Top 10 Food Trends Show Lasting Influence of Weak Economy on Consumers Decisions

April 22, 2011

CHICAGO – The economic difficulties of the past two years have left an indelible impression on consumers’ food decisions, driving several of the Top 10 food trends identified in the April 2011 issue of Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

Data gathered from a variety of sources (listed below) finds that although there were signs of improvement last year in the consumer food products industry, lingering issues such as high grocery and gasoline prices, job insecurity and the risk of inflation are limiting what consumers will spend. On the upside, this conservative attitude is leading to more meals prepared and eaten at home, rejuvenating that segment of the industry.

The Top 10 trends identified for 2011 are:

1. Demographically Directed. There is a dramatic difference in food preferences, eating styles and behaviors from the oldest consumers to the youngest. For example, those older than 50 are the last generation to be raised on European-influenced meals made from scratch and served three times a day. In contrast, the NPD Group predicts that Gen Yers will drive consumption of salty/savory snacks, easy meals, center-of-the-plate proteins, sweet snacks/desserts, and heat-and-eat breakfasts (NPD 2009).

2. Still Cooking. Last year, more than half (55 percent) of grocery shoppers prepared more meals at home than in 2009, approaching a 20-year high (FMI 2010). That trend is expected to continue, but shoppers say they want some help in making their meals, such as simple instructions, pop-up timers and serving suggestions.

3. The Appeal of Americana. Americana, characterized by factors ranging from local and farm-raised foods to American regional cuisines, will be among the most prominent food industry trends over the next decade. According to 2009 research by GfK Roper, two-thirds (67 percent) of adults say they really enjoy American food. The FoodService Research Institute’s MenuMine® database, which tracks 12 American regional cuisines, reports Southern, American seaboard and American barbecue lead U.S. cuisines on restaurant menus in 2011. This opens up many possibilities for traditional comfort foods, such as chili, fried chicken, pot roast and macaroni and cheese.

4. Foodie Focused. Two-thirds of consumers consider themselves knowledgeable and interested in food, with young adults ages 25-34  most likely to be foodies. Research shows the specialty food market experienced marked success in 2010, with 63 percent of adults buying gourmet foods, up from just 46 percent in 2009 (Tanner 2010a).

5. Get Real. Consumers are increasingly concerned about contents of the food in their diets, believing that limiting them is a component of healthy eating. Research finds half of consumers deliberately avoid preservatives, almost half (47 percent) avoid artificial flavors, and 43 percent avoid colors (Hartman 2010a). Natural ingredients rank third on the list of most looked-for items on the ingredient label, after type of fat/oil and sweeteners (IFIC 2010).

6. The New Nutrients. Consumers are shifting away from getting nutrients via fortified foods and turning toward products that are naturally high in vitamins/minerals and those that have been blended with other foods to create even higher nutrient levels. Whole grain was the most sought-after health claim on packages in 2010, followed by high fiber, low sodium, low fat, no trans fat, low sugar, low calorie, no chemical additives, no preservatives and low/lowers cholesterol (FMI 2010).

7. Specialty Treats. Despite the trend toward nutrient-rich foods, consumers are still demanding specialty treats. Chocolate candy, creamers, cookies and wine are among the fastest-growing categories in food, drug and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart). The popularity of baking at home is surging because of the economy and high-end baking shows on television, but with only 41 percent of meal preparers describing themselves as experienced bakers, bread/bakery mixes and decorative toppings are enjoying brisk sales (MSI 2009b). Expect to see more restaurant-style gourmet and decadent mixes on store shelves.

8. Three Squares. Research shows the number of adults eating three meals a day increased 6 percent during the past two years, with breakfast being the biggest beneficiary of that trend (MSI 2010b). In 2010, consumers ate breakfast 5.3 days per week, and 55 percent never skipped the morning meal (FMI, 2010). Three-quarters (74 percent) of breakfast eaters ate at home, up 8 percent from two years ago (MSI 2010c).  When it comes to lunch, workers are packing their brown bags. More than half (58 percent) of full-time workers brought a lunch from home in 2010, up from 28 percent in 2007 (FMI 2010).

9. Prescriptive Eating. Consumers are very concerned about risk factors for disease, and they are turning to functional foods to aid in their health goals. Research finds 68 percent of baby boomers were concerned about cholesterol and 66 percent were concerned about blood pressure; among Gen Y consumers, 40 percent were concerned about cholesterol and blood pressure (Hartman 2010a). Data from Mintel suggests weight control and cholesterol-lowering lead the list of most desired functional food benefits, followed by digestion and immunity (Mintel 2009a).

10. Home Rituals. The difficult economy forced consumers to alter their everyday eating practices, and many of those changes remain in place three years later. For example, 71 percent of consumers have brought snacks from home to movies and sporting events (IRI, 2010e), and 78 percent of all snacking now takes place in the home (Stachura 2011). In addition, home entertaining has become a new way of life, with 67 percent of consumers spending more time at home with their family, and 44 percent entertaining family/friends at home instead of going out in 2010 (IRI 2010d).

Information from this press release used for online, print, or broadcast content must be attributed to Food Technology magazine, a publication of the Institute of Food Technologists.  Read the full article:

Sources used for this news release:

FMI. 2010. U.S. grocery shopper trends. The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.

FSRIN. 2011. MenuMine. Foodservice Research Institute, Oak Park, Ill.

GfK Roper. 2009. Teleconference survey. Jan. GfK Roper, New York, N.Y.

Hartman. 2010a. Reinventing health & nutrition. The Hartman Group. Bellevue, Wash.

IFIC. 2010. Food & heath survey.International Food Information Council, Washington, D.C.

IRI. 2010d. Consumer expectations. Oct.

IRI. 2010e. State of the industry 2009. Presented by Sally Lyons Wyatt at SnaxPo, Snack Food Assn. Annual Meeting, March.

Mintel. 2009a. Functional food—U.S. August. Mintel International Group Ltd., Chicago, Ill.

MSI. 2009b. The Gallup study of cooking knowledge & skills.

MSI. 2010b. The 2010 Gallup study of American snacking behavior.

MSI. 2010c. The Gallup study of breakfast.

NPD. 2009. Generational differences, aging dynamics to influence future of eating study. Press release, Dec. 3. The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.

Stachura, L. 2011. Get your share of snack time. Food Product Design Webinar. March 3.

Tanner, R. 2010a. Today’s specialty food consumer. Specialty Food Magazine 40(8):  C2-C16.


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