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.

Big Game. Bigger Opportunity.

This Sunday, as we watch the country descend on our snowy metropolis for Super Bowl LII, nearly 50 million Americans are expected to partake in a sacred tradition: purchasing takeout/delivery fare.

1.35 billion chicken wings will be spiced, sauced and devoured1. Domino’s and Pizza Hut will bake off 33 million slices of pizza2. And party guests will shell out $58 million on grocery deli sandwiches and another $10 million on grocery deli dips to go along with their potato chips3.

Why settle for a snack stadium when you can build your own Viking-inspired snack ship?

Why settle for a snack stadium when you can build your own Viking-inspired snack ship with this video-tutorial, courtesy of  Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine.

But with Sunday’s big event comes an often-missed marketing opportunity: takeout/delivery packaging.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

The consumer demand for more delivery and takeout options is a fairly recent phenomenon, with Uber Eats making its first delivery in 2014. Unfortunately, the packaging world has found itself scrambling to develop travel-friendly containers that not only maintain temperature, but also control humidity.

David Chang, world-famous chef of Momofuku and founder of Ando–a delivery-only restaurant in New York City–spent two years trying to solve this mystery and redefine restaurant delivery. He developed a travel-friendly menu and experimented with different packaging methods for improved transport. Yet Chang and his team consistently struggled to ensure hot, fresh food arrived to its customers. Industry analysts believe it was a contributing factor in Chang’s decision to let Uber Eats acquire Ando last month.

Because the functionality of takeout and delivery packaging has yet to be solved, marketing and branding opportunities have largely taken a back seat.

WHAT WE THINK

As packaging becomes more important in the food delivery/takeout space, it’s likely consumers will pay closer attention to its features and benefits as well.

Just as packaging innovations are made to improve food quality and portability, branding and storytelling opportunities must also be addressed. While consumers largely overlook the containers, boxes and bags today, companies will begin to differentiate their brand with packaging through functionality, storytelling and play. 

WHAT’S NEXT

Here are three examples of how we see companies utilizing delivery/takeout packaging with customers in the near future:

Functionality

Responsive packaging systems react with stimuli in the food or environment to enable real-time food quality and food safety. While this coffee lid turns red to alert a consumer that their beverage is too hot to drink, this concept could be used for quality assurance purposes. Packaging could use the color-changing technology to indicate whether food is still hot and fresh upon delivery.

Responsive packaging systems react to stimuli in the food or environment to enable real-time food quality and food safety.

Storytelling

Innovative companies will reimagine boxes and carrying containers as a canvas for branded storytelling. A 2017 campaign for Pizza Hut Malaysia by Ogilvy Malaysia demonstrates the power of narratives on the pizza box itself to showcase popular reasons why customers order a pizza for delivery. In this case, the all-too-familiar dinner fail.

A 2017 campaign for Pizza Hut Malaysia by Ogilvy Malaysia highlights storytelling on the pizza box.

Interactivity & Play

Other brands will use packaging as a way to interact and engage with customers. In celebration of the McFlurry’s 22nd Birthday, McDonald’s Canada collaborated with the University of Waterloo to create a limited-edition drink-tray boombox that works with any standard smartphone. In addition to being portable, the tray-based sound system is 100% recyclable.

McDonald's Canada collaborated with the University of Waterloo to create a limited-edition drink tray boombox that worked with customers' smartphones.

Just some Thought for Food

1 “Wing-Onomics.” National Chicken Council. 29 January 2018.
2 “The Staggering Amounts of Food Eaten on Super Bowl Sunday.” ABC News Online. 2 February 2017.
3 “From Live TV to the Grocery Aisles, Americans are Prepping for Super Bowl 51.” The Nielsen Company. 30 January 2017.

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

 

Is Automation the Answer?

“This has to be a render,” wrote Jesus Diaz, author and contributor at Co.Design, in his November 2017 article on grocery e-commerce. But what looks like a 3D depiction is actually 100% real robots zooming across a highly sophisticated product grid filling online grocery orders for real customers.

