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 overwhelmed 1

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.

The Dawn of Flexitarians

Last month, casual dining chain TGI Fridays announced it was adding a buzz-worthy option to its 465 nationwide locations: The Impossible Burger. Made from all natural ingredients like wheat, coconut oil and potatoes, this plant-based burger is unique in that it bleeds, smells and sizzles like a regular beef patty thanks to a naturally-occurring iron compound called heme.

The Impossible Burger is made from all natural ingredients like wheat, coconut oil and potatoes, but it has very unique characteristics.

With less than 2% of the U.S. population identifying as vegan, many industry skeptics wonder why TGI Fridays believes a plant-based burger will thrive on a traditionally carnivorous menu.

The answer: Flexitarians.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

A 2017 consumer survey by the Nielsen Group found that 40% of U.S. consumers were incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets. Not fully vegetarian or vegan, but consciously limiting their consumption of meat and meat byproducts, these new eaters are called flexible vegetarians, or simply, Flexitarians.

In a separate 2017 survey by Mattson, nearly 30% of U.S. adults said they followed one of two Flexitarian eating styles: Somewhat Vegetarian and Mostly Vegetarian.

Source: “What You Need to Know About the Meteoric Rise in Flexitarian Eating.” Mattson. August 2017.

What’s driving the shift towards plant-based cuisine? Based on Mattson’s research, consumers are drawn to plant-centric cuisine for health & wellness benefits and environmental concerns.

The top reasons why consumers are shifting towards plant-centric cuisine center around health & wellness and environmental concerns.

Source: “What You Need to Know About the Meteoric Rise in Flexitarian Eating.” Mattson. August 2017.

WHAT WE THINK

Investing in plant-based innovations is important, but widespread consumer adoption is still a ways off.

There is a significant movement with consumers experimenting and adopting more plant-centric diets. But 85% of the U.S. population is still eating meat and meat byproducts. Food and beverage companies should continue to look for relevant plant-based innovation opportunities, but set realistic volume and sales goals based on current consumer adoption trends.

WHAT’S NEXT

It’s important to keep the following in mind when vetting potential plant-based innovations:

# 1: Consider at-home vs. away-from-home consumption

According to Mattson’s research, 67% of consumers are most likely to try plant-based cuisine in a home environment. Meaning trial is more likely to happen in the grocery aisle than at a restaurant.

  • 54% say they are most likely to try plant-based dishes at home
  • 13% say they are most likely to try plant-based dishes at a friend or family’s home
  • 33% say they are most likely to try plant based dishes away-from-home

# 2: Identify the need you intend to fulfill

For any plant-based product, the consumer needs must go beyond “I want a plant-based dish.” Is it intended to satisfy a craving for vegetable fare OR a craving for a traditional meat-based item made from plants? Is it meant to provide satiety and protein fulfillment OR the feeling of wellness associated with lighter, fresh ingredients? These answers will help craft your product narrative, and also help identify your target customer.

# 3: Know who your target customer is 

Not all plant-based innovations will appeal to plant-seeking consumers in the same way. Here we see a consumer test of two plant-based burger concepts with two different “likely customer” outcomes:

Black Bean Burger 

  • Satisfies a craving for a plant-forward burger experience
  • Most likely customers are Somewhat Vegetarians, Mostly Vegetarians, Vegetarians and Vegans

The Impossible Burger

  • Satisfies a craving for a beef-burger experience but made with plant-based ingredients
  • Most likely customers are Mostly Vegetarians, Vegetarians and Vegans

Source: “What You Need to Know About the Meteoric Rise in Flexitarian Eating.” Mattson. August 2017.

While True Omnivores may experiment with plant-based cuisine because of curiosity or a periodic craving, they shouldn’t be counted on to drive sales of plant-based innovations either at home or on the menu.

What does this all mean for TGI Fridays? Because their core menu is centered around traditional meat and meat byproducts, it could be a challenge to get vegetarian-leaning consumers in the door for just one item. After the initial excitement wears off, time will tell if their traditional (True Omnivore) customer-base can sustain the item long term.

New Year. New Options.

This week, millions of Americans renewed their gym memberships and promised 2018 will be the year they start eating healthier. Yet a committed subset of this group took their resolutions to the next level by enlisting the scientists at Habit to create personalized wellness and nutrition plans. 

A high-profile disruptor in the food-tech sector with the backing of Campbell’s Soup Co., Habit uses biological samples to identify genetic variants and biomarkers within a customer’s DNA to create a personalized nutrition profile and, in some areas, even deliver personalized meals based on their biological profile.

Example of a Habit personalized nutrition profile

The process isn’t for the faint of heart, as author and contributing writer at the Washington Post, Sophie Egan, found out the hard way. The $299 (plus shipping and handling) investment requires a DNA cheek swab, core measurements and the ingestion of a proprietary Habit Challenge™ Shake. But perhaps Egan’s most astute observation came toward the conclusion of her essay when she wrote:

“On the face of it, personalized nutrition makes sense. Many people feel that the existing national dietary guidance of one-size-fits-all has failed them.”

Unlike other diet/nutrition companies that promote the ability of users to customize their programs, Habit is unique in its promotion of nutrition personalization. And the latter is quickly becoming the new consumer expectation.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Personalization is the direct result of the consumer shift from Affluence to Influence. As Generation Z witnesses the true death of a majority at a conceptual level, mass fragmentation will make the idea of ‘majority’ irrelevant for both brands and marketers. As A.T. Kearney explains:

“Affluence Model consumers bought the fiction that ‘one size fits all.’ Alternatively, Influence Model shoppers believe ‘one size fits nobody–except possibly by accident.’ Societal fragmentation will be celebrated as personalization in the Influence Model.”

WHAT WE THINK

The desired result of personalization vs. customization is identical: a better customer experience. But the paths to get there are dramatically different.

  • Customization: Brands provide a single set of choices that consumers can adjust based on their preferences
  • Personalization: Brands curate choices already tailored to a consumer’s preferences based on previous behaviors/interactions

WHAT’S NEXT

To achieve true customer personalization, brands and marketers must leverage the power of customer data. Below are a few ways personalization will likely come to life in food and beverage marketing:

Loyalty Programs Get Personal

In a November 2017 consumer study, Restaurant Hospitality found that 59% of consumers said they would be more likely to participate in a loyalty program if rewards were customized to their prior purchases. For example, instead of offering a generic “Free Drink” reward, Starbucks could utilize consumer transaction data to instead offer this customer her most frequently ordered beverage: a grande salted caramel mocha with extra whip. 

Loyalty Program Email Evolution Sample

Consumer-Designed Food

Back in 2014, Barilla introduced the world to their 3D pasta printer, which could print unique shapes in under two minutes. Contests are held each year to come up with new designs and, as Saveur Magazine explains, the 3D software can sculpt forms that could never be made by hand or machine. As technology becomes more accessible, consumers could theoretically craft and print their designs for a truly personalized pasta experience at home.

Menu Recommendations

UFood Grill recently installed new ordering kiosks with facial recognition software at their Owings Mills, MD, location. Customers who opt-in for having their face scanned sync it with a credit card and the system begins tracking their orders. On the next visit, a quick scan by the kiosk can bring up past orders for quick ordering. Proponents of the technology say facial recognition, paired with data algorithms, will soon be able to serve up personalized food and beverage recommendations.

UFood Facial Recognition Kiosk

 

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! akile@jtmega.com

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