The Food Forecast, Part 2

2014 trend reports, translated for c-stores

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- ’Tis the season for industry experts to place their bets on the biggest trends of the year to come. As we craft our forecast for the New Year (watch for the Jan. 2 issue of Convenience Store Products Newsletter for that), we’ve compiled top trends for 2014 from foodservice and CPG experts and translated them for the c-store industry.

Here’s our take on Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert’s forecast (click here for Lempert’s complete predictions).

The emergence of the “IndieWoman”

Almost 31 million strong, the “IndieWoman” is 27 and older, lives alone, has no children and—as an entire demographic—spends $50 billion on food and beverages each year. She has no time, so look for more brands that offer more semi-homemade meals that use fresh, high-quality ingredients.

CS Products’ Take: Manufacturers and retailers have spent much time talking about “mom,” but the growth of female andmale singletons—as well as the rise of male household decision-makers—is an unfulfilled opportunity. Watch the CPG industry to see how they’ll begin catering to this segment.

Better-for-you snacking

The NPD Group found that as snacking increased, so did an individual’s overall diet quality. Healthy options are on the rise. Look for supermarkets to replace high-sugar, high-fat snacks at the checkout with healthier on-the-go offerings.

CS Products’ Take: We witnessed a huge proliferation of better-for-you packaged snacks and beverages this year. The trick for retailers will be finding the right product mix between core SKUs and the new, better-for-you crop, and determining where in the store to place the more healthful items. Lean on suppliers for category-management support.

Retailer becomes the brand

A ConAgra Foods survey found that 53% of consumers shop at a particular retailer because it has good store brand products. No longer will private brands just emulate national brand products; consumers will see more private-label brands creating new unique products.   

CS Products’ Take: We’ve certainly seen the power of private label for some c-store retailers, and the growth and evolution of c-store foodservice will further help elevate the c-store brand.

Packaging evolves to share more with consumers

Consumers want more information, but the area of the package is limiting. Using a mobile device, shoppers will learn more about an ingredient or health claim by simply focusing the device on the label to call up info on where the ingredients come from, who prepared the food, the company’s history and even customer reviews and ratings.

CS Products’ Take: As we spoke to food scientists, marketing experts and other industry leaders for our January/February Innovators Issue, this topic came up repeatedly. It’s top-of-mind for food technologists, who say QR codes on packaging are just the tip of the iceberg.

From Chicago-based research firm Mintel (click here for Mintel’s complete forecast):

Fast casual pulls ahead

The impressive growth of the fast-casual segment demonstrates consumers, who are still focused on price, are willing to pay more for foods they consider to be of better quality or healthier. A slew of new concepts focusing on customization, speed of service and convenience, have sprouted. These include higher-quality burger chains, concepts more firmly focused on health and a rash of pizza restaurants that can deliver a fully cooked, customized pizza in a matter of minutes.

CS Products’ Take: We’ve all heard former Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel’s vision of creating a new segment: fast casual to go. Many c-store chains have the fast-casual attributes down: speed of service, customization, and certainly convenience. The competitive challenge is delivering the quality that makes customers willing to pay that little bit more.

Premium proves practical

Not to be left behind, full-service concepts are mimicking the winning ways of fast-casual restaurants. For example, several full-service brands are testing or have launched concepts that use the speedier fast-casual service model. This is important especially during the lunch rush, when consumers don't have the time to wait. Other tactics include launching healthier, more flavorful menu items and employing technology to speed up the dining experience.

CS Products’ Take: Be it Kroger, 7-Eleven or the Olive Garden, everyone is competition for the consumers’ away-from-home eating budget. Don’t focus competitive analyses solely on quick-serve restaurants and fast casual—there are ideas to steal and competitors to track across the spectrum of foodservice. Rest assured, they are watching you.

Open book business practices

More than ever, foodservice consumers are questioning the origin of their foods and they are demanding transparency not only in ingredient sourcing, but in general business practices, including the treatment of animals and employees. Consumers are interested in patronizing restaurants and buying brands that reflect their own values.

CS Products’ Take: Consumers’ desire for a narrative around their brand experiences certainly applies to retail channels as well. Green initiatives, company culture, ingredient transparency: it’s all about creating a story around your brand. But consumers—particularly millennials—are easily distrusting, so this storytelling must be honest, forthright and transparent.