This is a good article on trends you can/will observe at your local grocery store. We have seen a lot of changes over the past few years here in the Bay Area. "And there's no question that it's moving across the country."
Stacy Finz, San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Consumers are asking the food industry: "What are all these weird ingredients that I can't pronounce doing in my salad dressing? And why is the dressing in a nonrecyclable bottle? And why is grocery shopping such a drag?"
Americans concerned for their health, the environment and where their food comes from are changing the way they eat. And a yearning for more sensory stimulation is changing the way they shop. In response, manufacturers are changing the way they do business.
In 2008, more products designed to appeal to socially conscious buyers will make it onto shelves, according to food-trend analysts. Companies are focusing on promoting green initiatives and making their food labels easier to read, using fewer scary-sounding ingredients and emphasizing additive-free and "good-for-you" products. At the same time, the grocery industry is turning its stores into pleasure palaces complete with mood lighting, piped-in smells and tasting bars.
Kara Nielsen, an analyst for the Center for Culinary Development, a San Francisco company that tracks food trends and develops products, said Whole Foods Market has long been a prototype for the multisensory supermarket. But even that posh store is taking it to a new level.
"There's one in Seattle that has a kitchen where you can have the chef cook your purchased food," Nielsen said. "Then you can eat it at one of Whole Foods' tables."
Chris Boveda, an 18-year-old self-described "former fat kid," likes his fancy Livermore Safeway just fine. But he says he doesn't let the bells and whistles lure him off course. The mission, he says, is to eat as healthfully as possible. The high school senior has lost 30 pounds since eighth grade by playing lacrosse and changing his eating habits, and he wants to keep it off. For that reason he does his own shopping - his parents give him $80 a week to spend on food - and prepares his own meals.
Some stores, including the Hannaford Bros. New England supermarket chain, have adopted food rating systems. The Hannaford stores commissioned a panel of nutritionists, including ones from Harvard University, Dartmouth Medical School and UC Davis, to grade its products for nutrition value - zero stars being the worst and three stars being the best. Of the 27,000 items evaluated, 77 percent received no stars, and many were Hannaford's own brands.
After a year, the grocery company found that sales of many starred foods, such as lean cuts of beef, increased significantly, while zero-starred foods, like whole milk, dropped.
It all fits, she said, with the fact that Americans want to nurture their bodies. That's why the public seems to have embraced whole grains, creating a mainstream market for lesser-known heritage varieties like amaranth, quinoa, teff, millet and kamut. Expect to see these in breakfast cereals, side dishes and salads, Dornblaser said.
Shoppers can also expect to see products with claims of lower sodium content and foods that boast pharmaceutical benefits, like Promise activ SuperShots, a brand of yogurt that claims to lower cholesterol.
In addition to their own wellness, more consumers are also looking to take care of the Earth.
A survey released this month by the marketing company Information Resources Inc. showed that about half of American consumers polled consider at least one sustainability factor in selecting packaged goods and choosing where to shop. One-third of consumers responding to a 2007 survey by Restaurant and Institutions, a food service industry group, believe that "living a green lifestyle is important." This is especially true among people ages 40 to 60.
Environmentally minded consumers have already begun an assault on the bottled water industry. "The way consumers see it is that plastic bottles are wasteful," Dornblaser said. "Some cities are even asking for a special tax for bottled water."
Dornblaser expects that sales of filtered water pitchers, filters that attach to water faucets and reusable plastic jugs will grow over the next year, and that the bottled-water industry will move toward vitamin and mineral waters, "because consumers are more likely to buy it if it has some added benefit that they can't duplicate at home."
She also expects food manufacturers to publicize their environmental initiatives as part of a campaign to sell their products. Nielsen said it has worked for Chipotle, the Mexican fast-food chain that has promised to source its meat and eggs from humane producers using sustainable methods. When the chain began buying its pork from Niman Ranch, the price for carnitas went up $1, turning one of the least expensive dishes on the menu into the most expensive. But diners were willing to pay the price and carnitas sales doubled, according to the company.
Pizza Fusion, an organic, quick-service franchise making its way from Florida to California, claims to be "saving the earth one pizza at a time." The company makes all its deliveries in hybrid cars, offsets all its power usage with the purchase of renewable wind energy certificates and uses mostly recycled materials, according to its Web site.
That would impress Susan Mueller, a 39-year-old Alameda County high school teacher and mother, who says she's willing to pay more if she knows what she's buying is good for the earth and good for her family.
"I try to only buy organic," she said while making a quick trip to the market for her baby's first avocado. "I also try to buy locally or at least from the U.S."
Mueller said if she knows a company is socially conscious, using sustainable practices and is good to its employees, she'll favor its products over its competitor - a practice known as fair trade that's catching on in this country.
Fair-trade coffee and chocolate have already found niches in the U.S. marketplace, but Dornblaser said consumers can expect to see more products, including produce, making their way here from businesses in developing countries that encourage their workers to become stakeholders.
Nowhere are these developments stronger than in the Bay Area, Nielsen said. In fact, Restaurants and Institutions found that this was the No. 1 market for organics, followed by Seattle/Tacoma, Wash., and Portland, Ore.
"San Francisco is definitely at the forefront," she said. "And there's no question that it's moving across the country."