2011 brought us higher food prices at unprecedented levels, crops and livestock destroyed by global weather catastrophes, nations at war over the lack of food supplies, and more food recalls from unique points of origin. Americans love their foods – in supermarkets, on television, at restaurants and now even on their mobile phones – we are a nation obsessed with food trucks, molecular gastronomy and struggling to eat as local as we can. All of which has built a foundation for what may be one of the most exciting – and game-changing years in the food world: Welcome to Food 2012.
Trend #1: Food Prices
There is little doubt that in the coming years, we will continue to see food prices rise based on environmental conditions as well as higher production costs. The costs of fuel, feed, packaging, food safety coupled with a higher demand for export all will factor into the retail price on the shelf. Many of the savings tactics most shoppers deployed in 2007 as the recession began are still being used each time they shop for groceries – using coupons, frequent shopper cards, shopping lists, shopping at non-traditional foods stores and even trading down their choices to less expensive brands are part of the regular routine. Look for consumers to shave costs by augmenting their recipes by decreasing the amount of the more expensive meats and seafood and adding more non-meat proteins that are filling and less expensive, including whole-wheat pasta, tofu, lentils, brown rice and vegetables to recipe.
Look for supermarkets to offer "lay-away" plans for larger purchases including holiday dinners that are tied into frequent shopper plans and offer bonus discounts (put $200 in your lay-away fund and store adds 10% bonus) and resurrect the bargain bins from the bygone department store era for deeply discounted opportunistic buys to compete with the dollar stores and outlets. Expect shoppers to use their mobile devices to calculate a price per portion cost rather than the unit price of individual products listed on the shelves. Just as the younger generation uses social networking as part of their everyday lives, expect this generation to be the "forever frugal consumer" using more coupons (higher than any other demographic) and searching for deals on line (63% spend 3 hours or more each week - double that of any other group). Besides saving money, perhaps this will even force Americans to finally slim down.
Trend #2: Never Shop or Eat Alone Again
The rise of food blogs has set a foundation for group food experiences. Food trucks tweet their locations and flash food raves assemble underground at midnight. And it is not about the food. It is about connection, conversation and a sense of community. It is estimated that 30% of today’s U.S. workforce is made up of independents – as a result they have a greater desire to be in a shared food experience — “let’s meet and eat” if you will.
Apps like Foursquare, GoWalla, Living Social and Yelp have shown how “group” is better than “self.” Expect to see super food apps that bring previously unknown people together with common likes; to eat, prepare and shop together. Organic and coordinated through these apps, these communities will emerge based on specific channels of food interest (e.g., Greek foods, raw foods, beef, vegetarian, gluten-free) versus the communities of old built around similar demographics or socio-economic traits.
One key to success will be embracing LoSoPhoMo — mobile marketing enhanced by the location, social and camera features of mobile devices. Expect the next app updates to include “social rewards” for these groups who shop together — much like the original concept of warehouse clubs – offering steep discounts for its members.
Trend #3: The Baby Boomers keep right on truckin’
The generation of 76 million who started turning 65 years old last year will control 52% of the total $706 billion spend on groceries by 2015 – making them the largest food influencers and purchasers. The Baby Boom generation (which comprises shoppers aged 48 to 65) is expected to have a longer average lifespan — 74.1 years for men and 79.5 years for women — and as a result are becoming more interested in those foods and beverages that offer them health and wellness benefits. Nostalgia plays a key role with this generation, and expect to see more icons such as Cheech & Chong (now hawking Fiber One), Pan Am and all 60s music tracks leading this generation to new and old brands and into the supermarket. Boomers are much more brand and store loyal. Expect supermarkets to cater to the Boomers, not only by offering the foods, beverages and services to satisfy their growing interest (and need) for health — but to take a good look at the physical shopping experience, to make sure that the aisles are wide, to lower the shelves and most importantly to make them feel welcome and respected.
Trend #4: Increased Emphasis on the ‘Farm to Fork’ Journey Shoppers have become increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from, which is why 2012 will bring an added emphasis to a different kind of food celebrity — the farmer. Last year we saw sales flourish among grocery retailers who jumped on the movement among consumers to “buy local.” In this age of transparency, interest in the farm-to-fork journey has grown considerably, inspired in part by food-safety scares and more importantly a desire to know how the food we are serving our families is being produced.
This year, we’re seeing more farmers get in on the action. A growing number of farmers are leading the conversation by using blogs and social media sites to bring the story of the American farmer to consumers. According to the American Farm Bureau’s 2010 Young Farmers and Ranchers Survey, nearly 99% of farmers and ranchers aged 18 to 35 have access to and use the Internet and nearly three quarters of those surveyed have a Facebook page. Additionally, 10% use Twitter and 12% post YouTube videos. In fact, 77% of those surveyed view this type of communication as an important part of their jobs as farmers and ranchers. In September of this year, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) launched an annual $11 million program designed to open the dialogue with consumers. Expect to see more advertising and television programs starring these real food experts (vs. actors pretending to know their food).
