Trend Watch 2010: Food Trends

Jan. 4, 2010
A few more nitty-gritty consumer trends and trendlets to watch in the new year.

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.

Sustaining Sustainability -- Entire new industries and technologies unheard of 15 years ago are now regular parts of our lives. One of them is sustainability, the hot button for food and beverage manufacturers along with corporate responsibility. Fair trade and locally sourced products fit into this trend.

Eco-aware consumers are beginning to focus on carbon footprint, or how much energy is used to get the food to them. An estimated 25 percent of emissions produced by people living in industrialized countries can be traced to the food they eat, and foods vary enormously in the emissions released in their production.

European consumers tend to be greener than those in the U.S., and are more label-conscious. One interesting trendlet is that Sweden is experimenting with new food labels that list the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of the food — both packaged foods and restaurant meals. However, watch out for Eco Fatigue. As consumers are besieged with green messaging, over-the-top sustainability claims (known as greenwashing), the complexity of the subject, higher cost of green products and the idea that they can never do enough to make a difference, some are simply tuning out.

ocial and Antisocial Networking -- Want to connect with mom? Social networks are visited by 75 percent of women, and those with children at home are more likely to use Facebook (60.3 percent), MySpace (42.4 percent) and Twitter (16.5 percent) than average adults, and 15.3 percent maintain their own blog, according a new Retail Advertising and Marketing Assn. survey conducted by BIGresearch.

Not surprisingly, moms frequently share experiences and information, and they say other peoples’ opinions influence their purchases. Nine out of 10 (93.6 percent) mothers regularly or occasionally seek the advice of others before buying a service or product, according to the survey. Additionally, a staggering 97.2 percent said they give advice to others about those products or services they purchased. “Quite frankly, moms like to talk,” says Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at BIGresearch.

“Whether they’re having coffee with a friend or updating their Facebook status, these women are eager to share shopping experiences, both good and bad.”

While bad reviews can certainly hurt a brand, only 2 percent of consumers who use social media said they use the sites regularly for guidance on grocery purchase decisions, according to Menlo Park, Calif.-based Knowledge Networks. Although 83 percent of people aged 13-54 participate in social media, fewer than 5 percent of them turn to those sites for guidance on purchase decisions. “Our findings show that marketers need to be prudent and people-centric in how they approach social media,” says David Tice, vice president and group account director for Knowledge Networks. “Social media users do not have a strong association between these sites and purchase decisions — they see them as being more about personal connection — so finding ways to embrace that powerful function is key.”

Multitasking Mania -- Between the blare of the TV, the ring of the phone and Junior texting his buddies under the table or from the couch, dinnertime in America comes with a heaping helping of distracting bells and whistles, a recent Associated Press-iVillage Food poll found. Altogether, more than 60 percent of those who live with families said they sat down with family for dinner at least five nights in the past week. Television is a constant dinner companion for 25 percent of families, and nearly 40 percent have the radio or stereo going, at least occasionally. Half are pestered by phone calls, and texting or e-mailing on a cell phone is always going on over dinner for 5 percent of families.
Add to all those distractions the trend for snacking several times a day rather eating full meals. As a result, any food consumers can hold with one hand so they can wolf down breakfast or lunch in the office, car or while on the phone adds to the convenience.

Just Chill – Each trend has its opposite. Last year, we saw a proliferation of energy beverages and energy bars for exhausted, overworked Americans. While the energy trend should continue, the FDA recently notified nearly 30 manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that it intends to look into the safety of their products and whether caffeine can lawfully be added to alcoholic beverages – that’s a favorite combination of 26 percent of college students. An opposing option is beginning to dribble into stores – foods and beverages for relaxation. RelaxZen, I Chill, ViB (Vacation in a Bottle), Drank, Purple Stuff, Gatorade Tiger Focus and Tranquila have all debuted recently to relax overwrought consumers.

Koodies are Here – Kid foodies or koodies are the new kid in town, according to the Lempert Report. This kid wants sushi, pad Thai, or smoked salmon in his Happy Meal, and although these foods may not be on kids’ menu options yet, America is beginning to see a more sophisticated and adventurous palate in its children. Our children are our future, and as these new Koodies evolve, look for both CPG brands and restaurants to make their kids' meals more nutritious, more interesting and even a culinary experience. Retailers can use this opportunity to offer in-store tastings for children to try new things, recipe demonstrations that are fun for kids, or parent/child foodie events that encourage family time as well as enjoying food together. Yes, the Koodies are here; they love the Food Channel and want to be chefs. As they mature into adulthood, look for the food world to be led by a new generation that really knows its food and will love to experiment.

Nostalgia Reinvented – As Americans look to simpler times and seek simpler solutions, it makes sense they are nostalgic for their youth, when everything seemed possible. Right now it’s the 1960s, thanks to AMC cable TV channel’s Mad Men. Canada Dry Ginger Ale is an older, established brand that is touting its continuing success, natural ingredients and how it has changed only its marketing and packaging over the years, reinforcing the idea that you can depend on this product.

National Neurosis – In 1987, the year the stock market fell 23 percent on Black Monday, teen vampire film “The Lost Boys” became a cultural phenomenon. Insecurity and the feeling we cannot control our destiny brought about renewed fervor in the past two years in all things otherworldly -- thus the popularity of vampires in True Blood, Twilight and the Vampire Diaries. Ditto for the bewitching Witches of Eastwick. A little more devious are V (extraterrestrial visitors out to destroy us) and Flash Forward (planetary loss of consciousness). Expect more of these signs of neurosis. Reassurance and trust is what we all seek, especially in our food.

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