What's for dinner?

Spontaneous Eating May Redefine Food Industry

July 15th, 2016 Posted by Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Spontaneous Eating May Redefine Food Industry”

Are you ready to take advantage of ‘right now’ behaviors?

At Emergent, we’re constantly watching and observing behavioral shifts and trend changes that impact the food and beverage business. Case in point: Last-minute meals – not as a tangential or peripheral condition, but a pervasive change as people increasingly act on impulse.

The impromptu 4 p.m. question: “What’s for dinner?”

During the last 10 years, and spurred by the ’08 and ’09 economic implosion, we’ve witnessed a dramatic upheaval in how people live and work. Best seen as a blurring of any distinction or separation between work and home life. The shift has further distanced consumers from more regimented timetables that helped support an organized and scheduled approach to eating.

Why is this happening? The explosion of entrepreneurial career paths, virtual businesses, work-from-home conditions, flex-time policies, and the “right now” demands and immediacy pace of business – fueled by digital technology – makes work a 24/7 proposition. All of these factors help upend the traditional 9 to 5 workday archetype – and with it the usual organization of mealtimes that cast for decades how food is purchased and consumed.

Schedules in family life now are often fragmented and unpredictable. Meals are spontaneous events that happen as time permits and hunger strikes. The variety of food-within-arms-reach options has blossomed and enabled a form of ‘food mood’ (whim) to be indulged on an increasingly consistent basis.

More often than not people don’t know what they’re having for dinner within two hours of what is ostensibly dinnertime. The Hartman Eating Occasions Compass has also tracked a 4-point increase since 2010 of adults consuming food within one hour of its purchase from retail.

Advance planning is increasingly out the window

Is the food retailer and foodservice operator really now an extension of the home pantry and kitchen? If so, what are the implications for marketing in this right-now model of decision-making?

For food retail, we believe it is a clarion call to operate as a source of inspiration and a guide to solutions that match and mirror this behavior. For foodservice it may require rethinking how menus are constructed to offer (super) small and medium sized portions in what is seemingly a reimagined snack type meal occasion.

What is most important for either channel is the ability to operate in the moment with grab and go, delivered and call ahead capabilities.

Example: On the horizon for food retail is a new tech solution DinnerCall®, a new mobile app on a mission to bring friends and family back to the dining table and answer “what’s for dinner” on any given night.

The DinnerCall app permits click-to-select and pay for options from grocery prepared food menus. Thus, DinnerCall may help level the competitive playing field for supermarkets to compete directly with restaurants for outsourced dining occasions. GrubHub, Seamless and UberEATS have already fixed a strong solution with restaurant operators as online facilitator of mobile ordering and fulfillment. DinnerCall aims to do the same for grocery.

What’s important to recognize here, again, is the role immediacy plays in the food business. Spontaneous, unplanned, at-a-whim preferences are driving change in how consumers eat. This ties naturally with other data we’ve seen on the “snackification” of society as smaller and more frequent meal occasions become increasingly popular at the expense of traditional meal moments.

So, what’s for dinner?

Well, no one really knows until time permits and hunger strikes.

Then, who is answering the call?

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 Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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