Baby boomers controlling more than 50 percent of the total dollars spent on groceries, farmers as celebrities, and an increased presence of men in the kitchen are among the trends that will most affect food makers and retailers in 2012, according to Phil Lempert, founder of Food Nutrition & Science and CEO of The Lempert Report. For more than 30 years, Lempert has predicted the top 10 food trends for the upcoming year. Here is a recap of this years’ Top 10 Food Trends for 2012 as featured in the most recent issue of Food Nutrition & Science.
- Trend #1 – Food prices: Higher input costs and increased exports will continue to push U.S. food prices up in 2012 and beyond, ensuring continued use of now-routine savings tactics such as coupons, loyalty cards/rewards, careful shopping lists, shifting to private-label goods, and doing more shopping at discounters and other non-traditional grocery retailers, says Lempert.
- Trend #2 – Never shop or eat alone again: The rise of food blogs and food trucks has set the foundation for group experiences. Like the mobile apps Yelp, Living Social and Foursquare, it’s about connection, conversation and the sense of community they provide. Organic and coordinated through these apps, these communities will emerge based on specific channels of food interest (e.g., Greek foods, raw foods, beef, vegetarian, gluten-free) versus the communities of old built around similar demographics or socio-economic traits, says Lempert. Expect app updates to include “social rewards” for groups who shop together – much like the original concept of warehouse clubs – offering steep discounts for its members.
- Trend #3 – The Baby Boomers keep right on truckin’: The 76 million people who started turning 65 last year will become the largest food influencers and purchasers, controlling 52 percent of the total $706 billion spent on groceries by 2015. Products and marketing approaches will increasingly reflect Boomers’ need for more healthful options, physical comfort while shopping, including wider aisles and lower shelves, and a fondness for “nostalgia” as consumers turn to brands they’ve known and loved for decades. According to Lempert, expect to see more icons such as Cheech & Chong (now hawking Fiber One), Pan Am and all 60s music tracks leading this generation to new and old brands and into the supermarket.
- Trend #4 – Increased emphasis on the “Farm to Fork” journey: Interest in the farm-to-fork journey has grown considerably, inspired in part by food safety scares and more importantly by a desire to know how the food we are serving our families is being produced, notes Lempert. A growing number of farmers are leading the conversation by using blogs and social media to bring the story of the American farmer to consumers. Expect to see more advertising and television programs starring these real food experts.
- Trend #5 – The end of the checkout lane: Many shoppers are learning to appreciate the high-tech nature of self-checkouts, comparing prices at nearby retailers, cellphone scanners, in-store interactive media devices, QR codes, and mobile coupons. Retailers will continue to push hard to leverage mobile and other technologies that enable customers to practically skip the front-end checkout process, as well as access customized, transaction-driven offers/rewards and in-depth product information while shopping. According to Lempert, a change is about to happen where high-tech meets high-touch in a warm and friendly way that reinforces the central community nature and feel of the local supermarket. If you are hesitant to believe, just think back to the last time you saw a phone booth.
- Trend #6 – The ethnic food revolution: Food trucks will continue to replace gourmet and specialty stores when it comes to experimenting and discovering new foods, especially ethnic foods. More often than not, these trucks are manned by descendants of the actual cuisines and cultures being offered which has paved the way for mainstream food makers and retailers to market authentic ethnic foods and ingredients in affordable, convenient ways, sums up Lempert.
- Trend #7 – The new role of the male shopper: It’s all about “dad” and family. According to a study from Boston College Center for Work and Family, “today’s dads associate being a good father just as much with the role of effective caregiver as the traditional role of breadwinner.” These men want to be engaged parents and successful professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 41 percent of men are now doing the food preparation, as compared to half that amount in 2003. Look for them to do more of the grocery shopping and meal preparation in 2012.
- Trend #8 – Eating at home (Xtreme home cooking): Americans won’t just be eating more meals at home; they’ll be priding themselves on “making the most for the least” by shopping, cooking, eating and storing leftovers in bulk, says Lempert. Convenience will give way to stressing economy and taste, encouraging slow-cooking and group-cooking trends.
- Trend #9 – How sweet it isn’t: Look for reduced sugar products to be the biggest health claim in the coming year, along with a revised Nutrition Facts panel on food. Sugar is an ingredient that has been at the center of many debates, whether it’s a proposed soda tax, changing the name of high fructose corn syrup or even the latest update of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which recommended reducing the amount of added sugars. Given the rates of obesity and diabetes, Americans are becoming more reluctant to consume empty sugar calories (as opposed to naturally occurring sugars in healthy foods). The new label will finally bring clarity and change.
- Trend #10 – The sound of food: The sounds associated with food and its packaging, as well as foods’ taste, look and texture, influence our eating and buying decisions. In 2012, multisensory perception will be one of the new “food sciences”, as psychologists and food scientists join forces to design, create and influence the sounds of our foods to convey freshness, taste and even health attributes. Which no doubt will add yet another dimension to shoppers’ decision making process as to which foods to choose, claims Lempert.
Here’s to 2012!