By Jason Stemm
We are already two weeks into 2011, so hopefully the window hasn’t closed for me to place my bets on what we will see in the food industry over the next 50 weeks. These are six of my favorites from across the consumer, retail and foodservice perspectives. What do you see coming in 2011?
1. Redefining “Locavore”: I’ve discussed the legal definitions forming, but I see segmentation based on individual rankings of priorities like flavor, sustainability, carbon footprint, community impact and food safety. All are elements of the locavore movement that will be sorted out on each of our plates. If there can be a Flexitarian, would we call them “Flexavores”? I’ll have my banana and coffee for breakfast with a locally slaughtered, ethically raised chicken at dinner served with a side of rice that was grown in the U.S., but 1,000 miles away. Consumer efforts to “go green” in all areas include a personal negotiation of the premium we are willing to pay to be socially conscious, and the sacrifices we are willing to make. Consider all motivations when forming your plan. Reaching customers before reaching the store is important, but marketers must communicate the value at the point of sale, where price is often the most visible message.
2. Healthy Sweets: Fruit may be your first thought here, but I’m talking vegetables for 2011. Sweet potatoes are at the top of many lists, and Nancy Kruse is seeing explosion beyond just fries. Expect more sides prepared as a healthy alternative with sweet potatoes and other creative uses. Wild Flower in Phoenix serves grilled slices in a vegetarian sandwich. Corn will continue to be a favorite, and I always hold out hope for beets, but the carrot industry has a huge push to make carrots the new “junk food.” A tough sell to kids, but by making them more accessible provides choice.
3. Growth of Private Label: Most experts predict a residual frugality as we emerge from this recession. Jobs are more tenuous and savings are depleted for many, so looking for budget savings is not just a focus of our congressional leaders. Families and individuals everywhere are looking for the least painful sacrifices. At the same time, retailers see private labels as a key to improving profitability and building customer loyalty.
4. Follow that Food: An offshoot of recent social food trends and high-profile food recalls is the interest in our food supply. We don’t get the shock value of Upton Sinclair, and most Americans find comfort in ignorance of how the food arrived on their plates. Online communities and mobile technology have helped consumers and suppliers to connect. Companies are seeing the success of farmer’s markets and CSA’s and trying to appear “smaller” in the consumers’ minds. Frito Lay is marketing its “local” potato chips and Fresh Express is providing information on package for customers to see where that lettuce was grown. Expect more of this in 2011.
5. Quite a Pickle: With the rise of locavores has followed a renewed interest in preservation. If canning was the 2010 trend, I think chefs are leading the way for pickling as they look for new flavors that extend the menuing of local food. The trendy diner in my neighborhood, M. Wells, hit The New York Times new critic’s radar with pickled pork tongue. Expect more picklers to follow the pied piper down this pickling path.
6. C’mon Get Healthy: Maybe it is wishful thinking that this is a trend every year. For years, consumer actions have not followed their survey answers, and we seem to be in a state of denial about our own health. There is new energy from the top, targeting a demographic that almost no one will question. Michelle Obama’s support for improved child nutrition programs and salad bars in every school can help jumpstart our interest in health and renew our efforts to address the national crisis of obesity. A recent report estimated the national cost of obesity at $270 billion for medical care and lost productivity. What a stimulus for our wellness and our economy.
I’ll be on the hunt for more trends at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Find me on Twitter @NYCubsFan if you’re there, or if you want to share your predictions for 2011.