The Food Environment is a Changin'

Posted by: Ellen Schuster, BA, MS on Monday, June 25, 2018

The Food Environment is a Changin'

Article originally appears in the June 21, 2018 issue of the SNEB eCommunicator

There are many articles about the changing food environment. This one focuses on three aspects of a changing food environment that caught my attention recently: 1) a dizzying array of food flavors especially in the snack food sector (consumers demand individualization/customization of their food with more flavor choices); 2) food availability in more and more venues as the line between meals and snacks blurs; and 3) competition for the food dollar. As nutrition educators, keeping abreast of these changes help us work with consumers as they navigate their food choices. 

Overview
A good overall book about the current food culture is Devoured by Sophie Egan (Culinary Institute of America). It is a fascinating book. This interview @ http://ucfoodobserver.com/2016/11/22/qa-with-author-sophie-egan/ highlights two of the three trends in this article - customization of foods and food availability.

Customers demand personalization and companies give them more and more flavor choices
There are 87,000 different drink options at Starbucks. Did you know that there have been 152 Lay’s chip flavors? Explore the flavors @ http://www.taquitos.net/snack_guide/Lays_Potato_Chips). And that cookie with the cream in the middle? Look at the flavor list from 2005 to 2018 @ https://www.theimpulsivebuy.com/wordpress/oreo-cookie-flavor-list/. Jerky is also getting into new flavors (maple bacon anyone?) @ https://csnews.com/nutrition-snacking-trends-herald-new-generation-jerky as is hummus (I have seen coconut curry and chocolate on my local shelves, to name only 2 flavors). These flavors are examples of line extensions (a new product is introduced in the same category) because companies know that customers are driven, in part, by brand loyalty. A 2017 Mintel study found that 44% of snackers said their favorite brand is one of the most important factors when choosing a snack. More @ https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/11558-modifying-mainstays-for-the-evolving-consumer. And, more than 1/2 of line extensions of new products are for a new flavor, size or nutritional content @ https://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/line-extension-vs-brand-extension-4839.html. If you want to follow this flavor trend in podcast format, Food Scientists is a podcast that reviews new flavors in foods with some laughs along the way.

Food in places that might surprise you
Below are some surprising places you’ll find food in addition to the ‘usual’ ones including office supply, home improvement and shoe stores.

 **SnackNation offers snacks to...Uber passengers https://www.forbes.com/sites/phillempert/2018/06/04/what-a-12-million-series-b-funding-means-for-the-snack-world/

**Plated meals available at more grocery stores
https://www.today.com/food/albertsons-release-plated-meal-kits-stores-t126748

**Target not the only retailer with in-store dining (hint: Restoration Hardware and Bass Pro shops; Barnes & Noble’s plans are in the works)
http://blog.kimcorealty.com/2016/08/why-retailers-love-the-idea-of-in-store-restaurants/

**Guess who’s going to sell groceries?  
Kohl’s!  Apparently they will be leasing space in their stores to food retailers.   
https://retailleader.com/guess-whos-going-start-selling-groceries 

Competition for the food dollar
**Amazon Prime discount to Medicaid recipients
Amazon began discounting their Prime membership to Medicaid recipients March 2018. Prime costs $12.99/month, the discount will drop it to $5.99/month and includes free fast shipping and video streaming. This move comes after Amazon began offering discounted memberships to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients last year. Will low income people take advantage of this discount? Amazon says it has been pleased with the response to the discount offered last year to those on SNAP. Barriers to membership include not having a credit card and not having a safe place to deliver packages. 
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-healthcare/amazon-offers-discount-prime-membership-to-medicaid-recipients-idUSKCN1GJ1ZZ

**More people buying grocery stores at Dollar General
More people are buying food at Dollar General (sales went up 11% in the last quarter). Although prices may be a driver, here's an interesting datapoint -  by the end of this year 75% of us will live within 5 miles of one. Dollar General has expanded it's snack and drink offerings, increased freezer space and in some locations, introduced fresh produce. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2017/12/07/more-people-are-buying-foodat-dollar-general-helping-boost-the-companys-sales/?utm_term=.052185d1feec