The British-based company, Ocado, is the world’s largest automated warehouse for grocery fulfillment. At its Andover warehouse, a swarm of 1,000 robots navigate a grid the size of a football field to fill orders and replace stock. The new system, which went live in mid-2017, can fulfill a 50-item order in under five minutes–well under the two hours it takes at a human-only operating facility.

Those of us in the industry know that grocery e-commerce will be an integral part of the food future, but is robot automation the answer?

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Unemployment rates and minimum wage growth suggest automated fulfillment will become a necessity in the near future. As Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York, lamented to Reuters in August 2017, “Companies are running out of workers to hire to do the job or even train to do the work” that needs to be done1. The ratio of job openings to unemployment also hit a 16-year high in August, signaling the widening gap between job openings and available candidate skills mismatch.

Retailers are also increasingly paying more for even low-skilled positions, like those filling and delivering online grocery orders. In 2017, only 20 states match the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and nine of those introduced legislation in the last twelve months to increase their state wage2.

If both trends continue, retailers will soon be out of staff and out of dollars to continue their current service model.

WHAT WE THINK

Even the likely adoption of automated grocery ordering will still not replace the necessity of in-person shopping trips.

In their 2017 “Groceries 2.0” report, Field Agent found that 62% of U.S. consumers said they wanted alternatives to traditional, in-store grocery shopping. While consumers like the idea of forgoing the frequent trips to a grocery store, over 60% said they don’t shop online because they’d lose the ability to personally inspect sensitive items like produce.

Technology is incredibly efficient, but we’re a long way from algorithms successfully replicating the human nuances of grocery selection.

WHAT’S NEXT

Knowing that both online and in-person grocery will be part of our customer’s future, we as food marketers should adjust our e-commerce strategies based on where our brands/products reside in brick-and-mortar stores. As The Nielsen Company found in its 2017 research, traditional center-store items are migrating online, while perimeter and fresh goods remain in-store purchases3.

Graph showing which center store shopping categories are moving online

Center-Store Brands/Products

  • The Challenge:  Online shoppers are less brand-focused compared to when they shop in-store, meaning they’re more likely to switch to another national brand or store brand during e-commerce shopping trips.
  • The Opportunity: Consumers who frequently shop online are more willing to try new products in many shelf-stable categories than in-store shopping consumers. Online shoppers are also more likely to make online impulse purchases in center-store categories than their in-store counterparts. These insights should be leveraged, particularly with new-product launches.

Fresh Perimeter

  • The Challenge: With online shopping available, basket size at in-person visits continues to decline.
  • The Opportunity: Shoppers are craving more surprise and innovation at in-person retailer visits. Brands and retailers must work together to build basket rings by providing more excitement, and more day-to-day enjoyment of food than what’s being offered today. Case in point: Sainsbury’s “Try Something New Today” campaign transformed their business by persuading customers to add just one more item to their basket.

Just some Thought for Food

1 “U.S. Job Openings at Record High; Labor Market Tightening.” Reuters. 8 August 2017.
2 “2017 Minimum Wage By State.” Bankrate. 2017.
3 “What’s Next in E-Commerce?” The Nielsen Company. 2017.

Waste Not, Want Not

Though food waste has been a hot topic across the industry over the last several months, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more passionate group on the issue than this year’s Esca Bona 2017 attendees. This past October, JT Mega joined nearly 200 food entrepreneurs, agriculturists, venture capitalists and local farmers in Austin, TX to listen and learn about the group’s passionate vision for a reimagined food system.

The National Resources Defense Council reports that Americans waste 40% of all food that is purchased. In fact, each person tosses a whopping 300 pounds of food in the trash annually; a trend that food and technology entrepreneurs at Esca Bona are seeking to solve. Like Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz, two San Francisco-based homebrewers who loved craft beer but hated the volume of wasted “spent” grain.

Historically, spent grain has created a symbiotic relationship between brewers and farmers, as the latter uses the byproduct for soil enrichment and animal feed. But the explosion of craft breweries in the area made that relationship less practical for rural farmers.

