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2015 year in review: 4 key trends in food and beverage culture

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Consumers continue to reshape the food and beverage marketplace driven by desires for higher quality life experiences. Many of these desires translate in to a search for balance and energy when it comes to health and wellness and a curiosity for new food and beverage experiences with a “simpler,” cleaner ingredient profile. Here are four examples of trends from 2015 that will exert considerable influence in the year ahead on both the food industry and food culture itself.

The importance of strategizing “simple” in the food and beverage market place. The “simple” labeling trend is overtaking “natural” as large companies wish to avoid lawsuits provoked within a non-regulated sector as well as to meet consumer demand for cleaner ingredient lists. To most, though, what CPG companies mark as “simple” or “simply” is better understood as the natural foods sector. We call it the new premium marketplace because we know that brands commanding the highest price premiums are generally younger, entrepreneurial brands whose default assumption is a target consumer who wants minimally processed foods and beverages, which the natural and organic sector has relentlessly pushed through the market in the past two decades. In the days ahead, removing symbols of bad or low-quality food processing is critical to keeping a brand contemporary in modern food culture.

Progressive health and wellness consumers are increasingly influential in redefining food culture. While they may be a minority group in terms of overall numbers, the influence progressive wellness consumers have over food culture is disproportionate. Progressive wellness consumers are paving the way, sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge with mainstream consumers who are hungry for guidance and direction. As shoppers, progressives are no longer thinking about condition management (lowering cholesterol or blood pressure) or dieting (low fat, low carb) but are focused on real quality food, positive nutrition, fresh, less processed foods and beverages and fun. From a purchase and use perspective, this means moving away from products that are fat-free, diet products and 100-calorie portion packs to kale, dark chocolate and quality fats, such as those found in nuts, avocados and butter.

Health, wellness and sustainability are converging in progressive food retail and foodservice outlets. Consumers see this convergence as being all about mindfulness, integrity and authenticity. Food-forward startups in QSR and fast casual restaurant segments are communicating their position in the marketplace by saying they are more mindful in terms of ingredients, menus and experience, all of which are attributes consumers are increasingly seeking in foodservice. In a related cultural context, consumers are rethinking production as craft, not industry. Local grain economies have become less commoditized, and from bread to beer, the modern grain economy is about connectedness and building a community food system through flavor.

Gen Z is already exerting its influence on the marketplace. Gen Z now makes up 23% of the U.S. population. This generation moves seamlessly between digital behaviors and real life. They are already highly proactive participants in health and wellness: Gen Z knows a lot (or think they do), and they think a lot about being “balanced.” More so than any other generation, Gen Z looks to exercise as a way to treat or prevent illness, and it is particularly relevant for emotional and stress-related issues. For Gen Z, technology is fun, entertaining and useful. These young consumers are learning about what is healthy from their parents and from school. They are engaging with technology across all parts of everyday life. Outside of direct family, Gen Z is more likely than all other generations to look to their online social networks for advice on health and wellness.

In order to keep abreast of a consumer-driven marketplace, visionary food companies should develop a passion for food culture that seeks to interpret and understand how changing consumers are realigning the marketplace.

As CEO of The Hartman Group, Laurie Demeritt provides strategic and operational leadership for The Hartman Group’s analytics, consulting and research teams. She is a frequent keynote speaker at major industry conferences and client events. She is renowned for her ability to break down the complexities of culture and consumer behavior and translate them into transformative solutions for clients.


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