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Five eating attitudes, behaviors to watch in 2017

Consumers expected to seek out foods with value-added attributes.

In a world of uncertainty, one thing is certain in 2017: America will eat. How and where people source meals and the attributes that will win their purchase are ever-changing, however, and according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company, here are five overarching trends to watch in 2017:

  1. The battle for "share of the stomach" will intensify. For several years now, more than 80% of meals have been sourced from home; fewer than 20% have been sourced from foodservice, and dollars are evenly split between the two. NPD said food manufacturers will benefit from a trend toward eating meals at home by capitalizing on consumers' desires for fresh, authentic foods.

“Foodservice operators will increasingly leverage technology to conveniently get their food on the in-home table. At the intersection of this trend is the retailer, who will continue to blur the line between retail and foodservice,” the group added.

  1. The “blended meal” will continue to develop. Consumers are dining at home more, and they value fresh and authentic foods, but convenience remains an important part of the equation. People don't always source meals entirely at home or away from home.

“Look for various components of 'homemade' meals to be sourced from items fully or partially prepared,” NPD said. “Opportunity exists all along the preparation spectrum, from meal kits to restaurant delivery.”

  1. Companies will win by getting personal. Even in a mature, low-growth environment, there will be opportunities for double-digit growth. Today more than ever, though, the consumer is in charge, according to NPD.

“Access to information is empowering people to do things on their terms. The days of a one-size-fits-all blockbuster idea are over,” the firm said.

NPD said consumers will seek out foods with a variety of value-added attributes (e.g., fresh, natural, organic), positive benefits (energy, brain food, etc.) and social value (local, sustainable and transparent).

“Some of these opportunities may seem small by big company standards, but that is where the growth is,” NPD said.

  1. The definition of meal occasions will evolve. People aren't adding new eating occasions to their day, but how meal and between-meal occasions are composed will continue to change.

“Foods that offer the flexibility to compose an eating occasion to fit specific needs at a given time will grow, whether packaged goods or foodservice offerings. Consumers will make choices on price point, portion control and portability — whatever allows them to craft a snack or full meal, spend a little or a lot, take a break or eat on the run,” NPD said.

  1. Experience will make the difference. To stand out, NPD said food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice operators must go beyond sustenance.

“People will seek out experiences, whether through exploring street food vendors, emerging ethnic flavors or hands-on experiences such as learning new food prep techniques,” it said.

Connecting products or brands to an experience people are eager to share with others can be an important differentiating factor in 2017, NPD suggested.

“The search for white space, growth occasions and new product opportunity will be more important than ever for food companies and foodservice operators in 2017,” said David Portalatin, NPD vice president of food industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Opportunities to grow and innovate are out there, but the key to finding them in the coming year will be staying in touch with the consumer. They're the ones in charge.”

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