It wasn’t until Kurzrock and Schwartz began exploring spent grain’s potential as a food ingredient that ReGrained was born.

ReGrained was born when two San Francisco-based homebrewers began exploring spent grain’s potential as a food ingredient.

We couldn’t help but ask ourselves, how many other food and beverage manufacturers are throwing away potential consumer product innovations?

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Food waste isn’t a new topic for the food industry, but it’s been largely framed as a consumer-behavior issue. But food and beverage manufacturers also play a significant role in this growing epidemic.

Historically, animal feed and land use have been the go-to solutions for waste products, accounting for nearly 85% of all manufacturer waste today1. But as the founders of ReGrained learned, transportation constraints is now the most cited barrier for large manufacturers in donating and recycling waste products.

This challenge provides Big Food with an opportunity to uncover–and even collaborate–with food entrepreneurs on new product innovations.

WHAT WE THINK

It’s time to start viewing food and beverage manufacturing byproducts as innovative ingredients, rather than waste.

This shift in perspective is not only good for business, but demonstrates a differentiated level of corporate responsibility to today’s increasingly conscious consumer.

WHAT’S NEXT

Need some inspiration on where to start? Check out these three companies for their innovative approach to food waste.

Coconut Jerky

As the demand for coconut water began to skyrocket with consumers, so did the volume of wasted coconut flesh discarded at production facilities. The creators of Coconut Jerky turned this byproduct–which is packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plenty of fiber–into the first vegan beef-jerky alternative, with satiating flavors like Chili Lime and Ginger Teriyaki.

The creators of Coconut Jerky turned this byproduct into the first vegan beef-jerky alternative.

Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise

With a rising demand for vegan products, Sir Kensington’s set out to come up with a mayonnaise alternative that didn’t rely on processed starches or pea/soy powders. After several failed ideas, the innovation team turned to aquafaba: the liquid byproduct from cooking chickpeas in water. Sir Kensington’s partnered with a New York-based hummus manufacturer who agreed to sell them their waste stream, and the country’s first food-safe supply chain of aquafaba was born.

With a rising demand for vegan products, Sir Kensington's set out to come up with a mayonnaise alternative that didn’t rely on processed starches or pea/soy powders.

Uglies

Millions of pounds of produce are passed over each year by farmers and food companies because of mild cosmetic flaws or irregular sizes that most manufacturing plants aren’t equipped to process. So Pennsylvania snack purveyor Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips created Uglies, kettle-cooked potato chips made from rejected potatoes.

Pennsylvania snack purveyor Dieffenbach's Potato Chips created Uglies, kettle-cooked potato chips made from rejected potatoes.

 

1Analysis of U.S. Food Waste Among Food Manufacturers, Retailers and Restaurants.” Food Waste Reduction Alliance: A Joint Project by the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association. 2017.

Marketing to the 2026 Consumer

If you want a glimpse of the 2026 consumer, look up Amanda Steele. She’s a typical California high-school senior; a self-professed coffee lover who listens to Drake and says economics is her favorite class.

But in 2010, Steele began posting makeup and beauty tutorials on YouTube from her bedroom as a way to connect with fellow teens. Today, her YouTube channel MakeupbyMandy24 has 3 million subscribers, and has garnered Steele her own branded makeup collection, a modeling contract and a steady stream of red carpet appearances.

And while Steele’s level of success may be an exception, her prioritization of influence over affluence is quickly becoming the new consumer-value norm: he or she who can enact the greatest behavioral change wins, regardless of their financial position. It’s what A.T. Kearney is calling “America’s Next Commercial Revolution.”

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

While A.T. Kearney highlights several reasons for the shift from affluence to influence, the widening gap of income inequality is perhaps most instrumental.

According to its November 2017 report, the Pew Research Center found that “the median wealth of upper-income families was seven times that of middle-income families; a ratio that has doubled since 1983. Upper-income families also had 75 times the wealth of lower-income families in 2016, compared with 28 times the wealth in 19831.”

