Sally Lyons Wyatt
Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive and general manager of client insights for Information Resources, Inc., offered an overview of the current culture of food in the U.S.

CHICAGO — In her presentation “U.S. Consumer Eating Trends” at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2016 held Feb. 28-March 1 in Chicago, Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive and general manager, client insights, Information Resources, Inc., offered an overview of the current culture of food in the United States. Using the metaphor of a football playbook, she addressed a full room of baking professionals to help them get their game plans ready.

Ms. Wyatt said health and wellness remains one of the largest drivers of growth in the food industry. Consumers increasingly look for simple ingredients and clean labels when grocery shopping. She observed that labels containing information about gluten content, preservatives, protein, bioengineered ingredients and organic status are trending, while fiber, sugar, whole grain and sodium labeling are now deemed less important.

Despite the push toward health, Ms. Wyatt shared that sweet goods, rather than savory ones, are driving the market with bakery sales outpacing food and beverage.

Sweet baked goods
Sweet goods are currently driving the market, with bakery sales outpacing food and beverage.

A diversifying U.S. population is also a major factor in consumer behavior at large, with millennial and Hispanic markets growing the fastest. Young consumers tend to look for more adventurous flavors, while an increasing Hispanic population searches for ethnically-inspired recipes. Ms. Wyatt shared that 75% of bi-cultural Hispanics said they search for recipes on-line, a departure from the passed-down-for-generations mentality traditionally associated with the demographic. Fusions of traditional and experimental recipes are increasingly common. However, Ms. Wyatt cautioned against overly simplifying demographic information, as people of multiple generations or eating philosophies often live within the same household and affect purchasing.

Consumers now are offered more channels through which to buy food with on-line shopping, food trucks, quick-service restaurants and vending machines offering more choices than ever. Food service has outpaced retail sales for the past three years, driven by an increasingly single and childless population. Though cooking at home was a necessity for generations past, Ms. Wyatt observed that some now are choosing to cook with each other as a social activity or form of entertainment. It’s often a lifestyle choice rather than a practical one.

Many stores now offer sit-down areas for customers to eat, often referred to as "grocerants."

Retail has reacted to these trends in various ways. Many stores now offer sit-down areas for customers to eat, along with rotating limited-time items meant to pique the interest of those looking for variety. Ms. Wyatt pointed to increased consumer engagement as a key to growth going forward.

 “We are obsessed with food,” she claimed, pointing to the sharing of meal pictures and recipes via social media as an indicator that consumers are looking to food as a meaningful experience and not just a way to fill up. She urged the audience to leverage consumers’ desires for health, convenience and quality in personal ways, and to tailor their presentation and advertising in ways to reach multiple generations. Overall, she said, the future looks bright for the baking industry.