THE BLOG

We Are All Foodies Now

01/22/2016 06:21 pm ET | Updated Jan 22, 2016
  • Jane Sarasohn-Kahn Health Economist, Advisor & Trend Weaver; THINK-Health and Health Populi blog

With the price of gas falling below $2 a gallon in the U.S., consumers are reallocating spending not on more "stuff," but on experiences. And one of the most popular experience-spending categories is food.

In fact, in America, there's evidence that we're all foodies now.

That phenomenon was explained to me by Phil Lempert, the famed SupermarketGuru, who led a webinar on food trends for 2016 this week. I carefully listened, and wove his observations into my own lens on the growing world of retail health.

What's underneath this foodie phenomenon? Putting on my economic specs, I can tell you that The Great Recession of 2008 transformed the way consumers consume and spend money. It's a DIY culture now, with more people wanting to cook at home. Home-cooking is healthier, cheaper, and tastes better - when you have the skills and the best ingredients at hand.

But there's another new consumer behavior emerging, which Shawn DuBravac of the Consumer Technology Association found in analyzing 2015 holiday shopping behavior. While consumer holiday spending held flat between 2014 and 2015, what people are spending their hard-won dollars on has shifted. Spenders are spending less on stuff and things, and more on experiences. Furthermore, American's aren't spending more of their gas dividend - the saved margin on cheaper petrol - on hard or soft goods. They're spending on experiences.

Food is one of those things that we experience, and people are willing to spend more money on food for the experience, and for health benefits.

Fred shared statistics that paint a clear picture of a consumer increasingly seeking health at the retail food store. 59% of Americans actively seek out information about nutrition. 68% of people want to know where their food comes from (known as traceability). According to Euromonitor International's Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2016, the most important food attributes consumers seek are "all natural," limited sugar or no added sugar, and limited or no artificial ingredients.

On the DIY front, 9 in 10 people cook food at home at least three times a week. But they say they want to gain skills to be better cooks in the kitchen. Witness the growth of subscription food kits that ship direct to peoples' homes; among a growing list, there are Blue Apron, HelloFresh, PeachDish, Plated, PlateJoy, and for vegans, the Purple Carrot co-founded by the ultimate foodie Mark Bittman.

These subscription packages fit new foodie consumers' demands: most of them are portion controlled, offer value for money, high quality ingredients, no-waste, and are an on-ramp to new adventures in taste - part of that foodie experience people increasingly look for. "Consumers' taste buds are bored," Phil said. 74% of people in the U.S. seek more adventures and flavor in food choices. We're adventuring in food: sprinkling in more spices, trying novel ingredients, and traveling the globe for new-new taste journeys.

While taste and quality are the most important factors for food choices, price is not a consideration that falls into the top ten attributes people shop for in food purchases. Eaters have a new way of eating: first to lose weight and eat healthier. 58% of people say eating healthier is important to them, according to the Supermarket Guru's consumer survey.

This new foodie is empowered and engaged in health and nutrition. So food manufacturers are responding with announcements like removing artificial "everything" from foodstuffs, and shortening the list of ingredients in packaged foods. The magic number of ingredients, Phil said, is "five." In addition, foods labeled with some kind of health attribute increase sales by about 13%. So the reason food companies are going healthier isn't just to be good citizens: it's to help them make more money.

The traditional grocery store is being challenged by the new foodie, who is shopping for food across a long list of retail options. Consider: supermarkets, Big Box stores, convenience ("C") stores, drug stores, warehouse clubs (like BJ's Warehouse, Costco and Sam's Club), food trucks, dollar stores, mass market, vending, meal kits, home delivery, restaurants, and online (think: Amazon's growing footprint in food delivery, and the growing home delivery channel (such as FreshDirect and InstaCart).

Beyond pure delivery convenience, foodie-consumers are also looking for counsel and support on nutrition and cooking. The advent of grocery stores hiring retail dieticians that provide real-time assistance to store shoppers is the beginning of this growing trend. With shoppers increasingly turning to mobile phones for shopping lists, nutrition label reads, and product comparisons, the mobile channel will increasingly support foodies in their search for health and nutrition empowerment as people look to substitute or complement food as medicine.

I asked Phil about the role of the pharmacy in the supermarket as a health destination. He said that most supermarkets first got into the pharmacy business because it was profitable. Today, there is a blend between the pharmacy and the food aisles, where registered dieticians can work hand-in-hand with pharmacists to put together symposia in the store. Often, registered dieticians have offices adjacent to the store pharmacies. Phil's vision is for these two professionals to work with a third, the store culinarian-chef, to capitalize on this triple-threat's full complement of skills and counsel for consumers' health benefit.

Think about how you currently curate your health and wellness in your food shopping at grocers and the growing array of retail food shopping channels and platforms. You may be surprised where you find health and wellness. ALDI, which features low prices, is removing certified synthetic colors, partially hydrogenated oils, and added MSG to their private label offerings (which make up 90% of the store's products) and is using the mantra "Eat Good. Feel Good. Spend Less."

No longer will we be limited to shopping around the perimeter of the supermarket for health. Health will be embedded everywhere in the retail food ecosystem.

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