Posts tagged "food culture"

Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth

June 24th, 2018 Posted by Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Food and wine, food experiences, Food Trend 0 comments on “Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth”

Yes, the Secret Sauce IS the Sauce

To our friends in the food and restaurant business: want to know how to get people to, in effect, eat out of your hands morning, noon and night? Turns out delicious and umami are littermates and keys to the culinary kingdom of eating satisfaction, smiles and happiness. These attributes sit knocking at the front door of repeat purchase and visits.

Yes, the path to great taste is regularly paved with umami, the fifth taste sense (friend to sour, sweet, salty, bitter) discovered and minted in Japan around 1908 by chemist Kikunae Ikeda. His work determined glutamic acid lies at the foundation of great taste experiences. Ikeda then set about commercializing this epiphany by designing it in crystalline form as a flavor enhancer ̶ commonly known as MSG.

The so-called Glutamate was a shot across the bow in refining and defining what it is that humans experience and love about deeper, crave-able flavor. This discovery helps explain why there are more burger and pizza chains than any other form of foodservice business. A cheeseburger with tomato and ketchup is an umami flavor bomb. Thus, perhaps, explaining its lasting popularity across both geography and generations. Ditto pizza.

How Umami found me

It was in a Galaxy Far, Far Away – the Pacific Northwest’s city of Seattle, where my journey begins as a junior home chef on a mission to apprentice the culinary arts. I discovered a cookbook titled The Sixty Minute Gourmet, published by the food editor team at the New York Times. It famously promised to impart basic French technique to the Yankee reader in short order.

I made every dish in the book. Perhaps the chief skill gleaned in the process was saucing and caramelizing. And thus I witnessed how reduction sauces, for instance, could be created to take a plain hamburger patty to an absurdly elevated and refined taste experience. It quickly became clear that any protein or vegetable could climb the deliciousness ladder if a compatible savory sauce pooled above or below.

The sheer act of reducing stocks – vegetable, beef, fish or veal – with butter, wine and in some cases (a little bit of) cream was literally a set-up for injecting umami flavor formally described as concentrated savory, brothy and meaty-ness. Relatively neutral tasting chicken could become a culinary tour de force with a proper sauce.

On commoner ground

Umami isn’t just a highbrow culinary concept. The ubiquitous bottle of ketchup also sits high on the umami ladder, and also probably explains why $8.6 billion of the common red condiment is sold every year in America, a per capita spend of $17.85 per person per year, according to Statista. No surprise Heinz owns about $1.4 billion of that lucre. What’s at work here, in addition to the brothy meaty-ness, is flavor intensity, mouth feel and a redolent savory-ness. When savory is combined with a creamy-like carrier that takes up residence on the tongue, magic happens.

  • The intense salty, nutty richness of correctly aged Parmesan cheese provides another umami-bite example; hence why cheese is, in many ways, king of the umami empire. Translating this understanding into business opportunity can be summed in an innovation cornucopia of opportunity.

Condiments, sauces, toppings and marinades can be employed as umami revitalizers, providing transformative power to reinvent otherwise bland and less interesting foods and menu items. Flavor enhancers impart what the senses want in appetizing taste experiences. It can alter the perception of value in the consumer’s passion for food adventures. Such as:

  1. Bone broth instead of stocks due to its inherent richness, mouth-feel and flavor depth.
  2. Soy, Teriyaki, sesame oil and other Asian sauces that drive the experience of a noodle way past its hereditary plain and maybe boring self.
  3. Sauces and proteins are a marriage made in heaven and allow not only for amping the delicious quotient but also bringing global flavors for an adventurous twist.

In short – bowls, pasta dishes, proteins, salads, vegetables and sandwiches can all be elevated by cranking up the umami index.

Quick innovations

Sauces and toppings can be a faster path to reinvention and reengineering packaged foods and dishes. Think of umami as flavor paint that accompanies anything it sits on or near, to bring the glutamic acid punch that sends ordinary to extraordinary.

