Posts tagged "retail strategy"

Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine

May 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Culinary inspiration, Digital ordering, Food service, Healthier habits, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Retail brand building 0 comments on “Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine”

Can regulation make it rain?

On Monday, May 7 Federal regulations went into effect requiring any foodservice retail business with 20 or more locations to begin posting nutritional details for food and beverage items on their menus. For most foodservice operators this means a revamp of menu descriptions and the addition of nutrition data sections at their web site and point of order. Typically this features spreadsheet-type lists spraying a blurry, eye chart-worthy inventory of calorie, fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium stats.

But hidden within the clarion call for more what-you’re-eating disclosure is a potential restaurant business goldmine. At stake is an important regulatory-inspired opportunity for change. Important given foodservice businesses already face increased dining dollar competition from the significant resurgence of home cooked meal popularity. Yes, a home kitchen renaissance is underway, spurred by pervasive consumer interest in healthier foods and a desire to exercise more control over meal preparations, portions, costs and ingredients choices.

  • Studies show consumers believe dining out means agreement to compromise on their healthy eating interests while they navigate a trip down the boulevard of indulgence. A recent report by food industry trends watcher The Hartman Group, revealed consumers increasingly blame restaurants for a stunningly short list of healthier choices and absence of transparency around food – thus why they feel obligated to stow their healthy lifestyle interests at the vestibule of their favorite restaurant.

According to Hartman’s work, when the majority of consumers who already claim eating out is less healthy answer why this is true for them, the top scoring reason ̶ at 41 percent of those surveyed ̶ was a focus on ‘other things’ rather than health and wellness. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

If prevailing food culture shifts point to home-cooked meals as the best and healthiest option for the vast majority of consumers, where does that leave restaurants on the better-for-you lifestyle bandwagon?

Could regulation make it rain?

The regulatory requirements may have issued a super-sized opportunity to reframe the restaurant menu story around a greater variety of healthier menu options. Then advanced with new technology that allows patrons to configure their own more informed, personalized menu choices ahead of arrival or on site with mobile friendly apps.

Reformulation through culinary innovation

But first, is the product itself. Restaurant meals can be made healthier without sacrificing taste by applying some of the more enlightened thinking now fueling the growth of new, emerging packaged food brands that are mounting a supermarket shelf takedown. Novel ingredients, cooking techniques, new forms of sweetening using natural sugars or sauces made with vegetable broths; meat alternatives formulated from nuts or pea protein – a cornucopia of new innovation is circling the food industry with an offer of improved nutritionals while delivering the indulgent flavors and textures of chef-inspired food.

There’s simply no longer any reason why menu items can’t be made healthier while retaining taste. It may add cost per serving but then we’ve also have seen repeatedly seen that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier fare if it can be verified as such – assuming taste is not sacrificed on the alter of improved nutrition numbers.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) and MyMenu Tech

San Diego-based digital foodservice player HealthyDiningFinder.com, originally stepped into the restaurant marketplace to curate a search-able database of restaurants offering healthy menu items. More recently, they’ve rolled out their new MyMenu platform at CPK and Mexican cuisine specialist Rubio’s Coastal Grill, an algorithm driven business that offers restaurants a plug-and-play solution to their regulatory obligations, but served in a more user-friendly experience. It also brings a compelling add-on benefit: personal menu customization.

California Pizza Kitchen’s MyMenu pages open the door to new reasons to visit: With a few short clicks using a sliding bar selection tool on desired nutritional limits, the platform automatically sorts menu choices according to these preferences while calling up attractive photos and detailed descriptions of each dish or beverage. It reveals what’s in them and what they impart in terms of nutrition impact (calories, fat, sugar, etc.).

The Rubio’s MyMenu page also offers a pre-set list of menu alternatives created by Healthy Dining’s dietitian experts around lifestyle preferences such as Energy, Fit Lifestyle and Weight Control. Each choice rolls up special menus based on these specific interests.

The tool’s flexibility creates the option to customize a dish with ingredient swap-outs or to build a full meal while each dish and drink selection repopulates the overall impact on nutrition outcomes, so you know immediately how many calories and fat grams are involved.

