The “New” Convenience

It’s Wednesday around lunchtime and, like many working professionals, I’ve hopped over to the local grocery store in search of a quick meal before my next meeting. Expectedly, the line for the salad bar is four or five people deep, as well as the Asian wok station, the sushi bar and the deli counter.

Yet one spot remains eerily empty, despite a plethora of convenient meal options: the frozen entree aisle. The situation seems almost counter-intuitive; an endless assortment of cuisine types ready to go in under 5 minutes and not a soul around. So why the lack of customer traffic?

A sample of several frozen meals, which are no longer considered “convenient” by the modern consumer.

As the Hartman Group explained at their 2018 Food Culture Forecast a few weeks ago, one of the main factors is that frozen meals are no longer considered “convenient” by the modern consumer.

The “New” Convenience, as CEO Laurie Demeritt states, is much more than the intersection of speed and efficiency.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Convenience food is nothing new for the industry. In fact, the ’50s and ’60s began a golden age of convenience-eating with food innovations focused on giving housewives easier ways to put a meal on the table. Frozen, single-serve meals. Canned soups and stews. Jars of pre-made sauces and gravies. Boxed meal solutions.

These product solutions became even more widely used in the late sixties as more women began heading to work and had less time and energy to prepare a home-cooked dinner.

But as the Hartman Group explains, the very qualities that made these products so enticing decades ago are now at odds with today’s consumers’ food values. Reliability has given way to health and wellness concerns. Experience is now prized over efficiency. Uniformity has been replaced with authenticity and predictability is now second-fiddle to distinction.

A graphic comparing cultural values between generations.

Source: “The New Convenience.” A.C.T. Food Culture Forecast 2018. The Hartman Group. April 2018.

WHAT WE THINK

It’s not that convenience is no longer relevant, it’s that many brands haven’t changed how they think about–or talk about–convenience as a product attribute.

Consumers today no longer believe that opting for convenience foods (easy, quick, and accessible) means sacrificing freshness, quality, and health and global influences. Our marketing and innovation however, haven’t fully caught up to modern expectations. To be considered a convenience brand/product we must expand our messaging to include these new consumer expectations.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Hartman Group identifies three distinct attributes consumers are looking for when it comes to modern convenience products.

Easy –> Empowering

Despite the news that consumers don’t want to cook, they actually do see the value of a home-cooked meal for themselves or their families.

  • Old Convenience: making it easy to assemble a meal in as few steps as possible
  • New Convenience: empowering users with a new skill or knowledge to successfully prepare a meal

Despite the news that consumers don’t want to cook, they actually do see the value of a home cooked meal for themselves or their families.

Quick –> Engaging

Time is even more of the essence. But consumers no longer want to sacrifice interesting, customizable fare for speed. Brands should think about, and package, products as components that can be “arranged” in different ways to create personalized meal solutions.

  • Old Convenience: the ability to prep and serve a meal in the least amount of time possible
  • New Convenience: the ability to customize and personalize my meals, no matter how small

Consumers no longer want to sacrifice interesting, customizable fare for speed.

Accessible –> Flexible

Functionality remains critical when it comes to convenience foods, but ensuring products can be sized, scaled, and streamlined to meet unique consumer needs are equally as important.

  • Old Convenience: pre-cut vegetables that can be combined to make a salad
  • New Convenience: a complete salad kit that can be eaten as a side OR added to grilled chicken to make a meal

Ensuring products can be sized, scaled, and streamlined to meet unique consumer needs are as important as functionality.

Trend Alert: Adaptogens

While some take their coffee with extra cream or even a dash of cinnamon, Four Sigmatic is proposing a unique alternative: mushrooms. The blend promises increased productivity, focus and mental creativity due to naturally occurring compounds found in mushroom varietals like Lion’s Mane and Chaga.

Blending coffee with mushrooms promises increased productivity, focus and mental creativity.

So in late April, those of us attending the Hartman Group’s 2018 Food Culture Forecast sat inside a hotel ballroom and sipped the fungi-infused beverage as we listened to presenter Davey McHenry talk about a growing consumer awareness of, and demand for, products that address brain health and functioning.

In fact, mental health is the second most-mentioned health priority by American consumers (#1: weight control). Which makes it a unique and highly attractive area of innovation exploration.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Despite advancements in technology and the ability to multi-task from anywhere, adults today are busier and more stressed out than ever before. Consider the following:

A graphic showing the increase in time spent working, commuting, and caring for children for the average American family.

Source: “The New Convenience.” A.C.T. Food Culture Forecast 2018. The Hartman Group. April 2018.

And that’s led to a sizable increase in the number of consumers who say it’s taking a toll on their mental health:

  • 55% of all households are treating or preventing anxiety and stress
  • 61% of Millennials say they’re treating or preventing anxiety and stress
  • 31% of teens say they feel overwhelmed1

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we’re seeing an increase in products like foods, beverages and supplements that utilize adaptogens (substances that help manage stress) and nootropics (substances that increase cognitive functioning).

WHAT WE THINK

New innovations that provide mental health benefits are ripe for growth, but require approachable and educational messaging to entice consumer trial.

Many of the adaptogens and nootropics used today are completely unfamiliar–and even unpronounceable– to the vast majority of consumers. Food marketers will need to utilize branding, naming and messaging to clearly communicate sought-after mental health benefits. Manufacturers will also need to provide basic education on ingredients and their origins in marketing communications to make products approachable to the mass market.

WHAT’S NEXT

Take a cue from the following brands on how to successfully market food and beverage products that promise enhanced cognitive functioning:

Brain Alchemy Latte by Project Juice

A new offering by the San Francisco-based restaurant and juice company, Project Juice, this company also uses a clever yet descriptive name for its new adaptogen coffee drinks like “Matcha Energy” and “Golden Immunity”

  • The website describes it as a “therapeutic and deeply nourishing formula for the brain.” It also utilizes the packaging to educate the consumer on the definition of adaptogens. Key ingredients of their Brain Alchemy latte include:
    • Lion’s mane (mushroom) and guta kola (Chinese herb); both credited with increasing cognitive functioning

Project Juice utilizes the packaging of their beverages to educate the consumer on the definition of adaptogens.

Brain Dust by Moon Juice

A super-food powder blend created by the company Moon Juice. The name ‘Brain Dust” is described on its website as Edible Intelligence™, which efficiently and succinctly communicates its key benefit to the audience.

  • The product description, “an adaptogenic blend of super-herbs and super-mushrooms that help combat the effects of stress” gives the consumer a high-level understanding of the key cognitive benefit. Key ingredients include:
    • Rhodiola root extract, which is credited with increasing resistance to stress, and ashwagandha leaf extract, which is said to treat anxiety and stress

‘Brain Dust” is described as Edible Intelligence™, which efficiently and succinctly communicates its key benefit to the audience.

Tulsi Clarity Herbal Tonic by Goldthread

One of a variety of herbal tonics from Santa Monica-based Goldthread Herbs, I like how the company has named its concoctions by what mental state consumers can achieve upon consumption.

  • The description–Sweet and fragrant, with just a touch of spice, tulsi…has rejuvenating effects upon the body, mind and spirit”–also provides both education and approachability to the consumer. Key ingredients of Tulsi Clarity include:
    • Tulsi, an herb credited with reducing stress and increasing energy, and lavender extract which promotes calmness

Goldthread Herbs has named its concoctions by what mental state consumers can achieve upon consumption.

Just some Thought for Food™

 

1 “The New Convenience.” A.C.T. Food Culture Forecast 2018. The Hartman Group. April 2018.

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