Traditional consumer models have fostered the belief that self-worth exists in direct relationship to what consumers buy, or, “I am what I own.” But because of rising income inequality, the youngest consumers began looking for other forms of currency that didn’t require traditional financial capital. 2026 consumers are shifting their self-worth to their ability to “create change and build community by influencing my peers2.”

Prioritization of influence over affluence is quickly becoming the new consumer-value norm.

In other words, influence is everything.

WHAT WE THINK

We as food marketers must begin shifting our approach to brand development and brand building in preparation for the Influence Model for consumption.

  • Affluence Model: Consumers are inspired by brands and value brands for their personality and what they do
  • Influence Model: Brands are inspired by consumers and consumers value brands for who they allow them to be

WHAT’S NEXT

The emergence of the Influence Model for food marketing means rethinking how we tell brand stories and connect with consumers. Specifically, it will mean a shift away from providing inspiration to nurturing aspirations. Here are just two ways this shift will impact our business:

Brand Narratives

Inspiration: Brand stories or narratives built upon company values

Aspiration: Brand stories or narratives built upon consumer values

Dave's Killer Bread

Dave Dahl was a convicted felon who, upon serving a 15-year prison sentence, was given a second chance to rejoin his family’s bakery business.  Dave worked tirelessly to create his namesake bread and, for every loaf sold, now donates a portion of the profits to the Second Chance Project, an organization that gives the 1 in 4 Americans with criminal backgrounds a second chance at meaningful employment.

Recipe Inspiration

Inspiration: Give consumers products to recreate our ideas

Aspiration: Give consumers the knowledge to bring their ideas to life

Kitchn's DIY KombuchaTraditional/Affluence-Model consumers look to food and beverage brands for ideas on social media they can easily replicate at home. Influence-Model consumers already have good ideas, but lack the tools or skills to make them a reality. Take a cue from The Kitchn, which has an amazing arsenal of trendy how-to’s, like this article on making your own signature kombucha.

Just some Thought for Food

1 “How Wealth Inequality Has Changed in the U.S. Since the Great Recession, by Race, Ethnicity and Income.” Pew Research Center. 1 November 2017.
2 “America’s Next Commercial Revolution: Influence vs. Affluence.” A.T. Kearney, Inc. 2017.

Don’t Just Cook. Cook Different.

In his September 2017 Harvard Business Review article, author Eddie Yoon grabbed the food industry’s attention with the headline “The Grocery Industry Confronts a New Problem: Only 10% of Americans Love Cooking.” In the opening paragraph, he asserts:

“Although many people don’t realize it yet, grocery shopping and cooking are in a long-term decline. They are shifting from a mass category, based on a daily activity to a niche activity, that a few people do only some of the time.”

Yoon contends there are three categories of consumers when it comes to cooking based on his research:

Consumer cooking attitudes

In an already challenging environment for grocery retailers and CPG companies, this new research felt like another kick in the gut.

Good thing Yoon got it (mostly) wrong.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

In many ways, scratch cooking has transitioned from necessity to luxury. With competing demands for time and resources, a seemingly endless host of options–takeout, delivery, meal kits and retail prepared foods–allow consumers to forgo cooking on a regular basis.

But all this evidence ignores a key consumer need: the emotional connection we have when preparing and sharing a meal with loved ones. Consumer insights firm Iconoculture asserts that cooking hits on key consumer values important to all generations–particularly millennials: creativity, sharing, discovery and tradition.

What we’re seeing is not a dramatic decline in the desire to cook; but rather, the misalignment in the value of cooking versus the act of cooking.

WHAT WE THINK

As food and beverage manufacturers, we must embrace and celebrate how modern consumers really cook.

