In her annual state of the industry address, International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association Executive Director Carol Christison described a changing relationship between consumers, food and retailers.
Three squares a day at traditional hours are no longer reality for modern shoppers. Longer workdays have shifted the way consumers look at meals.
“Meal time is anytime because people work longer hours, have multiple jobs and are time starved,” said Christison in her “Leading the Food Parade: Consumers, Trends, and New Products” presentation at IDDBA’s 2012 Dairy-Deli-Bake show in the New Orleans Morial Convention Center last week.
“One-fifth of all employed Americans works in the evening, at night or on a rotating schedule,” she said. “These ‘anytimers’ need the flexibility of eating when they want, what they want.”
To meet this emerging need, some retailers have extended their hours.
McDonald’s reported that the midnight to 5 a.m. meal segment is its fastest growing, and 40% of its stores are open 24 hours, Christison said.
In addition to extending hours, some retailers are rethinking size and shape of their stores. While food trucks are on the decline in some areas and on the rise in others, Christison said some trucks have expanded to catering and food carts to maintain market share.
“They appeal to Millennials and contribute to a town square feeling in some communities.”
Now, repurposed shipping containers are another venue for retailers. “They’re highly local, energy efficient and have a small footprint,” Christison said.
“Starbucks is using four shipping containers to build local stores. They measure just 448 square feet and have enough room for three baristas to work. Starbucks has also applied for LEED certification on these new coffee shops.”
She noted that shipping containers also host “pop-up” grocery stores — temporary stores created for an event or an occasion.
Consumer desire for unique eating and dining experiences made Datassentials trend list, too. Food truck festivals, underground markets and restaurants, dining party networks and dining clubs were designed to give consumers these experiences, according to Christison.
Increased access to smart phones and internet access has also changed shopping habits.
“Another way to strengthen the bond with your customers is to do your own custom coupon,” said Christison, who pointed out that Schnuck Markets  offers daily digital coupons — “Schnupons.”
Digital coupon customers shop more often than average shoppers, Christison said. Research by GfK Knowledge Networks found that these consumers make 22% more shopping trips and spend 23% more per trip.
Christison argued that social media has caused a “power shift from the brand to the consumer.”
While consumers control the image of brands on social media, companies have started to use “intent marketing” to find shoppers in need of products.
“If a consumer tweets ‘I’m looking for dessert’ or ‘My car just died,’ they’ll be swamped with ads that offer solutions. Targeting a customer when they’ve expressed a need is just sheer genius.”