We can’t give you granular details about the cultural and societal forces that are changing the world of food according to NEXT: The Natural Products Industry Forecast. But this report’s top line results provide vivid insights into what your customers think about when they order food and beverages off your menu.
The NEXT forecast is a collaboration between Restaurant Hospitality’s sister Penton Media property Nutrition Business Journal and Sterling-Rice Group, a branding, innovation and creativity firm. It views food trends through the prism of the natural products industry, but we think that an awful lot of what its authors came up with applies to full-service restaurant operators, with Darden’s Seasons 52 being first on the list. That’s why we’re sharing this information with Eat Beat newsletter readers.
Here, straight from the NEXT report, are seven trends and market forces shaping food consumption behavior today.
1. Wholegrarian revolution. Growing in both number and power, the ’wholegrarian’ consumer seeks out whole-food-based nutrition, avoids highly processed and engineered products, and makes purchasing decisions on the nutrient density associated with specific whole foods. This shopper is passionate and knowledgeable about nutrition, spreads her wisdom in person and via online social networks.
2. Healthy tastes good. It used to be that health was the primary motivator for consuming natural products. Well these days, better-for-you packaged food now tastes good—and, in some cases, way better than the nutrient-devoid offerings it is trying to replace. Simple food flavors are being replaced by much more complex and sophisticated pairings.
3. Food villains. Consumers are increasingly viewing food as a conduit for making them very sick. These food villains come in many shapes and forms—and each one provides consumers with yet another reason to reject a product. Ninety percent of all food allergy reactions are caused by eight major foods: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Brands are reacting in strategic ways.
4. Transparency rules. We live in a world where bad news goes viral in seconds and where shoppers can use free mobile apps to learn exactly what’s in a food product and how its maker rates from a sustainability perspective. All of this is helping to shift power away from the corporation and into the hands of the consumer. Companies survive and even thrive in such an environment by embracing transparency.
5. Local matters. ‘Local’ could be called today’s ‘IT girl’ of food attributes—and consumer research shows the local movement is shaping more places than just trendy slow-food bistros. In one new survey, 75 percent of food retailers said local is the most influential product claim in the specialty food sector right now. This is no fad. In fact, the importance of local is expected to only expand over the next three to five years.
6. Organic in flux. USDA Organic certification was once considered the pinnacle standard within the healthy products industry leading to the creation of everything from organic packaged salad greens to Organic Oreos. Today, organic is just another product label for many consumers, who are increasingly skeptical of what the certification really means and valuing it less. And yet sales of certified organic products rebounded last year to achieve nearly 10 percent growth.
7. Brands on a mission. After decades of feeling duped, people are beginning to scrutinize everything food and beverage companies do and say, particularly on their product labels. Fueling this mistrust have been the numerous examples of companies using overhyped label claims to mislead consumers. Food and beverage companies must take on a whole new approach to marketing and branding to win over consumers—with passionate people and passionate missions.
There is plenty of in-depth trend information in the full report, which is available for purchase. But even the big-picture trends highlighted here give operators deep insights into what many customers think about food right now. Darden’s Seasons 52 concept has found steady growth by appealing to nutritionally aware customers; the Next forecast suggests other operators could potentially do likewise.