Hartman Group Forecast Reveals Top 10 Food Culture Trends

Professionals and practitioners from across the food and beverage industry recently converged to discuss the cultural factors and trends transforming their business at The Hartman Group’s A.C.T. “Food Culture Forecast 2015.” The Hartman Group recently released 10 takeaways from the event.

1. Common food rituals are eroding, along with eating styles and meal prep habits. Today, nearly half of all eating occasions are alone, The Hartman Group research found. As households get smaller, interest in traditional meal occasions is waning while snack occasions are climbing. In 2014, only 31% of dinners were made from scratch, and 60% of dinners were planned within an hour of eating. Additionally, more than half of family households cooked multiple meals/dishes to cater to individual preferences.

2. Fresh, real and less processed are the new symbols of food quality today, the study found. Food buying trends show that consumers are looking for foods that are minimally processed, contain only ingredients they recognize, have a short list of ingredients, or are local.

3. The study found that the 9.5% of the population who live in households with incomes more than $100,000 and who are college or higher educated are heavily influencing U.S. food culture, elevating the culinary and health awareness of other consumers.

4. Premium food product is driving sales in healthy food categories, the study found. Premium sales accounts for 33% of the yogurt market, 28% of the nutrition bars market and 22% of the coffee sector, the study noted. Other healthy fare that is of growing popularity among consumers are high protein, fresh and less processed, free form foods, nutrient dense, and easy-to-eat hand-to-mouth healthy snacks, along with digestive superfoods, alternative slow carbs and lower sugar-content energy foods.

5. Consumers are shopping more channels and seeking value through multiple shopping trips, the study found. In 2014, 61% of consumers made two to three shopping trips per week for food in different channels, the most popular of which are grocery, mass/supermarket, club and natural/specialty stores. Specialty/natural stores have the highest satisfaction and customer loyalty are most often associated with a fun experience, the study said, while Costco, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s are cited as offering a spontaneous and enjoyable experience.

6. Digital technology is making consumers aware of new flavors, ingredients, and cuisines. The survey said 31% of respondents use digital technologies to communicate openly with those who produce their food, and 20% use it to buy directly from small merchants or artisans. About four in 10 consumers said they would trust a food website because it has good photos or visuals, and 70% said they used a recipe from a website or app in 2014. The percentage of consumers ordering groceries online is also rising, up 5% since 2012, the study noted.

7. Millennials are taking a more proactive stance towards their health and are more focused on community, social issues and humane treatment of animals than their older counterparts, the study said. They are more likely to opt for foods with premium distinctions, including natural ingredients, non-GMO, organic, allergen-free and locally grown or manufactured.

8. New diets and sources of nutrition are also shaping the food market. Plant-centric diets and free-form foods are some of the most popular diet trends, and consumers are seeking nutrition from new culinary ingredients or sources, such as protein from insects.

9. Consumers are eating out differently than they have in the past. The study found that Americans dined out 16 occasions a month, 14 for everyday and two for special occasions. Up to 80% of adults said they have changed their dining habits in the past few years, 42% said they order healthier, 31% said they try new flavors/styles, 34% avoid sugar-added beverages, 25% choose fresh, cook-to-order meals, and 18% choose more global/ethnic foods. The study noted that breakfast, small bites, eliminating additives, organic, and snacking are high-potential opportunities in the dining industry.

10. The study noted that during the next five years, mid-market consumers are projected to become more selective and continue to upgrade their culinary and healthy-eating skills. The study suggests that the move towards fresh and healthy with continue, but raises the question of how far they will go.