Trend #5: The end of the checkout lane
Many shoppers are learning to appreciate the tech-savvy nature of self-checkouts — the ability to compare prices at nearby retailers, cell phone scanners, in-store interactive media devices, QR codes, RFID and mobile coupons — and state-of-the-art retailers increasingly deliver on the promise of independent, efficient and information-rich store visits. Supermarket retailers are faced with a problem — the GS1 DataBar standards are impending and barcode scanners need to be updated, which is a huge investment. At the same time chains including Wal-Mart and Macy’s are pushing suppliers to add RFID chips to individual items. And then there is Google Wallet and other mobile device apps that will allow shoppers not only the opportunity to find out nutritional, allergy and country of origin information on individual products, but also allow them to receive special offers, electronic coupons, flash sales and to checkout themselves.
For many shoppers high-tech adds to personalization with suggested purchases and targeted offers based on their histories in the store, which is typically delivered in a functional way. A change is about to happen where high-tech meets high-touch in a warm and friendly way that reinforces the central community nature and feel of the local supermarket. If you are hesitant to believe, just think back to the last time you saw a phone booth.
Trend #6: The ethnic food revolution
Food trucks are replacing gourmet and specialty stores as the channel to experiment and discover new food experiences — especially when it comes to ethnic foods. More often than not, these ethnic food trucks are actually manned by descendants of the actual cuisines and cultures being offered; with the ability and knowledge to share the heritage and romance of the food — a benefit many shoppers have come to enjoy and expect from shopping at Farmers’ Markets for produce. They’ve opened access to these foods they feel passionate about, and they have removed intimidation and expense from the experience of consumer trial, paving the way for food companies and retailers to bring to market authentic ethnic cuisines, recipes and ingredients in a more convenient and affordable way. Look for pupusas — which some claim is the most authentic and traditional food from El Salvador - grilled corn masa patties hand shaped and stuffed with cheese and various filings to lead the charge as the winning dish from this year’s Vendy Awards.
Trend #7: The new role of the male shopper
This time it is not about the metrosexual — it is all about “dad” and family. After surveying 1,000 professional fathers from Fortune 500 companies in four different industries, Boston College Center for Work and Family learned that, “Today’s dads associate being a good father just as much with the role of effective caregiver as the traditional role of breadwinner. These men want to be engaged parents and successful professionals, yet find conflicts as they try to achieve both objectives.” Because of the economy, more men are at home. The good news for them is that studies suggest a link between husbands who help out at home and happier relationships. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “for husbands and wives alike, the more housework you do, the more often you are likely to have sex with your spouse,” and that’s when they are not burning calories while cooking — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 41% of men are now doing the food preparation as compared to just about half that amount in 2003.
Trend #8: Eating at home — Xtreme Home Cooking Someone is going to eat all those home cooked foods that these men are preparing, so get ready for yet another slowdown at foodservice establishments. With continued pressure on the economy more men and women will be choosing to eat at home to save money, which has happened before – but this time around expect a twist. Think of it as Xtreme Home Cooking where, following the lead of Extreme Couponers, these everyday cooks pride themselves on making the most for the least. Campaigns like Slow Food USA’s $5 meal challenge paved the way for a new series of recipes that put the focus on price and taste over convenience. Look for food groups to form that cook together, crowd sourcing in the kitchen if you will, with the same primary focus on cost – shopping, cooking, eating and storing leftovers in bulk. A new definition for the “value meal” which could extend to quantity discounts at fast food establishments and other restaurants that offer a sizable discount based on the number of diners. Instead of senior discounts, think party of 5 discounts.
Trend #9: How sweet it isn’t
Earlier this year, the latest update on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released, and one recommendation surprised many — reducing the amount of added sugars of all kinds (especially in soft drinks.) Sugar has been an ingredient that has been the center of a lot of debates. Whether it’s a proposed soda tax, changing the name of high-fructose corn syrup, or even one of the main culprits in the latest research into food addiction, it is hot. According to the American Heart Association, adult consumption of added sugars has been on the rise since the ’80s; up a whopping 51% in both women and men. Look for reduced-sugar products to be the biggest health claim in the coming year along with a revised Nutrition Facts Panel. Nutrition Facts currently lists the amount of total sugars per serving but does not indicate whether the sugars are added, occur naturally, or are a combination of the two.
Sugar is sugar (i.e., sugar, corn syrup, HFCS or honey) once it enters the body in terms of caloric significance. But whether they are naturally occurring or added is the actual game-changer. The effect of consuming foods with naturally occurring sugars like fruit, vegetables, milk and grain products, is very different than added sugars, because sugars occurring in their natural state come packaged with the added benefits of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals that whole foods provide. Too often added sugars are empty calories and have no benefit to our health. The new label will finally bring clarity and change.
Trend #10: The sound of food
Consumers took to their keyboards to cry foul when one snack food changed their package to albeit a more sustainable, but noisier bag. People judge the readiness of foods like microwave popcorn or burgers on the grill by the sounds that these foods make. They judge the freshness of carbonated beverages based on the sound of the gas escaping the container as it opens, and the duration of the sound of the bubbles as they pour. Multisensory perception will be one of the new “food sciences” in 2012 as psychologists and food scientists join forces to design, create and influence the sounds of our foods to convey freshness, taste and even health attributes. Research is now underway at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University to understand how our brains process the information from each of our different senses (smell, taste, sight, hearing and touch) to form our food experiences — which no doubt will add yet another dimension to shoppers’ decision-making process as to which foods to choose.