Consumers equate freshness with taste, health, and value
By Doug Rich
Food trends are changing rapidly but beef still has a place on the menu, according to Nancy Kruse, foodservice analyst and president of the Kruse Company. Kruse was a featured speaker at the Kansas Livestock Association convention held Nov. 28, 29, and 30 in Wichita, Kan.
11"Meal preparation today has the woman, primarily, acting as the general contractor," Kruse said. "She arranges the simultaneous convergence of meal elements. It is faux cooking, taking components and putting them together."
Kruse said we are actually eating more at home but cooking less at home. What people are doing is not true cooking from scratch. Convenience components are the big winners in this trend.
"Look at the growth of supermarket deli sales; they have more than tripled since 1990," Kruse said.
In terms of convenient components, the beef industry has done a good job, Kruse said. But she would encourage the industry to think even further along the lines of ready to heat and ready to eat. Kruse said don't give consumers an excuse not to eat beef.
The growth areas for beef are in breakfast and snacks. Kruse said there is real opportunity for beef at breakfast. Grab and go sandwiches and snacks, as replacements for regular meals, are very popular.
"Food must be travel ready," Kruse said.
The two groups pushing food consumption trends today are Baby Boomers and Generation Y. Baby Boomers hold 70 percent of the wealth and buy 94 percent of the consumer packaged goods. They also spend more than half their dollars on dinner.
"But we are aging," Kruse said. "We (baby boomers) are aging and we use our diet to keep us young and vibrant. Our taste buds are aging also so we want good clean, strong flavors."
Generation Y consists of consumers 18 to 35 years of age. Kruse said this group is 40 percent non-white, 97 percent own computers, 94 percent have cell phones, 64 percent love to cook, and they are socially and politically progressive. Although they dine out more than any other group they also have an appreciation for home-cooked meals.
It is interesting that both of these groups favor small portions with fuller flavor. Portion options are a big trend on restaurant menus. Portion option is the name of the game because it gives consumers more control.
A mega trend that is driving product development today is freshness. When chefs around the country were surveyed about major trends, they all put freshness at the top of their list. These same chefs said consumers associate freshness with taste, health and value.
"When it comes to beef there are lots of opportunities to deliver on freshness," Kruse said. "Fresh presentation is very important."
There are some hot-button issues out there that demand attend from the beef industry. The first is the growth in organic foods. Kruse said in the last 10 years the retail grocery business has grown barely 1 percent, but the organic food sector has experienced double-digit growth in that same time period.
"Generation Y consumers are driving this growth," Kruse said.
The No. 1 purchase by moms in this group is milk. Kruse said they are frightened by the potential for hormones in milk, and they will pay substantially more for organic milk.
Locally grown is another trending issue. Kruse said it is all about farm to fork, the number of miles that the food traveled. However, the definition of local is evolving. Local at first was food grown within 10 miles of the consumer; now that has expanded to 200 miles.
"Now locavores, as they call themselves, are beginning to think regionally," Kruse said. "Locavores believe that a small, local farm is going to be safer for them."
A third issue is food activism. Kruse said a lot of activists with agendas are making noise in the food environment. Antibiotics, hormones, and humane animal treatment are at the top of the list for these groups and individuals.
A big issue for the beef industry is how these ideas are put out through digital communication. Kruse said the whole world have become reporters. A group that has increasing importance is what Kruse referred to as "mommy bloggers." Mommy blogging has become an industry with conventions around the country. One mommy blogger has over one million followers. Kruse said the furor over "pink slime," or Lean Finely Textured Beef, began with a mommy blogger who was also a trial lawyer.
"One of the things that should be at the top of your agenda in the beef industry is to make sure that this does not happen again," Kruse said. "You have to be on your guard and watch changes in consumer attitude. Baby boomers have the money, but it is Generation Y that controls this whole new stream of digital communications."
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.