Series: How to deliver on what today’s adventurous food consumers want
This is Part 2 of 4 in a series posts looking at how food companies, retailers and foodservice operators can reach four key consumer archetypes that are shaping the industry today. If you missed it, check out Part 1, and keep an eye out for the next post, which will focus on the eco-conscious consumer.
With an eye toward discovery and new experiences, today’s consumers are becoming increasingly adventurous with what -- and how -- they eat and drink. Exotic ingredients, bolder flavors, new textures and unique experiences are taking over in everything from CPG products to restaurant meals.
Adventurous food consumers, especially millennials, are seeking out new and different flavors from around the globe, but the growing trend goes far beyond just one specific age group, said Lu Ann Williams, director of insights and innovation at Innova Market Insights.
“Increased globalization and the advent of social media has led consumers of all ages to become more knowledgeable of other cultures,” Williams explains. “This has led to food and flavor trends travelling faster than ever in today’s connected world.”
Discovery through exploring the unknown
Many of today’s consumers are keen on seeking out and discovering new and interesting foods and beverages. Adventurous eating does indeed transcend demographics and age, but younger consumers tend to be more open to trying new things, said Lisa Mabe-Konstantopoulos, founder and CEO of Green Purse PR.
“Millennials and Gen Z are proactively collecting experiences as opposed to stuff or junk around their homes cluttering up their lives and minds,” she explained. “They perceive experiences, such as an exotic meal, or an off-the-beaten-path vacation as something meaningful to collect and share with friends, in real life and online, as well.”
When it comes to sharing online, Mabe-Konstantopoulos said she often hears that consumers learn about new cuisine from food influencers on Instagram or through Facebook posts from family and friends.
Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at The NPD Group, said younger adults also tend to seek variety more often than Baby Boomers or seniors do.
“When we look at it generationally, we know that millennials and Gen Z tend to gravitate toward more bold flavors,” he said. “It is a reflection of the multicultural makeup of their demographic.”
Many believe the popularity of those bolder flavors and a multicultural influence is making way for a special interest in sub-regional cuisine. Everything from Oaxacan delicacies to West African dishes are becoming more and more popular. In fact, Whole Foods Market counts foods and flavors from West Africa, such as moringa and tamarind, among its top food trends for 2020.
“Southern will break up into Appalachian, Lowland, Creole, etc.,” chef Josh Habiger recently told Food & Wine. “Mexican restaurants will be Veracruz, Oaxaca, Yucatan...It's a great way to learn about the food of other cultures.”
Today’s experience culture
Being an adventurous consumer today can also mean finding new experiences that take eating, drinking and even grocery shopping to the next level. More people look for something beyond the norm, including a unique color, flavor or even texture. In fact, 70% of global consumers believe texture gives food and beverages a more interesting experience, according to Innova Market Insights.
“Consumers are stepping out of their comfort zones to explore bolder flavors and multisensory food experiences,” Williams said.
Technomic predicted an extension of multisensory experiences at restaurants in 2020 with ingredients ranging from sweet limes and un-spicy habanero peppers (or habanadas) to Sichuan buds that cause a tingling sensation in the mouth.
Something else consumers are clamoring for are limited-time experiences and even hard-to-find flavors. Technomic also predicted that this year would be “The Year of the Fad,” with restaurants offering meals and “uber-limited-time offers to cause media frenzy with fare that’s either expensive, laborious, hard to acquire from suppliers or so off-the-wall they know the enthusiasm won’t last.”
Luckily for grocers, CPG producers and restaurateurs, opportunities abound to share new experiences and products -- and giving adventurous eaters the authenticity, unique offerings and exclusivity they crave is of the utmost importance, Mabe-Konstantopoulos said.
Grocers have a unique ability to share interesting products and experiences with shoppers. Kroger, for example, launched its On the Rhine Eatery food hall in its newest downtown Cincinnati location last year, and invites shoppers to try food from five local restaurants.
“Cincinnati is Kroger’s hub for culinary innovation and experimentation, and the food hall is an example of the types of concepts and ideas we’re creating every day,” said Kroger’s Senior Director of Culinary Development Teri Rose in a news release.
Mabe-Konstantopoulos also believes food retailers can use tasting events, especially those focused on particular countries or cuisine, to draw in adventurous eaters. Many consumers, she said, love these types of events where cuisine from a particular country, region, state or county are brought to life. Texas-based Central Market, for example, offers a Passport series featuring product samples from countries including Greece, Mexico, Brazil and the UK.
When it comes to CPG products, twists on old favorites and seemingly wacky textures and flavor combinations are among recent food and beverage launches. Products including spicy Skittles and Kettle Chips’ Discovery varieties of potato chips, featuring bold flavors like buttermilk chicken and sriracha mayo and patatas bravas with paprika and aioli, have made waves at retail.
While the pandemic has caused some consumers to shift back to the basics when it comes to making food choices, there has been an increase in snack food consumption, which could be an inroad for producers looking to introduce new products, explained Seifer.
“Snacking is a way to introduce people to these new flavors,” he said.
Introducing unique flavors has also been the goal for Omsom, which offers Asian meal starter kits developed with renowned chefs, including Thai larb, Filipino sisig and Vietnamese lemongrass BBQ. These types of products, Seifer explained, are especially attractive to today’s consumers who are spending more time in the kitchen.
“They’re looking for help and shortcuts in the kitchen,” Seifer said, adding that companies should be looking for ways to present exciting flavors and experiences that make it easier for adventurous home cooks to get in and out of the kitchen.
Restaurants are also kicking it up a notch, not only with interesting flavors, but also with incredibly unique experiences. Chef Tyler Minnis of The Market at Italian Village in Columbus, Ohio, holds a weekly event dubbed No Menu Mondays, where he creates menus on the fly while incorporating sometimes lesser-known ingredients. He credits server and patron education in winning the trust of customers -- and keeping them coming back.
Marrying exclusivity and colorful flavors was the impetus behind Resy Off Menu Week, which offers diners the chance to eat never-before-seen dishes from top chefs at popular restaurants across the country. The event gives restaurant-goers something new and different while also helping the reservation management company boost its brand.
"Our technology product will always be our core,” said Chief Marketing Officer Victoria Vaynberg in a news release, “but our platform is a destination for restaurant discovery, a resource for restaurant intel, a curator of culinary experiences.”
From CPG products to restaurant dishes, the focus on heightened sensory experiences has a tendency to affect consumer perceptions in a positive way, Williams explained
Mabe-Konstantopoulos summarized what catches the adventurous food consumer succinctly: “Whether someone is a true foodie or simply just someone who enjoys eating good food, food experiences are a form of entertainment.”
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