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What key drivers will reshape food shopping in coming years? When we asked the experts on BMC’s Food Segment team, we got four thought-provoking responses:
- Larry Kaagan says that science is changing our understanding of food.
- Martha Roberts is thinking about the impact of social trends.
- Krysten Hommel imagines creating feedback loops that use shoppers’ own data to add value.
- Jeff Dlott describes how his feedback loop is changing his shopping patterns.
All belong to Food Foresight’s Blue Ribbon Panel, an organization that develops trends intelligence for the food and agriculture industries. Here, we weave together some of the common themes repeated across their responses to give you peek around the corner at what’s coming.
More information, please!
Science and economics are changing how we think about food, and creating an important new driver: increased shopper requirements for information about food products.
“We appear to be on the cusp of some scientific breakthroughs by which the former guidance to ‘eat a variety of fruits and vegetables’ will be eclipsed by far more focused details about the health-promoting and disease preventing features of specific fruits and vegetables,” says Larry Kaagan. “Who or what will be the trusted interpreter of these new breakthroughs to a nonscientific, but intensely interested shopping public?” he asks.
Competing messages are likely, with the nutritional “winners” trumpeting scientifically proven features, while others move to defend their products from the challenge by healthier alternatives.
Martha Roberts points out that two very different definitions of food are evolving due to economic pressures.
“A larger and larger percentage of our U.S. population continues in survival mode . . . .” Roberts says. “These families focus on affordability, accessibility at a reasonable price point, and they necessarily focus more on putting calories on the table than on the connection between food and health.” In contrast, another part of the population is defining food as essential to a healthy, enjoyable lifestyle and assigning it a different kind of value.
These two definitions will drive clearer market segmentation, and the segments will be looking for different kinds of information.
Social trends will affect shopping patterns
These experts point to three social trends that will affect food purchasing patterns: social networks, an aging population, and the growing number of single-person households.
The growth in the size and diversity of social networks is creating new options for getting information and exposing people to new “sources of authority” that inevitably influence their shopping. The internet eliminates distance as a barrier, reduces cost, and introduces otherwise unavailable people to an individual’s network.
An aging population will lead the way in looking at food as a way to maintain both the quality of life and health. Their more intentional use will result in food having greater value in some circumstances, and will encourage a more direct connection between health and access to healthy food.
The growing number of single-person households is a somewhat narrower trend, but one with significant implications for food, particularly among those ages 25 – 64. At minimum, this will impact the number of meals taken at home, the need for prepared meals, and smaller shopping baskets.
Responding to new needs
The team identified three ways to respond more effectively to shoppers in this emerging environment.
1. Provide increased access to information.
There’s an explosion of new information related to specific food products, but how will shoppers access it? “Front-of-package” nutrition labels and shelf label nutrition programs are good steps, but shoppers will want even more information, and even easier access. Providing information online, so that it’s available whenever and wherever shoppers need it, will be critical.
2. Build trust.
The erosion of trust in many traditional institutions is a major undercurrent in discussions among food experts. Shoppers are looking for a source they can trust to help them make important decisions. There is opportunity here for companies to begin to “fill the gap” by concentrating on trust-building activities such as increased transparency and open dialog with shoppers on problems and issues of concern.
3. Harness feedback loops.
Kristen Hommel sees ways that retailers can “add meaningful – and non-price-centered – value to the shopping experience by creating feedback loops.” Feedback loops that draw shoppers into active relationship with information about their own behavior, enabling them to monitor or change it, are increasingly seen as a boon. “Today’s consumer is likely to believe ‘it’s my data – put it to work for me,’ ” she says. Jeff Dlott’s response is a perfect example of exactly how this works. Using a personal feedback device called FitBit has him counting steps and benchmarking them against his peers – and changing his shopping behavior. “My desire to increase my activity, is increasingly trumping my preferences for certain stores and products,” he says.There’s an opportunity to deploy feedback loops with shoppers at virtually every touchpoint, and to use them to more effectively keep up with changing shopper needs.
Can food retailers maintain the "trusted source" position? What should retailers and suppliers do to respond to these changes now?
Many thanks to the BMC Food Segment team for giving us their thoughts for this forecast. None of us can know the future with certainty, but when you take a moment to connect the dots, as we did above, you get a chance to see the ripples before they become waves and to align your strategies and resources accordingly. Here’s to preparing for the future of shopping now.
- Dr. Jeff Dlott is president of SureHarvest, a California company providing sustainability software tools and professional services to growers, wineries, trade associations, and food companies.
- Krysten Hommel is a BMC Black Belt and owner of two tons per acre, a consulting practice focused on strategic and creative marketing and communications for clients in the agriculture and food & beverage industries.
- Larry Kaagan is a sociologist and social trends analyst, and president of Kaagan Research Associates.
- Martha Roberts is Director of Industry Relations at the Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences at the University of Florida.