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How Consumer Trends Flow From One Stage to Another

How Consumer Trends Flow From One Stage to Another

Every now and then, social trends surface that have the capacity to power major changes in the way the industry does business. In time, such trends come to the attention of a major news outlet, and from there they start to take on new energy.

This month alone, three major trends of the sort gained the attention of The New York Times. This is not to say the Times is often first to observe developments that might affect the food distribution business. Far from it. However, the Times is often the progenitor of topics that are later picked up by other media, large and small, print and broadcast.

One conspicuous example concerns the environmental issues stirred up by bottled water. On Aug. 12, the Times published a news feature about bottled water titled “…Guilt by The Bottleful.” That was followed on Aug. 15 by an obviously derivative news feature titled “The New Public Enemy Number 1: Bottled Water,” distributed by the worldwide news agency AFP. On Aug. 19, USA Today weighed in with a news feature titled “Bottled Water Awash In A Sea Of Controversy.” On Aug. 21, PBS' NewsHour profiled efforts in San Francisco to curb bottled water. On it goes.

Bottled water isn't alone. Here are a couple of other issues highlighted by the Times that may find resonance with other news outlets:

  • Cage-Free Eggs: An Aug. 12 news feature about this topic showed that consumers' impulses to buy eggs produced in humane circumstances is causing demand to outstrip supply and is driving up the price of such eggs. Secondly, the feature stipulated that freeing hens from cages and crowding them by the thousands on a floor is not much of an improvement. Let's hope that subtle fact is spread too, and that a real solution to production conditions follows.

  • Food Miles: The concept that food that travels fewer miles to arrive in consumers' pantries is better than food that travels more miles has taken on much currency in recent time, partly in a bid to foster reductions in fuel consumption. There's validity in the concept, at least to the degree that it's as efficient to produce product locally as it is to produce it at a distance. As was pointed out in an editorial on Aug. 6, such is not always the case. The editorial cited a study claiming that efficiently produced New Zealand lamb can be shipped to Great Britain with lower net energy consumption than the production of lamb locally requires because local producing conditions are so poor. Again, this type of subtle analysis can stand to be spread.

  • Bottled Water: Now let's return to that great bugaboo, bottled water. News articles and broadcasts make the point that bottled water has an environmentally undesirable by-product: bottles by the millions, all petroleum-based and transported far. Indeed, it seems obvious that bottled water is unnecessary for most consumers in this country, since most jurisdictions provide pure tap water, or water pure enough to use with light filtering. In essence, bottled water is a convenience buy and fashion statement of sorts. Proponents of bottled water have pointed out that myriad other products come in plastic bottles too. True, but no fluid other than water flows from household spigots.