Socializing over local, fresh foods

by Allison Gibeson
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Among the trends listed in forecasters’ predictions for 2012, it seems local, fresh and less processed foods will continue to dominate, and the social aspect of food will continue in importance.

It has been important in the past, but continued consumer interest in where food comes from was integral in trend listings from The Supermarket Guru, Leatherhead Food Research and the National Restaurant Association.

Phil Lempert, better known as The Supermarket Guru, said a growing number of farmers are leading the conversation on the “farm to fork” journey by using blogs and social media to bring the story of the American farmer to consumers.

With this, sustainability will continue to stand out for consumers who look for companies to be responsible in packaging, water and energy usage, according to Leatherhead Food Research, which is based in the United Kingdom.

Additionally, health and well-ness has been a dominant trend for years, and it will continue to dominate in the coming year. Laura Kempster, senior market analyst with Leatherhead, said companies are revising and reformulating products to lower sodium, sugar and fat content to meet industry guidelines. While some food companies see this as their main activity in the health and wellness sector, other companies are working to widen the appeal of “free-from” foods for a more general audience. Interest in the incorporation of natural ingredients and additives and the removal of artificial ingredients will continue, Ms. Kempster said.

“2012 looks set to be one in which on-going trends will be stre-tched to their full potential, particularly as con-sumer concerns about health and wellness have prevailed and continue to be high on the agenda,” Ms. Kempster said. “Coupled with this, the uncertain economic future continues to affect both industry and consumers with a ‘tightening of belts’ attitude still very much affecting spending and investment.”

Coupons, nostalgia draw interest

Mr. Lempert said rising food prices will cause consumers to place an even heavier emphasis on printable grocery coupons, frequent shopper cards and shopping lists. Consumers will even use mobile devices to figure a price-per-portion cost rather than the unit price. Sites such as ConAgra’s
that highlights recipes and shows what ingredients are on sale also will be popular.

Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, said con-sumers are trying to move into economic recovery, and this will be seen in more fun cocktails as opposed to less expensive wine and beer. Asian flavors also will take a turn toward sourcing from more exotic and extreme locations, such as Bhutan, Nepal and Cambodia. She said deep north and Arctic foods will rise in popularity with influences from Denmark and similar places. She also said emphasis on children’s nutrition and issues will continue.

Both Mr. Lempert and Leatherhead said older consumers will influence trends. Mr. Lempert said baby boomers will control 52% of the total $706 billion spent on groceries by 2015. Foods with health benefits will be a significant part of this, but foods that appeal to nostalgia also will succeed.

According to The Food Channel, consumer purchasing patterns are shifting as people look to purchase from smaller and more specialized stores, such as cupcake shops instead of general bakeries. Along with this is the rise of big box stores trying to cater to this desire, which has led to the growth of Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets.

“As these specialties stores rise from one end, on the other end the big box people are going, ‘If people want slow, artisan, local and hand-made, how do we make sure we don’t get lost in that interest from consumers,’” said Kay Logsdon, editor-in-chief of

What’s new on the menu?

For food service, The Food Channel also listed “black market foods” as a top trend, referring to restaurants using limited supply offerings. The McDonald’s McRib is an example of this trend implemented successfully.

“More food providers and restaurateurs are taking a look at the idea of a limited supply as not just a marketing tool but a management tool,” Ms. Logsdon said. “One of the biggest frustrations for restaurateurs is ‘How do I plan my menu when people don’t make reservations.’”

She said one way to manage this is a limited supply. In cases, this gives restaurants the opportunity to expose consumers to a product and develop demand, giving the restaurant the ability to have a larger supply of the product in the future.

In addition, Ms. Logsdon said while economic recovery is gaining momentum, consumers do not want to flaunt increased spending on food, leading to “inconspicuous consumption.” She said consumers are willing to spend more on dinner, but they aren’t going to brag to their friends about going to a top-line restaurant. Instead, they may order the most expensive thing on the menu of an everyday restaurant. She said one way to appeal to this is to have more variety on menus and include both high-end and low-end items.

Mintel International also sees variety in menus as an important trend, noting “double-sided menus” will be important in 2012. Mintel said menus will still feature indulgent options, but there also will be healthier, better-for-you items as well.

In the coming year there will be more restaurant chefs growing at least some of their own menu and even contracting with local farmers, The Food Channel noted.

Both The Food Channel and Mr. Lempert agree the social experiences in food consumption will be important to consumers. Ms. Logsdon said as consumers have been cooking more at home since the recession, they are looking for bigger home social experiences in cooking.

“Cooking has become an event … everyone is bringing themselves to the party and they are engaging with each other while they cook, and it’s really almost a community feel to it,” Ms. Logsdon said.
Mintel also said consumers want increased control in their dining experiences, which includes customized ordering systems. In addition, consumers desire slower preparation methods from quick-service restaurants to achieve a more “handmade” or “home-style” feel.

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