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12 Key Concepts to Carry into 2012

As the curtain to 2011 draws to a close, we thought we’d offer up 12 big trends we believe will carry over into the New Year. Many of these have been percolating for some time and represent paradigm shifts in culture as well as in business that we now see expanding in influence beyond the scope of 2012. In general, how Americans eat has dramatically changed and will continue to change, which in and of itself should be enough to make anyone working in or connected to the food industry take a moment to pause and consider.

  1. Changing Food Culture—Meal Fragmentation: Unlike 50 years ago when primarily mothers dictated norms within the home, today's households are run as loose democracies where, if they are present, children have an equal say in many household concerns—chief among them, what, where and when the family should eat.

  2. All By Myself—Eating Alone: 44% of adult eating happens alone, with nobody else—friend or family member—present. Many CPG companies continue to market to family occasions, all but ignoring the vast number of adults who are increasingly eating alone, especially meals alone.

  3. Did You Say Meal? Sorry, We’re a Snack Culture: Make no mistake—we are living in the Great Age of Snacking: 48% of all adult eating occurs between meals. Our data suggests that the growing percentage of snacking occasions is primarily a result of changing American eating habits—in this case, the simultaneous, culturally interlinked growth in eating alone and the decline in family eating.

  4. Immediate Food Consumption—My Way, Now Please: Today, adult eating, even kids eating, is increasingly about whimsy and mood. ‘What do I feel like having for dinner?’ is now a legitimate question to ask oneself or one’s family at 3 or 4 PM. More than 11% of all adult eating today includes foods or beverages consumed within one hour of purchase. Immediate consumption is about a long-term shift toward impulsive, unplanned eating of all kinds.

  5. Sorry, June; It's a Modern Family: While we suspect that meeting June Cleaver today really is as likely as, say, meeting D.B. Cooper, marketers still like to portray and promote to stay-at-home moms and the traditional nuclear family. Who We Really Are: Today's family really is more like Modern Family: Intergenerational, non-traditional, single parent, unmarried, and multi-ethnic.

  6. Wellness Is Quality of Life: Move over Jane Fonda and Dr Weil; consumers want to enjoy trying to live healthier by seeking a higher quality of life—this translates to all things intersecting with health and wellness—food, exercise, health practices—and having fun doing them. “Health and wellness” is an aspirational lifestyle. Health is no longer a goal in and of itself. Health (and wellness) is about maintaining the ability to enjoy a higher quality of life.

  7. Food Culture—Classes Begin Today: We think that in order to truly understand food and see beyond your category or competitive set, you need to first understand something we call “Food Culture.” Food Culture is the sum total of values, ideas, practices, ingredients, preparations, tools, techniques, actors and everything else that allows us to make sense of the world of food. In short, Food Culture represents everything there is to know about food that lies beyond our own personal preferences.

  8. Nutrition Education—Class Dismissed: While our social focus is seemingly permanently stuck on “nutrition education,” findings both within our firm and elsewhere are so far inconclusive that actions like requiring calorie counts on foodservice menus actually change consumer purchase behaviors. What consumers really want is help that is relevant to their daily lives—help that inspires their interest in all things food and cooking—not symbols, icons and calorie counts.

  9. Food Occasions— New Vision for Meals:—Our analysis of food culture shows that over 150 distinct eating occasions exist beyond the traditional vision of what used to constitute traditional daypart "meals." While our occasion-based findings have a quantitative basis, rigorous, ethnographically-based cultural analysis brings clarity to occasions and reveals shifts in American Food Culture affecting retailers (e.g., snacking frequency) as well as CPG brands. Understanding occasions and occasion-based trips can spotlight opportunities for both retailers and CPG brands alike.

  10. Millennial Marketing—Fun Please: When trying to market to Millennials, technology is obviously important: The secret is to tease out the specific role of technology with regard to Millennials vs. technology with regard to the wider society. As an example, we believe Millennials are leading the way into the adoption of smartphone technology for shopping. In terms of building brands that resonate with Millennials, remember that transparency, integrity and a sense of fun with less of a preoccupation with building “loyalty,” are paramount.

  11. Moooo-ve Over Cash Cow: Today's food marketers managing legacy cash cow brands should realize that innovation is increasingly the victim of today’s marketing mix. To find whitespace opportunities in crowded CPG categories, marketers should assess food and beverage categories culturally and consider investing in small emerging brands as well as deeper understandings of changes in food culture.

  12. Retail—Crossing the Chasm: Retail, and designing the retail experience, is ripe for change—ready to be stood on its head. Much of what passes for retail experience has quite literally lost significance with today’s shoppers. Understanding how to combine culturally-developed, creative insights, stories and concepts with data analysis can produce transformative and culturally relevant retail and brand experiences.


Culture Health & Wellness Retail/Shopper Insights Trends


As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.


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