It’s no news that people today can access more information at the palm of their hands than ever before. But the fast-paced development of the Internet Age has many food businesses and retailers go through trial and error when it comes to serving informed shoppers.
The Food Institute invited “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, consumer trends analyst and former food trends editor for NBC News’ Today show, to unveil and demystify emerging buying patterns about which every food business should be aware.
“The battle for the American meal is really heating up”
Citing a recent heavy investment into the food industry by Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk’s brother, Lempert says that Silicon Valley is starting to merge with the food industry, from supply chains, to restaurants, to food product development.
“And the rules are different, they don’t come out of the food world,” Lempert said during a webinar Dec. 17. “They [Silicon Valley] don’t know what they can’t do. There will be some mistakes, but we are seeing a new era of excitement about food.”
Here are some trends to watch:
- “New Proteins, Butter is Back, Less is More, Free From”
According to Lempert, there’s a new way of eating, as studies have shown that 58% of respondents report they are eating healthier versus a year ago. Protein-rich meals, butter as an ingredient, a smaller ingredient list, and claims that a product is “free from” something will become popular indicators that buyers use to identify food as healthy.
- It’s no longer three meals a day
“We need to think of all the different meal occasions,” Lempert said. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinners, there is now a “midday breakfast,” “commute snack,” “power snack,” and many more.
- Food is available in many more platforms
It’s been a while since food was exclusively sold in grocery stores, appearing in such places as furniture or office supply stores. Now there is also an influx of specialized internet services and apps, from subscriptions to on-demand delivery.
- Personalization is key
Consumers want to be recognized and inspired. “By 2020, mid-market consumers will become more selective and continue to upgrade their culinary and healthy-eating skills,” Lempert said, citing a study by The Hartman Group. For instance, consumers are choosing what Instagram accounts to follow to get recipe ideas.
- Millennials are brand agnostic
Studies have shown that members of the Millennial Generation, aged 17-34, have shopped at nine food retailers in the past 90 days, compared to 6.3 for Boomers. “They love formats like Aldi, which are curating, which are store-brand, which are high quality and a combination of value,” Lempert said.
- Millennials care more about the story behind the product
There are now more millennials than baby boomers, and they're shopping very differently from previous retailers. “What’s important is the way they decide what brands they want is a whole new set of attributes,” Lempert said. Millennials tend to think of what their money will do, in other words, the environmental and social impacts of their purchase.
Addressing brand agnosticism
According to Lempert, brand agnosticism is the trend “retailers should be most worried about,” as more buyers become less concerned about what brand they buy. Services like Instacart and Uber Eats have become the Kayak and Expedia of the food industry, aggregating products from various sources. These “middleman” services, in turn, become the ones that build relationships with buyers and users.
In an article written for Forbes, Lempert suggest that food businesses can win back relationships with customers by “[becoming] a one-stop ‘eco-system’ similar to Yelp’s Eat 24: offering reviews, recipes, selection, ordering, ePayment, tracking and delivery.”