The novel use of fresh real-food ingredients to form the basis of umami richness adds to the alchemy of creating flavor without resorting to the chemistry set. In the end, it is deliciousness that wins. Umami is the envelope that enrobes common foods in something special. The outcome is business growth because of the surprise and delight it imparts.

I know because here at the Wheatley house, Hamburger Soopreez as we call it is one of the most popular dishes on the family menu due to its umami bath. Thanks for getting us on the road Ikeda-san.

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

 

GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge

June 2nd, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Healthy Living, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge”

Wallet wields power and Z-ers are ‘voting’ with it

Alert: in two short years Gen Z will be 40 percent of all U.S. consumers. They arrive in economic primetime with a distinctive and unique point of view: economic power is a tool for social change and improvement.

Dissatisfied with politics and politicians whom they feel can’t be trusted to operate decisively for the greater good, Gen Z-ers see their purchases as influential and an expression of what they want the world around them to believe about their priorities and values.

For brands this means young people expect companies to use their influence and platforms for the greater good, to imbue their brands with greater meaning, and to create pathways for participation in something that’s meaningful.

Voting with their dollars

According to a recent study by DoSomething.org:

  • 76 percent of Gen Z-ers have purchased a brand specifically to support issues the brand stands for (this of course assumes the brand indeed stands for something beyond its product expertise, business results, and to the benefit of people and society).
  • 67 percent have stopped purchasing a brand or would do so, if the company does not operate in alignment with their beliefs and values.
  • 40 percent have used purchase power intentionally to boycott bad company behaviors and policies, or to influence improvements and change.

A more values-driven generation, Z-ers believe what you buy and where you shop or eat is a cultural, and at times political, statement. So it’s no surprise the study discovered 49 percent believe it is vital for a company to have social change initiatives in their mission and planning.

Consumerism and the channel for change

Z-ers see mainstream politics as often out of touch with social and environmental issues they deem important, such as gun control and climate change; and politicians as operating in a cycle of self-interest at the expense of others’ well-being as with DACA, healthcare, justice reform, and some aspects of the current political environment on immigration.

Importantly, this can be attributed to control. Z-ers may feel public policy operates beyond their sphere of influence, but economic power tied to social change issues, is seen as entirely within their realm of accessibility to participate in something that matters.

What’s important to note here is the focus on social change and improvement; a generation of consumers who place priority on helping the world around them, and who expect brands to participate in a meaningful way in this arena with them as a prerequisite to earning and maintaining their business.

Higher Purpose?

What is your brand and company mission beyond the balance-sheet interests? And by the way, this is not just a call for philanthropy. Check writing in service of a cause is not unimportant, but this goes beyond donations to how the company’s core purpose is configured.

For food businesses this can be about addressing issues like sustainable agriculture, improving the quality and health of food generally for people, fair wages for farm workers and fair trade practices, or taking care of those less fortunate through proactive and tangible acts and programs.

  • Of course, given we live in the era of anything that can be known will be known, it is not possible to do this with window-dressing assertions and marketing that’s disconnected from real behaviors. Z-ers can quickly assess if the brand has a soul or not, or how to sort authentic motivation from business as usual.

For this very reason, Emergent has embedded Higher Purpose assessment and evaluation as a core part of our capability – to help clients determine or refine their path to social good and mission that extends beyond product and promotion.

Z-ers see this as integral to the purchases they make. What you stand for and how you behave as a brand are under the cultural microscope. Now more than ever, pocketbook politics is a thing to be factored into plans and programs. It manifests from a core belief system sitting in service of society, people, their growth and welfare, planet earth, the environment and government policy.

If anything at Emergent we see this as refreshing and an evolutionary improvement that helps advance the role business can play beyond rewarding investors. It’s okay now to espouse beliefs, to enact efforts for social change and to put this out front as a measure of what the company believes and values.

The operable point here is the overwhelming desire people have, in all age cohorts, to be a part of something greater than themselves. This principle simply gains more importance among Z-ers who operate with intention in their purchases and active alignment with brands they care about and see as consistent with their values. In saying this, all purchases become a form of symbolic signal.

What flag are you waving?

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?

March 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, CMO, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Food Trend, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?”

