Farmer to Supermarket

Trend Watch: Immediacy and Proximity to Invade Food Business

February 16th, 2016 Posted by Brand preference, food experiences, Food Trend, shopper behavior, storytelling, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Trend Watch: Immediacy and Proximity to Invade Food Business”

From the food business to the fashion business, a pervasive trend is emerging as the distance between maker and buyer continues to close. For decades in the fashion world, the runway show archetype would play out with designers parading their seasonal lines in front of store buyers who then place orders. Rinse, repeat. In a recent precedent setting departure from New York Fashion Week traditions, Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey recently announced that consumers can order any outfit they like online – straight from the runway show.

In food the ‘buy local’ movement has gained momentum as retailers devote increasing space to feature products bought from farms and providers within a few hundred miles of their store location. New distribution businesses are stepping in to bring ordering simplicity and consistency in product sourcing, delivery from farms to retail locations.

People want to know more about the foods they eat, where they came from, how they were farmed, by whom and how much time has transpired from harvest to shelf to kitchen.

Separately, consumer behavior studies report a move away from pantry stocking to a more European mindset of food shopping – buying meals more often than full cart stock ups. Now answering the question – what’s for dinner? – shopping baskets get smaller while frequency of trips goes higher. And with it comes a growing interest in producer stories underneath about food quality, freshness and how products were farmed.

Emergent believes the distance, time and proximity between farmer, grocery and home kitchen will continue to shrink.


Increasing use of home delivery services that operate within hours of an order will continue to satisfy the growing desire for quick and convenient. Online ordering of food ingredients and prepared foods will open a new channel for supermarkets that increasingly compete with restaurants for culinary inspired ‘do-it-for-me’ food experiences. Supermarkets will start to experiment with delivery of prepared meals and the quality of dishes coming out of grocery commissaries will continue to rise as more experienced restaurant chefs take the helm in those kitchens.


At Thanksgiving a year ago I went to the farmers’ market near my home in downtown Chicago. While there, I shook hands with the man who raised my turkey. He told me the story behind the heritage variety of bird he preferred, the added value it brought to flavors and even some tips on preparation. I felt different going home with this new knowledge and respect for the man who said my turkey was walking around just two days before. Wow. I’ve honestly never felt anything about a turkey purchase previously but now I had a story to share with family who would enjoy the bird the next day.

Not every food purchase will have this kind of dynamic. But the desire for story, for quality and responsibility in how things are made, for attention to craftsmanship and food experience is increasingly favoring the emergence of smaller niche brands and specialists who bring mission, transparency and values already baked into their business platform.

People want to get closer to these stories and the people behind them. Proximity can mean, literally, you go to the farm. Or, the farm comes to you via the farmers’ market or in-store appearance event at a conventional grocer. And, there’s a third option: stories built using digital video to bring the proximity right to your screen at home.

A recent Deloitte study on consumer food and beverage purchase behavior reveals, if anything, an increasing thirst for knowledge and understanding. To know more about how products are made, the ingredient stories, the quality standards and how the supply chain functions.

It’s close up and close-in: a more holistic view of what transparency means.

How retailers respond to this development will translate into competitive advantage. How food companies re-think their business model, mission, operations and brand narrative will also play for or against this shift.

What do you think?

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for  higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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