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New opportunities for food marketers as American eating habits shift

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 27-Jan-2012

Economic uncertainty is changing the way America eats, creating a series of “virtually untapped” opportunities for food marketers, according to a new report.

The report by A. Elizabeth Sloan, “What, When, and Where America Eats”, published in the latest edition of Food Technology, claims that there have been dramatic changes taking place in American eating habits over the past few years. Consumers increasingly have been looking for affordable options, but they are still looking for tasty, healthier, clean-label food.

“An increased understanding of how consumers orient their culinary expectations to foods depending on the type, and motivation for, individual eating occasions is identifying some new and potentially very lucrative product opportunities,” Sloan wrote.

In particular, people are eating alone more often, with 44% of eating occasions being solitary, while only 26% of American adults live alone. However, eating alone does not necessarily mean skimping on the dining experience, and Sloan cites Hartman research, which found that 35% of these single eating occasions involved upscale foods, “defined by freshness, distinctive flavors, foodie narratives, etc.”

Taste is still the top purchase motivator for 87% of consumers, the report said, but this is now closely followed by affordability for 79% of consumers.

In addition, the poor economy may have caused a decline in healthy eating, it said, with the proportion of shoppers saying they were very concerned about nutrition falling six percentage points from a year earlier to 39% in 2011.

Nevertheless, consumers are still looking for specific front of pack claims, with ‘whole grains’ and ‘low sodium’ the most popular, followed by high fiber, no trans fats, and low sugar.

The report also cites research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), which has found two-thirds of consumers are more interested in positive statements about nutrition, rather than negative statements about what they should not eat. This may include seeking out positive nutrients or food groups, or buying specific foods for their ‘superfood’ status.

The full report is available online here .

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