Apple was successful in revolutionizing the mobile tech world because they focused first on the customer’s need to communicate better, not the phone itself. What Yoon’s research illuminates is a truly unique business opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers–if we’re willing to think differently.  We should focus on the basic human desire to prepare and share a meal, letting go of rigid definitions of what cooking is and isn’t. Retail products, prepared foods, meal kits and foodservice aren’t competing channels; but rather, cooking tools that can be wielded in any combination to help modern consumers put a meal on the table.

WHAT’S NEXT

Traditional cooking will never completely go away; there are celebrations and occasions where scratch-cooking is expected and sought after. But for the other 360 days of the year, we can help consumers leverage both retail and foodservice solutions to prepare an easy meal without sacrificing freshness, quality or that coveted emotional connection.

Encourage Fake-It-From-Scratch

Iconoculture’s recent consumer research shows that even the youngest consumers know cooking is an important life skill. Encourage customers with even basic kitchen abilities and limited time to be a fake-it-from-scratch cook. Demonstrate how one or two prepared items and a few simple ingredients can create a delicious weeknight meal, like this 10-Minute-Taco-Tuesday recipe:

Pork Tacos with Mango Salsa and Lime-Cilantro Crema

Promote Cooking-Less Celebrations

One of the key instances where consumers want to cook is when they’re entertaining family and friends. And sharing food with people we love is what it’s all about. But hosting a dinner party is a daunting task.  I’m a huge fan of Kitchn’s 5 Rules For Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (And Seeing Your Friends More Often), especially Rule #2:

The 5 Rules of a Crappy Dinner Party:

Ready to plan your own? Here’s how to do it:

  • No housework is to be done prior to guest’s arrival
  • The menu must be simple and doesn’t involve a special grocery trip
  • You must wear whatever you happen to have on
  • No hostess gifts allowed
  • You must act like you’re surprised when your friends or family just happen to show up at your door (optional)

This is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate how to use foodservice–especially delivery–along with ingredients already in the kitchen to craft a crowd-pleasing menu. 

And rather than focusing on traditional gatherings like housewarming or birthday parties, brands should encourage consumers to celebrate unconventional milestones like adopting a pet, paying off student loans or seasoning a newly purchased grill.

Indigenous Cuisine: As Local As It Gets

This past month, I made my way to Southeast Minneapolis for a cookbook launch party featuring a type of cuisine few of us in the food industry have heard of: indigenous. Using ingredients that are strictly native to the United States–particularly the Midwest–guests feasted on fare featured in Chef Sean Sherman’s new cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.

Photos of dishes that use ingredients that are strictly native to the United States–particularly the Midwest–featured in Chef Sean Sherman’s new cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.

The best way to describe indigenous cuisine is deliciously unassuming and delightfully earthy. It provides a modern take on indigenous staples like cedar-braised game meat, wild greens, crushed juniper, maple vinegar and smoked whitefish.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Sherman (Oglala Lakota), born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been a culinary force in the Midwest for nearly thirty years. But recently, Sherman’s main focus has been revitalizing indigenous food systems in the world by showcasing Native American cuisine and, in the process, bringing attention to key social and cultural issues faced by indigenous communities.

As Sherman explains in his book, many of the ingredients we grow and harvest today didn’t originate on U.S. soil. Modern dietary staples like wheat flour, dairy products, sugar, and domestic pork and beef are all European fare brought to this country through exploration and trade between the 15th and 17th centuries. Instead of using these ingredients in his book, Sherman reconnects readers to the ingredients native communities harvested, prepared and feasted upon for centuries before European settlers arrived.

In an age where sourcing has become an important criteria for savvy food consumers, indigenous cuisine is as local as it gets.

WHAT WE THINK

The benefits of indigenous cooking make a strong case for it becoming a long-range culinary food trend.

As Sherman puts it, indigenous fare is hyper-local, seasonal and ultra-healthy: no sugar, no wheat (or gluten), no dairy, high in protein and a focus on plant-based ingredients. Sherman is right in asking why the original indigenous diet isn’t taking off in our modern food culture, knowing our collective focus on real, wholesome ingredients without preservatives and additives, and minimal processing.