  • In a soon-to-arrive platform enhancement, Healthy Dining says guests will be able to save selections for future use, and there will be options for purchase on-site, for pick-up or delivery. Then patrons will be able to build and retain their own personal menu for a variety of their favorite eateries using the tool  ̶  all based on individual dietary preferences and healthy dining interests.

Of course, the key here is to actually have healthier choices available, and in doing so, solve the dilemma of perceived nutritional sacrifice that restaurant eating might entail. The goldmine is simple: remove the friction from healthier choice at out-of-home eating by offering more healthy choices.

Then look to software platforms like MyMenu to allow patrons to examine, sort and retain their healthy meal preferences ̶ and with it creating an opportunity to forge foodservice brand preference.

For those restaurants that get this right, it could be an equally compelling do-it-for-me dining offer that rivals the siren song of home cooked healthier meals.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

AMAZON GO OPENS TO PUBLIC; RETAIL TRANSFORMATION BEGINS

January 21st, 2018 Posted by Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “AMAZON GO OPENS TO PUBLIC; RETAIL TRANSFORMATION BEGINS”

Emergent announces retail transformation services

After a year in beta test, Amazon today opens its new high tech retail concept – Amazon Go — to the Seattle public. With it a new era in food retail begins, one that we believe will be transformational on more than one level.

Undoubtedly most of the coming media feeding frenzy will be focused on Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, and the computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion capability that sits underneath their no-checkout-line innovation. Importantly though, at Emergent we’re watching closely how the store is designed and curated to reflect consumer preferences for higher quality, fresh products for either immediate consumption or at-home meal execution.

Food retail has followed a familiar formula for decades, built around a focus on packaged food and pantry stocking. This has defined the shopping experience for a generation. Amazon Go at 1,800 of retail square feet is more convenience store than grocery. But the entire platform is edited to optimize and leverage shopper interests:

  1. Everything matters — and consumer insight informed merchandise selections are critical to match the consumer’s desire for fresh foods and upgraded snack and meal experiences. Carefully edited choice is a good idea.
  2. An on-premise display kitchen conveys the fresh, culinary inspired fresh preparations people prefer.
  3. An array of four to five rotating meal kits brings grab-and-go to full meal solutions.
  4. Integration of Whole Foods 365 store brand products offers its own, embedded quality cachet to packaged shelves.

Elimination of the check-out immediately removes friction from the shopping experience. So, yes, we believe this leap will be greeted warmly by people who have better things to do than stand in line.

The most important shift from our perspective is the product curation itself. Grocery stores ask the consumer to conform to its business model, to serve its supply chain relationships and its legacy shopping format – which is more about stock-ups in an era when consumers increasingly shop smaller baskets looking for just-in-time fresh ingredient meal solutions.

With Amazon Go we now have a food retail concept that religiously follows what the consumer wants in addition to how they want to shop (more convenience). The future of food retail must be centered on consumer relevance rather than just a mirror of routine retail infrastructure and traditions.

So today Emergent also announces our retail transformation services, intended to help food retail bring the consumer to the center of business and strategic planning. At a time when Amazon once again changes the game to secure a greater share of food shopping, Emergent’s transformation services for food retail address improvements to brand mission and go-to-market strategies.

Why does it matter? As Kevin Coupe wrote in his announcement story in his special edition of Morning News Beat, as Don Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza opined, “Whether the stone hits the pitcher, or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.”

Amazon is the stone. You already know who the pitcher is.

We’re here to help.

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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.

 

Shop to eat or eat what you shop?

October 3rd, 2017 Posted by consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Food Trend, grocery e-commerce, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Shop to eat or eat what you shop?”

Here’s the runway for grocery e-commerce expansion

A more European-like view of food preferences and shopping is sweeping the retail landscape as consumers shop for meals rather than pantry stock-ups: more trips, more often with smaller baskets aimed at mealtime solutions. The implications of this behavior shift on retail business models and  e-commerce strategy is no less than transformational.

Online grocery’s convenience bona fides are already well positioned to capture increased share of stock-up shopping trips, focused primarily on shelf stable packaged foods and beverages.