Retail kit growth could impact restaurant business…

Recently we learned that Walmart is planning to introduce prepared foods and meal kits to their stores nationally. This action is in response to an increased interest among Millennial shoppers for more convenient and higher quality, fresh ingredient meal solutions.

Given Walmart’s massive size, the impact of this move could create more challenges for an already stressed restaurant marketplace and help trigger other supermarket companies to upgrade their own meal kit strategies, compounding the impact. Technomic reports business has slowed for the last two years at the nation’s top 500 restaurants. At casual chains like Olive Garden and Chili’s, growth went from an average 4.7 percent in 2015 to flat in 2017.

Millennial preference for home cooked meals

According to Port Washington, NY-based NPD Group, 83 percent of Millennial consumers report more cooking at home and fewer restaurant visits, while 63 percent of Millennials say they want to cook more.

Concurrently the supermarket business is in the midst of transformation as Millennial shoppers flipped the script, causing a move away from traditional center store packaged foods, to shopping the perimeter departments for fresh, real food options. The fresh trend is seen as evidence of their preference for home prepared meals. Thus, also helping explain why legacy “big food” brands have seen their market shares decline in key packaged food categories over the last 10 years.

  • At the core of this behavior is a central theme: virtually all generation cohorts – from Boomers to Gen Z – have connected the dots between higher quality, real food experiences and desire for a healthier lifestyle.

The interest in cooking at home is an outgrowth of efforts to assert greater control over ingredient quality, preparations and portion sizes along with the ability to better manage household food spending. At Emergent we see another explanation: the consumer’s love affair with food and culinary inspiration continues. The desire to exercise that creative calling in the kitchen is strong as it fulfills the number one driver for food purchase and consumption: healthy lifestyle. Consumers tacitly believe that home cooked food is healthier.

Boxed food adventures

Perhaps one of the most important, embedded features of meal kits is the ability to experiment with new cuisines and flavors at low risk and with ingredients already portioned and in some cases prepped.

When dinner is now often decided at 5 pm the day of consumption, kits are an enticing just-in–time option to solve the meal need, without having to shop a 50,000 square foot store for five to seven items. It’s a form of high quality culinary convenience that meal kit companies like Albertson’s Plated brand often deliver with a backstory and ethos sitting underneath.

Millennials passed Boomers in 2016 to become the largest domestic audience of shoppers, numbering some 75.4 million topping the Boomer generation’s previous lead of 74.9 million mouths. This generation has grown up with global cuisine; the rise of specialty food markets, locally-sourced ingredients, unique restaurant concepts, and even chef-driven bar food.

It’s telling to note that fully 24 percent of the entire Millennial cohort shopped Whole Foods last year even though the chain has only 430 stores – a remarkable statement about their interest in higher quality food options.

As e-commerce gobbles up more transactions for pantry stock-ups, the food retail business will depend increasingly on its ability to curate unique food experiences and fresh ingredient solutions – and that plays right into the hands of grab-and-go kits. What’s not to like, as kits deliver:

  • Curated don’t-have-to-think-about-it menus
  • More convenient scratch cooking solutions
  • Wholesome, higher quality ingredients
  • Easier and quicker prep time
  • Experimentation vehicle for new cuisines, new techniques and personal customization

Food-enthusiastic supermarket?

The meal kit business is symptomatic of larger changes looming ahead in food retail as e-commerce disintermediates the packaged foods category. As a result, supermarkets will be forced to redefine their models once built around selling those packaged products at volume to fuel the balance sheet.

Emergent believes the future of food retail lies in mining culinary inspiration and food experience. Creating the Disneyland effect of “magic” around food adventure and the consumer’s interests in more innovative and interesting food solutions.

Can the food enthusiastic grocery be far behind? The growth of groceraunt concepts will continue to gain ground as food retailers look to leverage their expanding commissary investments for meals to be consumed on site – yet another customer relationship building opportunity! We anticipate more supermarket jobs for classically-trained chefs as a result.

What’s next for foodservice?