WHAT’S NEXT

While indigenous cuisine has many of the attributes chefs and consumers are seeking today in their food and beverage choices, it also faces two fairly significant obstacles in the short term:

Ingredient Accessibility

Believe it or not, many of the ingredients that are native to this part of the country are not easily found within mainstream food channels, such as sunchokes, purslane, duck eggs and maple vinegar. Unless you’re willing to forage backyards and riverbeds, even Sherman acknowledges some of the key components must be sourced through specialty stores or online.

Consumer Familiarity

Many of the staples of indigenous cuisine aren’t currently foods consumers are regularly preparing and eating. For example, the three most popular types of animal protein in the U.S. today–chicken, beef and pork–are all replaced by lesser-known fare like bison, rabbit, duck and venison. To achieve mainstream adoption, indigenous cuisine will likely need to follow the path of other global food trends: marrying familiar and new ingredients to entice curious, yet hesitant, customers into trying it. 

The Opportunity

Despite its obvious challenges, indigenous cuisine also has an exciting opportunity to redefine “American” food. Different geographies could craft nuanced variations of indigenous cuisine based on regional plant and wildlife varieties. The development and promotion of this regional indigenous fare could give us a whole new category of cuisine to explore.

In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sherman’s new Minneapolis restaurant, slated to open in Spring 2019.

Just some Thought for Food

Private Label is in the Public Eye

The Brandless Company Model

Calling itself the “Procter & Gamble for Millennials,” San Francisco e-commerce company Brandless™ made its U.S. debut this past July eager to disrupt the CPG industry. The startup, which has secured over $50 million in funding, sells a variety of organic food and home goods all for an everyday low price of $3.

Brandless™ says it’s able to keep its prices low by eliminating the BrandTax, a moniker the company hopes to trademark and defines as the “hidden costs you pay for a national brand.”


Aldi's Award Winning RoséAt the 33rd annual International Wine Competition in United Kingdom, The Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rosé 2016 won a silver medal. Judges gave the wine top honors after two weeks of blind taste testing, describing its flavor as “ripe summer stone fruits with a generous acid palate and crisp bright finish.”

But what surprised judges–and wine spectators–the most wasn’t its $8 price point or French origin. It was that the wine belonged to Aldi’s.


WHY IT’S HAPPENING

In its August 2017 Private Label Report, IRI reports that 49% of consumers say they are making sacrifices to make ends meet, with 29% reporting difficulties in affording groceries.

Consumers in all income and generation groups report buying private label

Consumers are embracing a variety of money-saving strategies to cut down on household costs, but opting for private labels is common across all generations and income brackets.

The cause is twofold:

  1. Despite the creation of two million jobs in 2016, which brought unemployment to 4.5%, wage growth has been stuck at 2.5%[1] for the past two years. It’s hitting younger consumers the hardest. On average, full-time, year-round working millennials are earning nearly $12,000 less per year than the national average for workers age 35–65.[2]
  2. Private label has, in many instances, managed to bridge the quality gap with national brands. With a focus on premium and even super-premium tiered items (all natural, organic, non-GMO, etc.) private labels are delivering a better product experience to customers.

WHAT WE THINK

The value proposition of national brands vs. private label is being aggressively questioned by today’s savvy consumer.

As private label brands have improved their quality and consumers are finding themselves with less discretionary income, shoppers are questioning if national brands are really worth the extra cost.

WHAT’S NEXT

To stave off private label encroachment, national brands must do a better job of demonstrating why their products are worth the extra investment.

Deliver on both sides of the equation

The majority of national brands built their reputation–and consumer preference–on signature product formulations that taste great, perform reliably and consistently deliver a high-quality experience again and again. And that used to be enough. But today’s consumer also wants more transparency with shorter, cleaner ingredient statements. Private labels often struggle to successfully deliver on both sides of this value equation. If national brands can consistently deliver an exceptional product experience while making it with cleaner ingredients, consumers will pay the extra cost.

