Keith Nunes 2019KANSAS CITY — Taste, price and convenience for decades have been atop the hierarchy of attributes product developers considered when formulating new food and beverage products. But the emergence of the convenience economy is leading to a disruption of the status quo.

Taste and price remain ensconced in the top two slots. It is the concept of convenience that is in transition. The bar for what qualifies as extra convenient continues to rise. Product formats and packaging materials that once gave items a premium positioning increasingly are considered standard. For instance, consumers expect certain products to be fully seasoned and ready-to-cook or heat-and-eat. Resealable closures on multi-use foodstuffs are also no longer a special enhancement. This trend also is evident in the supply chain as online ordering and delivery, click and collect, and subscription services become more prevalent.

The shift is not immediately discernible in Information Resources, Inc.’s 2019 New Products Survey. The market researcher surveyed more than 2,000 consumers and asked, “How much of an impact do the following have in your interest in new food and beverage products?” Taste clocked in at a robust 93 per cent of responses. Price was second at 83 per cent, followed by healthfulness (67 per cent), convenience (65 per cent) and simple ingredients (64 per cent). The choices of sustainability and “complies with a special diet” were chosen 39 per cent and 31 per cent of the time, respectively.

The International Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health Survey reports similar results. The more than 1,000 consumers participating in the 2018 survey chose taste 81 per cent of the time followed by price (64 per cent), healthfulness (61 per cent), familiarity (57 per cent), convenience (54 per cent) and sustainability (39 per cent).

While the rise of healthfulness is an important attribute for product developers to emphasize in innovations, the outscoring of convenience should not be misinterpreted. It isn’t that the attribute is less important to consumers; it reflects societal macrotrends. The transition is a direct result of the convenience economy that has emerged in the wake of the evolution of the internet and personal technology.

Today, consumers expect to be able to buy products when they want, how they want them and where they want them. This development is driving significant change throughout the food system as manufacturers, retailers and food service operators attempt to establish business models that meet such expectations and allow them to remain profitable.

In 2016, the consultancy Deloitte published a landmark report that assessed the attributes that influenced consumer food and beverage purchases. Taste, price and convenience were identified as traditional drivers while health and wellness, safety, social impact and experience were identified as emerging drivers. The authors of the report identified transparency as a consumer expectation, meaning people expected to be able to learn more about a product and the manufacturer when they wanted such information.

Three short years later it appears convenience is transitioning into the same category as transparency. Such an expectation will have a profound effect on how future food and beverage products are packaged and delivered. It will, most notably, limit the premium price manufacturers are able to charge for such features and services.