– What are people eating? Trends in produce consumption for 2016 –
It’s a new year for fruits and vegetables and the trend reports are in. Think less waste, more main dishes, international flavors and local sourcing.
The quest to know more about our food continues to grow, especially among younger consumers. People are more curious today about where their food originates and where it’s been before it arrives on their plate. The trend is apparent in fresh produce but also presents itself in craft beers and other products.
Datassentials, a company that provides data insights for the food industry, says the emphasis on the source of our food has evolved. “In the ‘80s it was all about understanding national trends. In the 2000s, we drilled down to focus on major regional flavors, and now the focus is on connecting with consumers through truly local foods, driven by small metro areas,” the firm recently reported. In addition, chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association say it’s a top trend that is being reflected in their menus. Locally grown fruit and vegetables show support for the community and an appreciation for seasonality, they say.
Vegetables are now taking center stage, from restaurants to the frozen food aisle. Chefs who wouldn’t have dreamed of such a thing 10 years ago are creating grilled cauliflower steaks, “noodles” made from squash and beets and “caviar” made from seaweed. In its “Fresh Perspectives” report, logistics and supply-chain company C.H. Robinson notes that because more people are substituting vegetables for meats in meals, there is an increase in demand for vegetables that offer “high-impact antioxidants, protein, vitamins and iron.” In the supermarket, new frozen vegetable offerings include selections with an emphasis on protein.
Both at-home dining and meals out are focusing more on international flavors. Datassential emphasizes that younger consumers have so internalized eating international that they don’t even say they’re going out for Vietnamese or Mexican food. They simply say they are going out for noodles or tacos. Ethnic fusion tops the list of hot cuisines and flavors, which include Southeast Asian, Filipino foods, and Peruvian cuisine using vegetables such as tubers, beans, peppers and corn, the National Restaurant Association reports.
On the eating-at-home front, there has been a movement toward convenience packaging of produce, especially smaller packages. This trend goes hand-in-hand with the movement toward less food waste. A single person or a couple is more likely to buy a small bag of asparagus rather than a bunch that serves five people. “An overarching trend that remains prevalent is consumer demand for less-processed foods, especially foods in convenient, smaller-sized packaging,” C.H. Robinson says. From store-prepared small fruit cups to nationally produced asparagus tips, Brussels sprouts and green beans, consumers have created a demand for a small package with easily accessible nutritional information and a good view of the product within. The Institute of Food Technologists found that sales of single-serving fresh produce snacks have soared, led by celery and cucumbers. Carrots also remain a big seller.
Also on the convenience radar are home-delivered meals and meal kits. Services such as Blue Apron offer a package containing all ingredients and instructions to create an impressive meal. They have flexible plans and aren’t terribly expensive for consumers with professional-level incomes.
The organic trend lives on, as does a larger concept called “clean eating,” which is difficult to clearly define. Pollock Communications surveyed 450 dietitian nutritionists who said that in 2016, more consumers will buy foods they perceive as “clean.” Those include products that have “free from” claims. The nutritionists said that the definition of “clean” varies from person to person. “Some say it means organic, others say eating less processed foods with short ingredient decks,” said Louise Pollock, president of Pollack Communications.
Whether locally grown, organic or conventional, the Institute of Food Technologists says the shift to fresh and refrigerated foods is “unstoppable.” In its Top Food Trends report, the institute says, “Nearly nine in 10 adults say that fresh foods are healthier, and 80 percent believe that they are tastier; 78 percent of consumers are making a strong effort to eat more fresh versus processed foods, and over the past 10 years, consumption of fresh foods grew 20 percent to more than 100 billion ‘eatings’ per year.” Additionally, the institute found that shoppers are buying up to 10 percent more fresh ingredients than they were three years ago, and nearly half of shoppers are cooking more from scratch rather than using pricier convenience foods.
However, consumers are actually over-spending on fresh foods in some cases, the report says. “One in five households – mostly affluent, health-minded couples – overspend on fresh convenience foods. Packaged salads, cooking greens and fresh-cut fruit were among the top produce gainers for the year,” its report of Nielsen figures said.
These trends offer opportunities not only for produce sales but also serve as a springboard to solutions for problems such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Continued vigilance and response to consumer demand for fresh products presented in convenient and tasty ways will result in more good dietary habits and better health for the American public.