Focus on customer engagement

Younger customers, particularly millennials, want more from brands than just a high-quality, good-tasting product. It’s about what else that brand brings to the table to enrich their lives. Advertising, event activation and social media strategies can bring the value-beyond-product story to life through personal connections.

Be purposeful with price promotions

While strategic price promotions are important in driving incremental purchases, long-term discounts undermine the value of a brand. They also position your brand as competing directly with a retailer’s own brand.

Invest in strategic retailer programs

Unlike private labels, which traditionally have very low marketing funds, national brands possess highly coveted marketing and advertising dollars. As traditional retailers face ever-increasing competition from non-traditional players like Amazon and Brandless™, national brands investing in ad campaigns—that drive customer visits and higher basket rings—are incredibly valuable.

[1] “Why Wage Growth is Too Slow and What To Do About It.” Washington Post. September 1, 2017.
[2] “Here’s How Much Millennials Are Making in One Chart.” Fortune Magazine. March 29, 2017.

The Rising Cost of College Dining

“Like many college students, I have a full bookcase and an empty fridge.”

In a March 2017 Op Ed, Olivia Ellison–a senior at University of Colorado majoring in Exercise Science–shares her experience and thoughts on an alarming C&U student trend: food insecurity.

Ten years ago, Georgia State University officials became worried about the impact of pricier student housing on the ability to afford earning a degree. Research was commissioned to examine the connection and the results were sobering: for every $5,000 in unmet financial need, a student was 12 percent less likely to graduate[1].

As the higher education industry faces declining undergraduate enrollment and falling numbers of high school graduates, basic and affordable amenity options are quickly becoming top priority with C&U leadership looking to attract increasingly cash-strapped students and their families.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Consider the following statistics regarding the costs of higher education:

100% increase in college tuition since 2000; 28% increase in room and board in last decade; 50% increase in student meal plan costs since 2006.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that 83% of Americans say they can’t afford a college degree for themselves or a family member.

With tuition, class materials and student fees being inflexible fixed costs, students are opting out of meal plans–or buying the bare minimum–to save money. In addition to declining meal plan revenue, campuses are now also battling double-digit levels of food insecurity* among students.

According to a recent food insecurity study of college students[4]:

  • 47% of students enrolled at four-year colleges say they experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days.
  • 43% of students at four-year colleges and enrolled in a campus meal plan say they experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days.

*Food insecurity is defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

WHAT WE THINK

The projected financial reality of future C&U students and their families makes changes to dining services inevitable.

The desire for quality, nutritious and delicious food is universal among students. But the average college and university charges about $18.75 per day, for a three-meal-a-day dining contract, compared to the less than $11 a day a single person spends for food[5]. As the number of financially stressed students who see cost as a barrier to selecting a meal plan that fits both their budget and hunger state increases, so do the risks to current C&U dining services models.

WHAT’S NEXT

It’s important to proactively anticipate these conversations and be prepared with both product and business solutions to help foodservice directors navigate this next evolution in C&U dining.

Consider the case of Jerry Rackliffe, Georgia State University’s vice president for finance administration:

After seeing the research on financial need and graduation rates, he convinced the housing department to open a “tiny-dorm” option that would include smaller rooms, more basic amenities and an unlimited meal plan that would collectively cost less than a room alone at other upperclassmen units. When Patton Hall opened in the fall of 2009, it filled up faster than any other campus housing option. It was so popular, the school converted two local hotels to the same concept in 2011.

A basic-tier plan that provides unlimited meals could be a mutually beneficial solution: increasing meal plan participation among financially at-risk students and relieving pressure from stop-gap hunger solutions like food banks and student meal donations.

Just some Thought for Food

 

[1] “Why Universities Are Phasing Out Luxury Dorms.” The Atlantic. August 21, 2017.
[2] “Tuition and Fees and Room and Board Over Time.” The College Board. 2016
[3] U.S. Department of Education. 2017.
[4] “Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students.” Dubick, Matthews and Cady. October 2016.
[5] The Hechinger Report. 2016.

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

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