Food culture

12 key food-culture concepts for 2012

The influential Hartman Group in Washington has presented 12 big trends (in a free, downloadable report) that it believes will be notable in 2012. Many of these, it notes, have been percolating for some time and represent paradigm shifts in culture, as well as in business, that its now sees expanding in influence beyond the scope of 2012. In general, how Americans eat has dramatically changed and will continue to change, which in and of itself should be enough to make anyone working in or connected to the food industry take a moment to pause and consider. 

These are covered in detail in a new, downloadable report, and were summarised in Hartman’s newsletter.

Changing Food Culture — Meal Fragmentation: Unlike 50 years ago when primarily mothers dictated norms within the home, today’s households are run as loose democracies where, if they are present, children have an equal say in many household concerns — chief among them, what, where and when the family should eat.

All By Myself — Eating Alone: 44% of adult eating happens alone, with nobody else — friend or family member — present. Many CPG companies continue to market to family occasions, all but ignoring the vast number of adults who are increasingly eating alone, especially meals alone.

Did You Say Meal? Sorry, We’re a Snack Culture: Make no mistake — we are living in the Great Age of Snacking: 48% of all adult eating occurs between meals. Our data suggests that the growing percentage of snacking occasions is primarily a result of changing American eating habits — in this case, the simultaneous, culturally interlinked growth in eating alone and the decline in family eating.

Immediate Food Consumption — My Way, Now Please: Today, adult eating, even kids eating, is increasingly about whimsy and mood. ‘What do I feel like having for dinner?’ is now a legitimate question to ask oneself or one’s family at 3 or 4pm. More than 11% of all adult eating today includes foods or beverages consumed within one hour of purchase. Immediate consumption is about a long-term shift toward impulsive, unplanned eating of all kinds.

It’s a Modern Family: Marketers still like to portray and promote to stay-at-home moms and the traditional nuclear family. Today’s family really is more like Modern Family: inter-generational, non-traditional, single parent, unmarried, and multi-ethnic.

Wellness Is Quality of Life: Move over Jane Fonda and Dr Weil; consumers want to enjoy trying to live healthier by seeking a higher quality of life — this translates to all things intersecting with health and wellness — food, exercise, health practices — and having fun doing them. “Health and wellness” is an aspirational lifestyle. Health is no longer a goal in and of itself. Health (and wellness) is about maintaining the ability to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Food Culture — Classes Begin Today: We think that in order to truly understand food and see beyond your category or competitive set, you need to first understand something we call “Food Culture”. Food Culture is the sum total of values, ideas, practices, ingredients, preparations, tools, techniques, actors and everything else that allows us to make sense of the world of food. In short, Food Culture represents everything there is to know about food that lies beyond our own personal preferences.

Nutrition Education — Class Dismissed: While our social focus is seemingly permanently stuck on “nutrition education,” findings both within our firm and elsewhere are so far inconclusive that actions like requiring calorie counts on food service menus actually change consumer purchase behaviours. What consumers really want is help that is relevant to their daily lives — help that inspires their interest in all things food and cooking — not symbols, icons and calorie counts.

Food Occasions — New Vision for Meals: Our analysis of food culture shows that over 150 distinct eating occasions exist beyond the traditional vision of what used to constitute traditional daypart “meals.” While our occasion-based findings have a quantitative basis, rigorous, ethnographically-based cultural analysis brings clarity to occasions and reveals shifts in American Food Culture affecting retailers (eg, snacking frequency) as well as FMCG brands. Understanding occasions and occasion-based trips can spotlight opportunities for both retailers and CPG brands alike.

Millennial Marketing—Fun Please: When trying to market to Millennials, technology is obviously important: The secret is to tease out the specific role of technology with regard to Millennials vs. technology with regard to the wider society. As an example, we believe Millennials are leading the way into the adoption of smartphone technology for shopping. In terms of building brands that resonate with Millennials, remember that transparency, integrity and a sense of fun with less of a preoccupation with building “loyalty,” are paramount.

Moooo-ve Over Cash Cow: Today’s food marketers managing legacy cash cow brands should realise that innovation is increasingly the victim of today’s marketing mix. To find whitespace opportunities in crowded FMCG categories, marketers should assess food and beverage categories culturally and consider investing in small emerging brands as well as deeper understandings of changes in food culture.

Retail — Crossing the Chasm: Retail, and designing the retail experience, is ripe for change — ready to be stood on its head. Much of what passes for retail experience has quite literally lost significance with today’s shoppers. Understanding how to combine culturally-developed, creative insights, stories and concepts with data analysis can produce transformative and culturally relevant retail and brand experiences.

Some other important trends:

Eating from the local landscape, including “wild crafting” and stressing purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics in food sources and cooking.

Scarcity over ubiquity. Rewarding consumers with something exciting and rare (examples: McDonald’s McRib; Trader Joe’s “treasure hunt” dynamic).

Smaller can be better. Not only for weight management purposes, but in terms of cost and sustainability.

Food science will enable creating individualised diets that reflect individuals’ genetic makeup, replacing “one-size-fits-all” better-for-you diets.

Rejecting “nutritionism,” meaning celebrating or demonising particular ingredients rather than focusing on foods as a whole. This has allowed processed foods to go relatively unchallenged, even as whole, fresh foods are far too infrequently consumed, says Hartman.

Approaches to gluten-free become more knowledgeable. A wheat-free approach may create deficits in fibre, protein and vitamins. Gluten-free products made with potato or tapioca starches may hinder digestion and cause weight gain over time. Hartman advises food makers to focus on real foods from authentic gluten-free traditions (such as Vietnamese rice noodles, Italian polenta, Indian poppadam) rather than “mimic products that consumers will only compare against the real thing.” This “will ensure that your product lasts beyond the gluten-free mania,” it adds.

Foods/Ingredients: The In and Out Lists:

Foods that are in for 2012, according to Hartman, include: real butter and healthy fats; grass-fed meat; sea salt; stevia; dark-meat chicken; local/seasonal super fruits; cage-free whole eggs; farmstead cheese; fresh produce; portion control; craft beer; kettle potato chips and dark, leafy greens.

On the way out: margarine; processed soy protein (GMO, hormonal effects); low-sodium; fat-free; artificial sweeteners; white-meat chicken; from-afar super fruits; egg whites; processed cheese; excessive supplements; ultra-light beer; baked potato chips and wheat-grass shots.

Ingredients that are in include: coconut oil (contains beneficial lauric acid); palm sugar (no fructose); faro (nutty, complex grain); cheaper, tasty butcher cuts (sustainable use of whole animal from a trusted source); and kefir (higher level of probiotics than yogurt).

Losing appeal: canola oil (GMO, highly processed); agave (may contain higher fructose than HFCS); brown rice (still a staple, but getting boring); “naturally raised” meat (phrase has become meaningless) and probiotic-enhanced yoghurt (often includes sugar and modified corn starch).