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words have power

In the never-ending quest to connect with consumers on a meaningful level, today’s marketers like to think they can target specific needs by appealing to hot -button desires in health and wellness (energy, balance, digestion), changing eating behaviors (eating alone, snacking) or influencers to purchase (transparency). Clearly, certain topics and words carry more weight today when it comes to synthesizing consumer participation in the culture of food and beverage. Look, as examples, at the rapid and escalating innovation occurring in food and beverage products as snackification in food culture becomes more routine or at how the FDA struggles to define specific terms.

Consumers are the regulators and arbiters of taste. While by no means an exhaustive glossary, the following list of terms reflect the fact that to remain relevant, we need a road map of significant consumer-driven hot spots that mirror changes underway in food culture. These 10 words, we believe, should be part of every food and beverage industry professional’s vocabulary.


How we eat in America today is a reflection of the continued erosion of ritual, and nothing is more powerful proof of this than just how much of our collective eating occasions happen alone. We are eating more and more alone; we are prioritizing non-ritualized snacking over meals; and as household sizes are getting smaller, mealtime ritual is harder to sustain interest in.


Today’s conception of balance is indicative of a shift in health and wellness culture from the reactive, rules-based paradigm of the past to a more proactive, personalized one. Balance today encompasses not only eating, resting, energy and activity but also social life, “me time,” and mental and emotional wellness.


You hear this a lot from us here at The Hartman Group. Why? Because culture is the context in which we live our lives. Culture encompasses the assumptions, meanings, ideals, goals, habits and ways of interpreting the world that a particular community shares. At The Hartman Group, we engage culture as a force that determines behavior, constrains choice, shapes desire and defines need.


A cultural shift from a focus on heart health to the gut has begun. Good digestion is the root of all wellness and the key to feeling good. Consumers are turning internally to their own bodily cues, starting with their digestion, to judge the healthfulness of foods.


In a departure from the past, energy is part of the very definition of contemporary health and wellness — almost as important as weight and physical fitness. Consumers perceive energy management as a daily cycle involving rest, activity, diet and downtime.


In food circles today, few terms lack any clear definition of what it really means as does “foodie.” Because we live in a fully engaged food culture, where the term has been made ever more popular by the media and embraced by the food industry, virtually anyone can step forward and proclaim, “I’m a foodie.” Individuals who describe themselves as foodies are really only at a mid-point in terms of where they really intersect with "foodie-ism.” Authentic foodies would never call themselves foodies. They are devoted to extreme eating and taste tripping, are obsessed with obscurity and are more likely to cook from scratch ingredients. They are the source of inspiration for the everyday foodie.

Gen Z

Say hello to the new kids on the block. With over 74 million kids (yep, teenagers and younger), Gen Z makes up almost one-quarter of the U.S. population. Don’t take their youth for granted, though. They are at an impressionable and inquisitive age in which they are busy forming perceptions of the companies, brands, products and marketing messages they encounter on a daily basis. Gen Z is well positioned to be the most diverse generation yet and is the first generation to truly grow up alongside the digital age.


At The Hartman Group we have long understood that eating is a cultural practice. As “sites” of culture in action, eating occasions are much more than the logistical components of discrete eating and drinking moments. To look at eating occasions is to capture a snapshot of culture today — who we are, how we work and live, and what we value — certainly with respect to food, but also as a society in general.


Gone are the days of the idealized three balanced meals a day. Snacking is now so entwined in our food and beverage culture that it makes up fully half of all eating occasions, and more than 90 percent of consumers snack sometime throughout the course of an average day. Snacking is no longer about a specific product category but rather about a set of behaviors — a way of eating and drinking — a kind of occasion. In other words, anything and everything can be a snack — and increasingly is.


Consumers increasingly want to know what is in the food they are eating, how it was made, where it came from and how the animals and people that were part of its creation were treated. Basically, is this “good food” also “sustainable food?” Consumers want and expect companies to be more transparent about their ingredients and production processes because not only are those important facts when it comes to how I (or my loved ones) will be affected in terms of health but they just happen to also be key components to sustainable living as well.


Food & Beverage Occasions Culture 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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