However, new insight on consumer food shopping behavior raises a challenge and opportunity that if addressed successfully, could fuel exponential online growth. You need look no further than the decision around ‘what’s for dinner’ – which today is often resolved in a quick grocery store trip a mere few hours before sitting down to eat.

Perhaps most immediately pressing on the potential escalation of grocery e-commerce is the relationship between this shop-for-meal trend and fast order, delivery or click-and-collect fulfillment. Success here could leverage a significant pain point of escalating frustration embedded in the brick and mortar food shopping experience.

  • Important to note here, Emergent has studied e-commerce extensively and concluded that consumer trust remains a significant near-in barrier to business growth. Shopping online for fresh food requires consumer belief that e-commerce platforms can be depended upon to select, on the consumer’s behalf, the highest quality fresh perishable items like meat, fish and produce.
  • As this trust issue is resolved and consumer confidence takes hold, fresh and perishable sales in e-commerce will rapidly rise, and with it, the economic models of food retail will change forever.

With e-commerce’s historic advantage in online proficiency, industry watchers have noted: “Amazon’s capital and tech-fueled infrastructure is poised to rapidly expand same-day fill-in shopping of perishable food as trust in the e-commerce portal grows.” Hartman Group Executive, Q3 2017

 

Smaller baskets create grocery store shopping friction and e-commerce opportunity

According to IRI, 64 percent of grocery visits are now quick, focused, rapid-shopping trips for a limited basket (IRI, The Omnichannel, September 2016). Yes, we are witnessing in real time a major behavior change as the distance between buying and consuming collapses.

Traditional food retail was never designed with this kind of meal shopping in mind. Navigating a 60,000 square foot store for five to seven items can become annoying. The smaller the shopping basket, the more egregious and noticeable the time commitment is to travel the store footprint in search of a few items. Younger audiences especially are less tolerant of these time inefficiencies.

  • So what does it mean when pantry shopping gives way to just-in-time menu procurement? It puts in motion the conditions leading to a potential surge in online food shopping growth. Online can take the cart navigation discomfort out of the shopping experience.

There is however another consideration…

E-commerce must align with the consumer’s emotional connection to food

First, trust issues around fresh/perishable selection have to be resolved. If e-commerce is to play a substantive role in helping consumers with their dinner plans, more effort is required to recognize and leverage the real passion and care consumers have around fresh food – unlike any other product category offered online.

Virtually every food e-tailer is positioned in similar ways on convenience claims. Therein lies the next challenge: e-commerce constructed to answer transactional simplicity and convenience must not overlook the consumers’ emotion-rich interests around food.

  • It should be noted that meal kit companies do a much better job in the online environment delivering this kind of information and product backstory via content on ingredient sourcing, food experience and culinary adventure.

So for the most part, the online food environment remains a single instrument playing the song of products, prices and a virtual basket to fill. Unfulfilled as of yet, is the food e-commerce platform offering a complete orchestra and symphony of food story and guidance to home cooks hungering for their next meal adventure.

When e-commerce begins to push past the transactional and into the consumer’s relationship with food, magic could happen as the consumer comes to believe that online food shopping, and a differentiated online banner, offers much more than purchase simplicity.

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.

emerging brands playbook

Part 2 of The Emerging Brand Marketers’ Playbook: Building an Emerging Food and Beverage Brand

March 17th, 2017 Posted by food experiences, Food Trend, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, shopper experience 0 comments on “Part 2 of The Emerging Brand Marketers’ Playbook: Building an Emerging Food and Beverage Brand”

My very first clients in the agency business were food companies. I was baptized in the world of CPG brand building and the power of awareness and message repetition to move business outcomes.

The changes in food culture and consumer behavior have taken their toll on the realities of marketing best practices, forcing changes in strategy and execution. As the definition of what constitutes quality has dramatically shifted (along with it a precipitous decline in relevance for many iconic brands) veritable unknowns have driven a lasting wedge into consumer preferences.

What’s sitting underneath this phenomenon is telling:

1.  Consumers are more passionate and engaged than ever in food and what goes on in the kitchen and around the table.

2.  People have connected dots between the quality of the foods they consume and the quality of their lives. Their core values have altered in the face of significant food culture changes.

