BOSTON — When it comes to whole grain trends and consumer attitudes, “there is a lot of energy around food culture,” June Jo Lee, vice-president of strategic insights at The Hartman Group, told participants at the Whole Grains conference held Nov. 9 at the Hyatt Boston Harbor.
“I think we are starting to shift in another direction,” Ms. Lee said. “I know a lot of you are concerned with low carbs, you’re concerned with the gluten-free movement, the ‘no grain’ movement, … we’re just at the beginning of a big experiment, and consumers are just actively seeking ideas about food, advice about food, experiences with food.”
Ms. Lee pointed to five key food culture trends she has spotted as part of her work on behalf of Hartman.
First, demographics are shifting. Ms. Lee said the nation is changing, becoming more ethnically diverse and becoming more mixed ethnically.
Second, modern eating differs substantially from that of earlier generations.
“We are eating alone, on the go, more and more outside the home,” she said. “We are outsourcing a lot of our food.”
A third key trend is a desire for higher quality food experiences. This trend, Ms. Lee said, has been driving consumer choice at the shelves, at retail and at food service.
“Symbolically, it’s been done through the notion of fresh, whole and real, and whole grain is right at the center of that,” she said.
Ms. Lee also mentioned the impact of digital food life.
“Food is now content,” she said. “It is to be shared, to be discovered, to be made, played with, traded. We’re seeing so much food entrepreneurism. No longer is it just the business of large companies. One individual can make food and sell it to other individuals.”
Finally, health and wellness is mainstream. She said it is really about higher quality of life.
While she pinpointed five key food culture trends, Ms. Lee touched on numerous other ways in which the traditional American diet is changing. She said what Americans eat is evolving to fresh, flavorful, global, as in where people live, how they eat, and when they eat.
Ms. Lee also said the restaurant, not home, is now considered the nexus of quality.
“Eating out has become expected,” she said. “It’s become an option. It’s not a special occasion that you get dressed for, that you plan in advance. It’s just one of the options of how to get lunch or dinner done.”
Citing Hartman data, she said 46% of consumers choose eating out when they want better food because they feel it’s a healthier, tastier option.
Additional topics of discussion included food as a cultural product to be discovered and food as being “personal.” Ms. Lee said 44% of consumers have used digital resources to discover flavors, ingredients and cuisines.“That’s really pretty astonishing when you think about the fact it didn’t exist 10 years ago to the scale it has now,” she said.