What, When, and Where America Eats A. Elizabeth Sloan | January 2016, Volume 70, No.1

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Two-thirds of adults now buy specialty/gourmet foods for everyday meals at home, and 39% do so for everyday snacking (SFA 2014). Sales of specialty foods reached $106 billion in 2014. Among the top 10 largest categories, candy/individual snacks posted gains of 27.2% over the past two years, followed by fresh and frozen meat/poultry/seafood, up 26.8%, and chips/shelf-stable snacks, +24.6% (SFA 2015). Some smaller gourmet product categories are growing even faster. These include refrigerated pasta, +78%; eggs, +76%; and refrigerated pasta/pizza sauces, +61%. Teas were new to the top 10 list in 2015 (SFA 2015).

Grab-and-go meal solutions were estimated at $17.3 billion in multi-outlet and convenience stores by IRI for the year ended Jan. 25, 2015, up 3.7%. Sales of refrigerated handheld nonbreakfast entrées jumped 10.3%; nutrition bars, +9.9%; and frozen handheld breakfast entrées, +6.8% (IRI 2015a).

Figure 1. New Product Pacesetters: Top 10 Food and Beverage Brands in 2014 From IRI (Total Year One Multi-Outlet Dollar Sales in Millions of $)
Figure 1. New Product Pacesetters: Top 10 Food and Beverage Brands in 2014 From IRI (Total Year One Multi-Outlet Dollar Sales in Millions of $)

Just over one-quarter of consumers eat four or five mini meals daily; 21% eat on the run (Wyatt 2015a). Half of all eating occasions are snacks, according to Hartman data (2014a).

Immediate consumption—defined as occasions when food or drink is consumed within an hour of purchase—accounts for 16% of all eating occasions and for 40% of all Millennial eating occasions that do not take place in restaurants (Hartman 2014a, FMI 2015a). Fresh is the most important snack criteria, followed by flavorful and indulgent (Nielsen 2015a).

While the front end remains the largest impulse purchase area in the store, savvy packaged goods marketers are tapping into new in-store merchandising opportunities. Mars Chocolate and Wrigley, two business units of Mars, are targeting other checkout areas, including pharmacies and cafés, and are also focusing on “buy online, pick up in store” models. The company describes its optimal checkout merchandise mix as follows: 51% foods/beverages that refresh (e.g., mints, bottled water); 39% products that reward (e.g., candy); and 10% items that might have been forgotten (e.g., batteries) (Anon. 2015a).

Lunchables UPLOADEDFast and easy portable meal solutions, restaurant/chef crossovers, simplicity/fewer ingredients, homemade/handcrafted quality, power/performance, and bold flavors were the driving forces behind some of the most successful new product introductions. Lunchables UPLOADED, with year one sales of $143 million, was the best-selling new food or beverage introduced in 2014 (Figure 1; IRI 2015b).

Ben & Jerry’s Cores ice cream/sorbet, Breyers Gelato Indulgence, Cheerios Protein ready-to-eat cereal, Chili’s At Home frozen dinners, Chobani Oats Greek yogurt, Dole Chopped Salad Kits, refrigerated Giovani Rana pasta, Synergy Kombucha teas/coffee, Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh BOLD, and York Minis minty chocolates are currently the front-runners for the best sellers of 2015 (IRI 2015b).

Yogurt tops the list of foods/beverages that are consumed more today than 10 years ago, followed by bottled water, pizza, poultry sandwiches, Mexican food, fresh fruit, bars, frozen sandwiches, chips, and pancakes (NPD 2014a).

Over the past 10 years, consumption of fresh foods grew 20% to more than 100 billion “eatings” per year. The NPD Group (2015a) projects fresh eatings will exceed 120 billion per year by 2018, with fresh breakfast eatings up 9%; lunch, +7%; and dinner, +5%. Nearly one-third of consumers made a strong effort to eat more minimally processed foods last year (MSI 2014a). In 2014, 39% of consumers indicated they were eating less processed food than they were a few years ago (Packaged Facts 2014a).