3.  Food is now seen as a key to good health, happiness and lifestyle enjoyment. But how quality and good-for-you are defined is quite different.

4.  Demand for transparency, better sourcing, simple real-food ingredients, craftsmanship in production and honest labeling have shifted the focus to product pedigree. It’s experience over branding imagery and cinematic storytelling.

In the early stages for new businesses, brand takes a back seat to differentiated product experience, and operates mostly as a navigational tool. Thus, in many respects the “product is the marketing.”

Product symbolism is now the guide to messaging strategy. Communication of this product symbolism is focused primarily in highly networked social channels where early adopters share their finds and experiences. This feeds folklore and legend about consumers’ experiences with the product. Discovery is part of the surprise-and-delight proposition.

In this way trust is created not by brand image but by virtue of the product itself being separated and elevated from other mainstream options in its category. Unaided awareness levels are not key to initial success here. How the story is told in earned and owned media, rather, is absolutely vital.

Bare Bones Broth Company – an example of cultural relevance and aligned story

Disclosure: We’ve done project work with this company. Bone broth is an emerging category that on one level represents a culinary upgrade to its lower-end cousins in broth and stock. Bone broth brings a substantial new celebration of product news as a nutrient dense, savory hot beverage – one that could eventually become the healthier alternative to a morning cup of Joe.

Bare Bones bone broth rosemary chicken

Photo credit: Bare Bones

Bare Bones signals its cultural relevance through its enhanced protein delivery, plus higher quality, sustainably-sourced ingredients like grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken, organic veggies and a zero food waste mission.

The beverage experience is differentiated as a good-for-you savory option delivering proteins, nutrients and collagen, while the culinary promise offers greater flavor depth and richer sensory outcome to mainstream stocks in sauces, soups and braising.

The brand has low awareness, but at this stage that is less important. It is the devotion of the brand’s owners Katherine and Ryan Harvey to high quality ingredients, a more complex, culinary-inspired recipe and authenticity in manufacture that sets the stage for initial growth. How and where the story is told will impact their trajectory, as will packaging communication and tapping into other food culture appropriate experiences to anchor Bare Bones’ relevance.

Four Watch-Outs

1.  For emerging brands – ingredient or process compromise in service of lower price point runs the risk of sabotaging the very core of differentiation that drives the experience and social media conversation. So too, legacy brand owners must be careful in bringing their food-making, cost control expertise as not to upset the quality commitment now fueling growth.

2.  Additionally, channel selection is part of the equation – putting the brand in the right place where consumers shop and hunt for these new experiences. Placing the product in the wrong channel may lead to a social/economic disconnect, unhealthy pressure on pricing, loss of momentum, and eventual delisting.

3.  Thus, driving scale must be approached strategically. Patience is required. In service of rapid growth metrics, over-extending the brand too early beyond its core category and competency can lead to failures and misdirected resource investments.

4.  Protecting the mission ethos, participation of the founders and quality commitments that sit underneath the business is paramount.

Appropriate Investments

1.  Improved package design – many of the new brands in their early stages suffer from lack of experience in how optimal package design can telegraph their story. And so, it can be improved for stronger shelf communication.

2.  While media scale may not be an issue, the quality of earned and owned communication nevertheless is a thing. Often entrepreneurs are already time challenged in sourcing ingredients, expanding manufacturing and growing distribution. Assumptions that anyone ‘can do the marketing’ is simply not true. Topflight help is needed with experienced hands.

3.  Insight research has to sit at the head of the table where larger food or savvy equity ownership can assess the challenges and opportunities. Brands grow on the basis of relevance and meaning to their core users. Understanding the core values and desires of consumers requires insight research, directed by those with strategic skill sets in mapping strategy. Basing the business and marketing plan on hunches and assumptions is an invitation to more misses than hits. Hope is never a strategy.

4.  Wringing out inefficiencies – scaled food organizations have know-how in sourcing and manufacturing that can help improve cost structures and enhance margin benefits for all players involved. As stated earlier, this must be done without compromise to the quality and mission story.

The best advice we can offer investors is to help, support and add value short of pushing too fast on scale or disrupting the experience that is the engine driving emerging brand success.

