Stores should reorient to changing food culture

Eating and food shopping grow more spontaneous, and cooking is less of an expert activity.

The U.S. food culture is transforming—and retailers will either keep up with new consumer demands or risk being seen as irrelevant.

Indeed, the heart of a new study, Reframing Retail Through the Lens of a Changing Food Culture, by Daymon Worldwide and The Hartman Group, is to satisfy eaters (ergo, everyone) rather than cooks or shoppers.  Food procurement is no longer mom’s sole responsibility – it is everyone’s doing, so everyone has a say.  Meals aren’t king anymore – snacks are. Cooking at home isn’t like grandma – it could be as easy as assembling and heating up meal components or pre-made dishes.  Eating together isn’t the rage – eating solo is.  

“Solo eating has changed from a lonely or sad, solitary event to one that can be viewed as indulgent ‘me time’ to catch up with friends, return e-mails, or simply recharge from the fast-paced, multi-sensory world in which we’re forced to live,” 

Virginia Morris, vp-consumer strategy & insights, Daymon Worldwide, told F3 in an interview.

What’s the food world coming to? And how could food retailers gain a competitive edge?

“Food is now everywhere, and our routine engagement with it is more direct and personal than ever before,” said founder-chairman Harvey Hartman of the research firm. This plays out specifically, note study findings released at the recent FMI Midwinter Conference, with occasions (51%) driving shopping trips more so than stock-up (23%) or fill-in (26%).   

The Top 3 occasions are dinner (30%), lunch (19%) and afternoon snack (18%)—each with its own likely destination. Supermarkets and supercenters have a lock on dinner, and less of a grip on lunch due to foodservice or on-the-go consumption.  Drug and convenience stores vie strongly for the afternoon snack traffic, the study concludes.

“One out of 10 adult eating occasions takes place within an hour of shopping for it, and 46% of these occasions are meals….Shoppers on occasion-based trips are 63% more likely to [buy based on] their mood at the time….Shoppers are also less price-sensitive on these kinds of trips…since the main motivation is feeding a want,” the report states.

This appears to be quite a reward for supermarkets that differentiate. The report urges retailers to:

  • Engage consumers as eaters and cooks. Simultaneously address demand for new products and items that help stretch home cooking.
  • Focus on eating occasions. Understand the occasions, such as a quick lunch before a play date vs. entertaining friends, and market accordingly.
  • Become a curator of eating experiences. Offer uniqueness in product mix, in-store design or expert staffers ready to serve – and inspire shoppers to eat more creatively. Accommodate innovation at the shelf – introduce shoppers to less familiar, exciting products, with a sense of how far they may stray from the familiar.  Stage new experiences such as cooking and product demos.

“Consumer desire for new, exciting eating experiences is very much about the fusion of global cuisines, such as adding a spice or a single ingredient from a traditional dish into a more familiar favorite – for instance, using a traditional Indian spice like curry to jazz up a favorite chicken dish,” notes Ms. Morris.

“People have become accustomed to trying new things as cultural influences continue to seep into traditional American fare…We’re seeing acculturated Hispanics rediscovering the flavors and traditions of their roots [in] scratch-cooking recipes, component cooking at home [or] picking up a prepared ethnic meal at the grocery store…,” she adds.