Restaurants are entering a new era of innovation competition to more rapidly evolve menu boards and offerings that reflect the cutting edge shifts in tastes, new ingredients and food culture. Restaurants have always been the tip of the spear in new food trends that then trickle down into other channels in the food industry.

Now more than ever the call to action gains momentum for restaurant companies to explore tastes, preparations and ideas to stay ahead as supermarkets improve their fresh food quality, ingredient standards and Deli menus.

It seems to us that restaurant companies also need to explore further the equity in their own brands to potentially create new signature food products that compete in other channels – much as Dunkin Donuts has done with their superb coffee line and Panera with their soups.

  • Millennials’ enthusiasm for food and healthy lifestyle will continue to push grocers to earn their business by providing the quality, selection, and preparation options they want. Restaurants, while innovating on flavor and cuisine, may need to consider expanded channels as enhanced, food-enthusiastic food retailers vie for share of meal occasions.

This may be the most exciting time ever to be in the food business!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Farm to table dinner

10 Food Shopper Trends We’re Watching

August 21st, 2017 Posted by consumer behavior, Food Trend, Healthy Living, Insight, Navigation, Retail brand building, shopper behavior, shopper experience 0 comments on “10 Food Shopper Trends We’re Watching”

Fresh is the final frontier…

We believe that consumer insight should inform strategy. So we place a great premium around here on monitoring behaviors and cultural trends in the food business.  Even more so now that food retail is at a crossroads with e-commerce accelerating rapidly to compete for more shopping occasions.

Emergent recently examined a series of reports from the Food Marketing Institute and research company The Hartman Group, profiling shopping trends in the grocery retail business.

We’ve identified 10 developments worth watching as the food retail business continues to transform amid the growth of consumer preference for higher quality, more authentic and real-food products.

1. Of millennials, 43 percent are now shopping online for groceries at least occasionally, up from 28 percent in 2016 – a 15-point climb in one year!

2. Most of this growth is coming from households that shop online routinely, and thus are already comfortable with e-commerce transactions.

3. Important to note millennials are more likely, however, to buy packaged products online rather than fresh and perishable items.

4. Gen-Xers with kids are more likely than other cohorts to actively use grocery store apps.

5. Millennials with kids are more likely to participate in grocery store social networks.

6. Millennials are more concerned about CPG and retailer:

Honesty

Openness about animal welfare

Ingredient sourcing

Social responsibility

They are apt to make judgments on the basis of ethics and sustainability practices.

7. Twenty-three percent of grocery shoppers claim to avoid GMOs, mostly for health related reasons, ‘naturalness’ and a desire to know exactly what’s in a product.

8. Top three reasons consumers prefer locally sourced products:

Fresher –                               72 percent

Support local economy –   65 percent

Better taste –                        54 percent

9. Seventy-six percent of grocery shoppers think a home-cooked meal is healthier than out of home meal options.

10. Households with kids have the highest adoption rates for retailer prepared meal solutions; two out of three households purchase them at least occasionally.

Most impressive is the speed of change we’re observing in the food marketplace, and the need for retailers especially to work smarter. This is done by embedding uniqueness and differentiation in their banner brands, and creating immersive experiences for shoppers in both online and bricks and mortar environments.

For retailers and CPGs still vying for transactions, it’s critical to realize that consumers have changed the rules. Those brands and banners that embrace connecting to shoppers in ways they find more helpful and meaningful will earn the business and their loyalty.

More specifically, the path to consumer engagement is shifting and healthy lifestyle is driving this transformation. Emergent is a specialist in leveraging this insight to grow food businesses. We bring the latest insights and innovative strategies to help food businesses navigate the new consumer landscape.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to emerging and established 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.

Part 1 of The Emerging Brand Marketers’ Playbook: Product Experience Over Brand

March 15th, 2017 Posted by Food Trend, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, shopper experience 0 comments on “Part 1 of The Emerging Brand Marketers’ Playbook: Product Experience Over Brand”

The New Rules for Building New Food and Beverage Businesses

Emerging brands operate differently than legacy businesses. The path to market, to consumer interest and traction, is simply not the same as products with an established franchise in a category with deep roots.