Can legacy brands pivot in the midst of cultural shift?

The subject of another story to come…

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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.

yogurt protein bowl

Votes Are In: Americans Now Snack With Purpose

November 8th, 2016 Posted by Healthier habits, Healthy Living, shopper behavior 0 comments on “Votes Are In: Americans Now Snack With Purpose”

Health and culinary culture influences choices

Once upon a time snacking might have been a bag of chips, tub cheese and crackers, or a box of raisins – and consumed primarily in between formal meals.

Snack occasion growth has accelerated to a point where it is no longer a unique event and changed into a form of continuous eating behavior – mostly hand-held mini-meals. Driving this development is a shift from scheduling around meal periods to eating around schedules.

A recent study of Millennial preferences from the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), pegged the importance of meal portability, finding:

  • 6 percent of Millennials do not have a set schedule for meals
  • 3 percent eat on the run, and
  • 7 percent work and eat at the same time

Separately, a February 2016 report from The Hartman Group stated, “Snacks can be anywhere and anything, and are playing an increasingly diverse role in people’s food lives and food culture.”

That same report confirmed 80 percent of all snacking is ‘purposeful’ – answering specific desires for physical fuel ups, emotional comfort, flavor experimentation and helping enable social connections.

It should be noted, there’s an ‘influence’ factor at work here: health and nutrition experts weigh in to observe that eating smaller meals more often is just better for your health generally.

Snack Diversity is Building

Meantime the nation’s palate has also shifted to preference for higher quality food experiences. We’ve characterized this in previous posts as the “Foodie-ization of America.” It seems only logical that snacking would elevate alongside these changes, whether it is to healthier choices or epicurean adventures.

  1. The cheese industry has taken notice of this change in snacking behavior. Our client, Schuman Cheese, continues expansion of its unique and flavor-dense Cello® Whisps – a line of clean-ingredient, savory Parmesan crisp snacks. Sargento enhances the dairy aisle with combinations of dried fruit, nuts and cheeses in the new and price friendly Balanced Breaks line.
  1. New entries permeate the chip category. Way Better® Snacks pioneers an evolution in bagged options, made with better-for-you sprouted grains. While Beanitos® creates a flavor-diverse line of chips derived from GMO-free beans.
  1. A dizzying array of new protein players like EPIC®, KRAVE® and New Primal are accelerating growth of paleo-friendly meat bars and jerky products – with exotic flavor combinations (while eliminating of some of the egregious preservative ingredients).
  1. Yogurt continues its meteoric rise as multi-benefit snack option, meal replacement, recipe ingredient, protein source and pro-biotic solution. Noosa® caters to the indulgent segment, while new players like Blue Hill offer savory versions, Fage® Crossovers with chef-inspired flavors and nut pairings, and Chobani® continues to steamroll through virtually every sector.

Culinary Inspiration – Hillshire®

A leading indicator of the interest in higher quality choices is Hillshire Snacking’s new self-characterized “Fancy Snacking” Small Plates line of cheese, meats, crisps, nuts and dried fruits.

Interesting taste combinations like Tuscan Flair and Latin Fiesta are presented in portioned trays that allow the consumer to customize amounts of each item for the perfect bite. The product rolls up convenience, portion control, elevated quality and unique pairings into one experience.

We predict this could be a home run for Hillshire as it is on point with food culture changes now driving growth categories in food and beverage.

Where is retail strategy in the snack juggernaut?

We continue to believe snacking is such a significant and important behavior, representing an expanding arena for innovation, that it deserves more consideration at retail as a specific shopping destination – beyond the existing chip aisle.

Why not make the shopping experience more of an adventure while acknowledging that snack is no longer a confined occasion, by creating centers at retail where various forms and types can be merchandised collectively. Doing this takes friction out of the shopping experience and, we believe, will help increase sales in this accelerating business.

Guidance: the PLMA report also revealed the importance of healthier choice to Millennials stating 78.7 percent are interested in healthy options, 77.9 percent care about the nutritional value of food, and 73.9 percent read nutrition labels.

Snacking behavior is a cultural condition that will continue to attract new solutions and innovation in our increasingly mobile, portable lifestyles.

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.

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