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The Growing Consumer Pull for Sustainable Food in the US

Sustainability is becoming an ever more important facet of doing business for US food manufacturers. This can be seen in business-to-business terms as companies adapt practices and reform relationships with partners to take greater account of environmental and ethical factors. Equally, it is a consumer phenomenon, as the increasing consumer pull for more sustainable food in the US shows. As has been seen elsewhere, manufacturers and retailers are both responding to demand and leading the trend, as growing concern about food sustainability in the US steadily becomes a feature of the mainstream consumer market. 

Tamara Barnett, vice president of strategic insights at the Hartman Group, says there is "money to be made" from companies offering premium products with sustainability cues, but says they must also be mindful that growing consumer awareness around sustainability has "raised the bar" for standard products. "Many of the attributes that consumers are looking for in certain categories are requiring rethinking and new strategies around sourcing and production and that often does translate into a higher cost," Barnett says. "But, because that is the new baseline in many cases for consumers, they [consumers] are not necessarily expecting all of those costs to be translated over to them. Certainly some of them are, where they feel those distinctions really warrant an extra cost, but in some ways the minimum threshold is rising for everyone."

It has been suggested by some analysis that US consumers are more attuned to environmental concerns than to issues around human sustainability, such as the ethical treatment of impoverished smallholder farmers. However, not all subscribe to this view and the Euromonitor International statistics also appear to show little hard evidence for this. Hartman Group's research, Barnett says, suggests consumers do make strong associations between the term sustainability and environmental factors but once the term sustainability is removed the picture is very different. In fact, when the subjects are approached from a broader standpoint research reveals these human factors "resonate more strongly and intuitively than the environment does".


What ‘Clean’ Food Cues Are Shoppers Looking For? Hartman Group Weighs In

Consumers are looking for cues signaling ‘clean’ and ‘natural’, but they don’t necessarily expect to see those words on food labels, and may even be suspicious of brands that use them on pack, says Hartman Group.

Speaking at FOOD VISION USA in Chicago last week, Hartman Group SVP Shelley Balanko, PhD, said clean and natural food should be self-evident through multiple cues, not seen purely as marketing terms. “Our research shows that the downside of the term ‘clean’ in consumer communications is that some people think it’s a bit pretentious and neurotic. There’s also a sentiment that it’s like ‘natural,’ potentially a marketing gimmick, so we would probably recommend against putting it on pack . “When seen on-pack, ‘natural’ continues to be regarded with skepticism. Four in five consumers have clear ambivalence or outright distrust of the ‘All Natural’ label .” 

Consumers, she said, are looking for less processed foods “that intuitively retain the integrity of the original ingredients,” products that are “made simply and grown naturally without unnecessary chemicals, processing or cooking stages… it’s about products that look, feel, and taste like they should, things that are as close as possible to their original form, that haven’t been shape-shifted, that have visible, whole ingredients.” So cues for clean/natural might be the absence of red flag ingredients (anything that sounds unnatural or artificial), a short, recognizable ingredient list, distinctive flavors, locally sourced, markers of high quality production or sourcing, premium and so on, she said, noting that terms such as ‘authentic,’ ‘real,’ ‘simple,’ and ‘fresh’ are often used interchangeably with ‘clean,’ again suggesting that clean labels are about more than just avoiding ‘artificial’ ingredients. 


Exclusive: Tapping Premium Trends to Drive Growth

SEATTLE — Today’s consumer seeks upgraded experiences in everyday occasions, driving growth of the small, yet important premium segment, said Laurie Demeritt, chief executive officer of the Hartman Group. “Premium currently represents 9% of the overall food and beverage marketplace, and we believe … within the next decade that will probably double,” Ms. Demeritt said. “And the question is, who are the winners, and who are the ones who will be left by the wayside?”

That was the topic of insightful discussion during the Hartman Group’s “Driving Growth 2017” symposium on Sept. 27 at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, where senior leaders and analysts identified opportunities for packaged food firms to keep pace with consumers’ evolving needs.

Consumer perceptions of premium vary, but the Hartman Group defines premium as food and beverage experiences built on uncommon product attributes that reshape the definition of quality. Such attributes range from grass-fed to grain-free and are mostly found today among emerging brands. This amounts to a retail market worth about $75 billion with average year-over-year growth of 10% over the past decade, Ms. Demeritt said.

“Who’s consuming premium today?” Ms. Demeritt said. “Simply put, some people, some of the time, in some categories. What we see is premium sprinkled throughout cabinets and cupboards.” In food service, premium cues include freshness, customization and experience, often features of a fast-casual restaurant setting.



The A.C.T. Experience

Click on this link to go to the event page: A.C.T. SEATTLE

Finding inspiration for “what to make to eat?” can be a real challenge for many of America’s households

Cooking today for a family must accommodate everyone’s schedule and food preferences ranging from avoidances to culinary variety and healthfulness.


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