The emerging brand playbook is governed by a distinctive rule of engagement – one that reflects a shift in consumer food culture to place greater stock in product experience over marketing and messaging wizardry fueled by tonnage of media spend.

Message to entrepreneurs who create new brands and large food companies seeking to acquire and scale them: put the traditional brand marketing game plan aside. Different rules prevail.

What’s driving the importance of this conversation now?

We are in the midst of a tectonic shift in the food and beverage business, favoring the growth and development of new independent brands that create their own distinctive categories.

The top 25 food manufacturers in the U.S. lost 300 basis points to small and medium sized players from 2011 to 2015. At the same time top line revenue growth for the nation’s largest food companies has slowed to 1.8 percent while smaller organizations have been gaining sales ground at an 11 to 15 percent clip over the same period. (Source: Hartman Group)

What’s going on here? Food culture shifts have run roughshod over businesses that at one time were stars in the food popularity contest – and rendered them less so. While new brands that integrate higher quality ingredients with deeper meaning and values, now take the lead in relevance to consumer desires. The consumer is clamoring for more unique, healthful, higher quality food experiences.

As a result, the largest food companies seek to buy their way in to this sea change through strategic investments and acquisitions. The equity investment market for emerging food companies is robust as innovative disruptors move into fresh and packaged categories with new and adventurous solutions-with-an-ethos.

These emerging brands live and grow by different imperatives than the ones generally thought to govern best practices in the CPG world. For the last 50 years, the brand-building rulebook has directed much of the thinking on marketing and communication: focused on creating equity and value in the brand.

But this emerging business world is much different and requires a fresh approach that is mindful of how early adopter consumers seek out and become fans and followers of these rising star foods and beverages.

Primacy of Product Experience

Which comes first, brand or product? In the brave new world of nascent foods and beverages, it is the fundamental design of these products that imbues them with uniqueness and differentiation to the established, mainstream stalwarts. And it is this specialness in experience that puts momentum under their sales and adoption.

Says the Hartman Group in their study on early, middle and late stage brand development: “Food culture has the knack for magnetically extracting the most unique and engaging food experiences from the clutter on the (store) shelf.”

This helps explain why emerging food and beverages that suffer from low to nearly no brand awareness thrive through their natural allure. The explanation for this is their systemic, beautifully curated connection to health and hedonic (indulgence) ideals and symbols now thriving in our food culture.

Beanitos – a cultural cue connection

In the packaged snack category Beanitos connects to emerging cultural preferences for nutrient and protein dense options. In this instance it’s the alternate carb base – beans – that forms the basis for its relevance and uniqueness. The symbolism creates its attraction: for smart, clever salty snackers.

The Three Rules of Emerging Food Brands

Rule #1 – Product Symbolism. It is the heart and soul of an emerging brand identity. The successful ones will connect directly, seamlessly with an up-and-coming insight into evolving food culture. Click here for our recent forecast on eight food culture trends impacting the growth of food and beverage businesses.

Rule #2 – The Importance of Channel. Natural and specialty retail serve as incubators for these developing stars. Consumers shopping higher-end retail are already on the hunt for truly differentiated experiences. They bring a more informed approach to food exploration. Simply said, these shoppers EXPECT to encounter interesting, new products.

Word to food retail: be the champion of these new experiences, and let food adventure inhabit your aisles.

Rule #3 – Product-Focused Communication. You are working to build awareness of a differentiated product experience. Sensory trumps brand. The focus is on product news and backstory – ingredients, sourcing, recipe and mission/beliefs.

Learn more by reading Part 2 of The Emerging Brand Marketers’ Playbook.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

Hartman Home Cooking Facts

The Dawn of Culinary Culture

June 6th, 2016 Posted by food experiences, Food Trend, retail brand relevance, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “The Dawn of Culinary Culture”
A new era of upgraded home cooking has arrived.

A recent infographic from the Hartman Group (shown above) reveals that 77% of consumers across various generational segments – from Millennial to Boomer – prefer having home cooked meals whenever possible.

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