ever -- Food makers need to understand all of food culture, meaning all food niches, trends and preferences, not just their own categories and specialties
Education only goes so far -- Hartman notes that research, including its own, is so far inconclusive as to whether calorie counts on menus change purchase behaviors. But what is clear is that consumers want help that supports their interests in food and cooking
Eating occasions proliferate -- Hartman has identified more than 150 distinct eating occasions beyond the traditional daily meals or day parts. CPG brands and retailers should better leverage these opportunities
You can't buy loyalty -- Engendering loyalty among Millennials takes transparency and integrity, as well as fun
Niche brands represent opportunities -- As CPG categories become overcrowded, smaller brands that appeal to niche needs or subcultures have become good investments
Retail needs a makeover -- The retail experience has lost significance with today's shoppers, who want culturally relevant retail and brand experiences, maintains Hartman.
Other important trends include:
Eating from the local landscape, including "wild crafting" and stressing purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics in food sources and cooking
Scarcity over ubiquity. Rewarding consumers with something exciting and rare (examples: McDonald's McRib; Trader Joe's "treasure hunt" dynamic)
Smaller can be better, not only for weight management purposes, but also in terms of cost and sustainability. Food science will enable creating individualized diets that reflect individuals' genetic makeup, replacing "one-size-fits-all" better-for-you diets
Rejecting "nutritionism," meaning celebrating or demonizing particular ingredients rather than focusing on foods as a whole. This has allowed processed foods to go relatively unchallenged, even as whole, fresh foods are far too infrequently consumed, says Hartman
Approaches to gluten-free become more knowledgeable. A wheat-free approach may create deficits in fiber, protein and vitamins. Gluten-free products made with potato or tapioca starches may hinder digestion and cause weight gain over time. Hartman advises food makers to focus on real foods from authentic gluten-free traditions (such as Vietnamese rice noodles, Italian polenta, Indian poppadam) rather than "mimic products that consumers will only compare against the real thing." This "will ensure that your product lasts beyond the gluten-free mania," they add.
Foods/Ingredients: In and Out -- Foods that are in for 2012, according to Hartman, include: real butter and healthy fats; grass-fed meat; sea salt; stevia; dark-meat chicken; local/seasonal super fruits; cage-free whole eggs; farmstead cheese; fresh produce; portion control; craft beer; kettle potato chips and dark, leafy greens.
On the way out: margarine; processed soy protein (GMO, hormonal effects); low-sodium; fat-free; artificial sweeteners; white-meat chicken; from-afar super fruits; egg whites; processed cheese; excessive supplements; ultra-light beer; baked potato chips and wheat-grass shots.
Ingredients that are in include: coconut oil (contains beneficial lauric acid); palm sugar (no fructose); faro (nutty, complex grain); cheaper, tasty butcher cuts (sustainable use of whole animal from a trusted source); and kefir (higher level of probiotics than yogurt).
Losing appeal: canola oil (GMO, highly processed); agave (may contain higher fructose than HFCS); brown rice (still a staple, but getting boring); "naturally raised" meat (phrase has become meaningless) and probiotic enhanced yogurt (often includes sugar and modified corn starch).