November 2011

Celebrating Food

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to tour some stores one morning in Phoenix: AJ's, Fresh & easy and Pro's Ranch Market. Obviously all three formats are quite different. But in each there was one common thread. Celebrating Food! One could (and should!) argue that the exuberance of celebration differs greatly at each store.

At Fresh & Easy, a new in-store bakery fills the small format with mouthwatering aromas, and the best use buy date on each piece of produce assures shoppers they are buying their fruits and vegetables at the peak of flavor. At AJ's, the wine department rivals that of any upscale liquor store, and the deli department is so perfect and appetizing that one wonders if there is any reason to shop the rest of the store. I found myself amazed at how well Pro's took the celebration to even higher levels. A tortilla factory (from scratch!), a deli case with nine different types of sour cream to choose, a juice bar and the most colorful produce department. I could list hundreds of "wows" - but none would come even close to the in-store restaurant offerings. Long wooden park like tables with wooden benches that could seat 150 people easily in the center of a mini food court that offered foods for every day part in every combination. People actually use this space, and their delicious offerings to hold parties in this supermarket.

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Better ways to promote Thanksgiving

Because U.S. households pre-plan their Thanksgiving meals, this is the precise week when food ads spike, retailers message consumers and promote to earn their stores more destination trips. Some operators like ShopRite continue to encourage continuity with turkey giveaways (and steep discounts for Kosher turkeys) to frequent shopper cardholders who've spent $300 in recent weeks at the store.

They can afford to do this again in 2011, since the turkey supply will be strong. The U.S. Census Bureau and the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast the United States would raise 248 million turkeys in 2011 - up two percent from the 242 million raised in 2010, when the output weighed 7.11 billion pounds and was valued at $4.37 billion.

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Guiding Stars Algorithm Goes Public

The symbol can be found in over 1,600 supermarkets, but before about a week ago consumers, manufacturers, and retailers weren't privy to the actual details of the Guiding Stars rating system. In an announcement just last week, Guiding Stars revealed the online publication of its algorithm in the November/December issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. The Lempert Report agrees with the company that the publication of the algorithm will allow the public to fully understand the basis for the nutritional ratings of foods. It's an absolute step in the right direction, and about time as we've been urging companies from the start to be transparent in their rating systems.

Front of Package (FOP) labeling is a hot topic these days, as independent companies, supermarkets and the government all want a piece of the action. The Guiding Stars system credits all edible foods based on the presence of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and whole grains, and debits for the presence of trans fat, saturated fats, cholesterol, added sugars and added sodium. Foods are then awarded zero, one, two or three stars - one star means good nutritional value; two stars, better nutritional value; and three stars, the best nutritional value.

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Three workplace segments to mine

Supermarkets work so hard to supply food for families at home that some appear to neglect people's food needs at work. Yet stores that go beyond conventional prepared-food sections, and get innovative with meal assembly, small portions and healthful snacks that help keep workers' energy levels steady through the day, should be able to drive traffic and trips during quieter hours. Also, coffee-and promotions, rotating specials, free wi-fi and networking events could get more people to frequent the store.

Since the recession intensified workplace pressures and work habits, F3 believes retailers that synchronize food with what workers (and people seeking work) face everyday will simply sell more. Therefore, F3 urges supermarkets to consider the food implications of three concurrent trends today: more telecommuters and self-employed, people working longer hours, and the high rate of unemployed.

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Probiotics and Stress Reduction

Good digestive health may help to regulate and reduce stress in the brain, according to a recent study out of University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. The study looked at how potential probiotics, such as L. rhamnosus, affected the brain function of mice, and found that the presence of this bacteria in the gut altered behaviors relevant to anxiety and depression, modulated receptors in the brain known to be involved in anxiety and reduced the stress-induced elevation in corticosterone - a hormone that regulates stress.

There is increasing evidence revolving around what is now being called the microbiome-gut-brain axis, suggesting an interaction between the intestinal microbial (the bacteria in your stomach and intestines), the gut, and the central nervous system. By modifying the gut microflora in mice, researchers were able to see reductions in responses to stress and anxiety - extremely important considering the existing, known relationships between gastrointestinal disorders and stress-related psychiatric disorders.

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Food quality, not savings, will top the holidays

Food retailers hoping to post good comparative sales this holiday season have several reasons to be optimistic: More than half (52%) expect to spend about the same amount on foods and beverages during the 2011 holidays as they did a year ago. Another 35% plan to spend more; only 13% plan to spend less.

Also, food quality will overwhelmingly be the top factor shaping their decision of where to shop for holiday foods - 41% of respondents said this in an exclusive poll conducted for F3 by Lab42, which fields online surveys through social media and rewards survey takers with virtual currency.

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Help shape the new reality | A longstanding love affair with a certain burger

What consumers think about sodium, and how direct store delivery can improve even more, for today - Monday Nov 7, 2011. Exchanging unexpected pieces of knowledge.

  • For food retailers to post sales growth in real dollars (not due to inflationary hikes), they'll need to count on sheer numbers of new American consumers, because unrelenting pressures on the middle class have them spending less or about the same, not more, depending who is answering the question.
  • Some 27 years after the famous "Where's the beef?" commercial for Wendy's which featured a feisty Clara Peller with a couple of cohorts, the White Castle chain just had its own lower-key engagement with a silver-haired female. Ninety-year-old Constance Huening, 90, was named into the White Castle Hall of Fame. She was one of 11 inducted this year, and one of only 80 inducted since the Hall's 2001 launch for their allegiance to the distinctive burgers. That's out of 8,000 applicants.

Click here or on the screenshot to watch this video.

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Pet foods: no growth pause

For as long as the nation's annual spending on pets has been measured, the tab has risen without interruption. 2011 is forecast as no exception, jumping to $50.84 billion versus 2010 actual spending of $48.35 billion, reports the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

Americans may feel unsettled and unhappy with national affairs and their own financial plights. Yet they consistently treat their pets well, some say to the point of excess. Is it their innocence, their loyalty, their refusal to judge their owners? Let's just say they provide an emotional haven that makes owners feel good - and they're rewarded.

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One deal supermarkets rarely jumped on

From the days when Monty Hall excited live audiences and millions of TV viewers with Let's Make A Deal to today's era where Groupon leads the way, the rush of a great deal makes people giddy. Sometimes this reaches a point where they can lose impulse control and click their way to deal purchases they may never actually use or experience.

The deals expire, and with this rising pile of spending waste the media reports of deal fatigue escalate. But is deal fatigue a reality? Not necessarily, says Rice University, according to an Ad Age account: Just 1.5% of survey respondents said they use Groupon less than they used to; just 8% said they lost interest in daily deals over time; 13% of heavily daily-deal buyers said they purchase them less often.

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