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How Our Eating Habits are Changing and Fuelling a Billion Dollar Industry

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

Written by: Evan Goodfellow

Future trends often start with a small fringe group that are often overlooked by the mass public, and in particular large companies. These are the groups that need to be listened to.

Gluten Free Then and Now

Talking one day with a friend, we were discussing the surge of gluten-free foods. 10 years ago, you rarely heard about gluten intolerance and from the sounds of it, an individual suffering with the intolerance was forced to shop at health food stores, and found themselves trying to explain to friends and family why their diet was more than a restriction of bread, and how wheat was found in basically everything on the grocery store shelf. Now it has become the norm to see commercials advertising gluten-free Cheerios. In a recent article on the Market Research blog entitled 3 Big Trends Shaping the Food and Beverage Industry the author Sarah Schmidt outlines the next 3 big trends that have food industry scrambling to keep up with the needs of their customers. Had these companies employed more traditional market research and current online research communities to listen for future trends they wouldn’t be so far behind.

The new direction that U.S. consumers are shifting towards, according to Schmidt, is toward whole food diets. This means gone are the days of long lists of ingredients which you could barely pronounce let alone guess where or what the ingredient was made from. I remember it was probably close to 20 years ago eating an ice cream bar with my son, and looking at all of the ingredients that were found inside. We began counting the ingredients and came to 93 different ingredients. With access to Youtube videos discussing the ramifications of eating certain foods, and ways to avoid getting fat, consumers have become more conscious of what they are eating, and are wanting to eat foods made from a few simple ingredients. The article goes on to mention a recent study done by The Wall Street Journal which reported 67 percent of consumers preferred fewer or simpler ingredients. This has led to companies creating products that use real ingredients that can be found in consumer’s kitchens. Listening to customers through qualitative discussion in MROC’s can help predict the desires of your customers.

The second trend according to Schmidt is that gluten-free foods have hit their peak and are expected to decrease in the next coming years. This decrease is not due to the fact that there are less gluten intolerant individuals but because people were associating gluten-free food as health food. Schmidt writes that “U.S. sales reached $1.57 billion in 2015, an 11 percent increase compared to 2014, according to a new report by Packaged Facts. In contrast, sales of gluten-free foods skyrocketed 81 percent year-over-year in 2013.” The expected drop is due to the fact that consumers are becoming more savvy in regards to nutrition and are moving towards more healthy whole foods.

This leads us to Schmidt’s third trend prediction which are meal kits. While the vast majority of individuals are moving towards more healthy whole food options, consumers are still strapped for time, and want to keep their average meal production time to a minimum which has led rise to the meal kit. The meal kit offers pre-measured ingredients and instructions which remove the hassle of meal preparation. Simply pick the meals you like, and cook them at home, with a minimal amount of effort. Schmidt writes, “With pre-measured ingredients and convenient subscription plans, meal kits are especially popular among millennials living in urban areas.” This trend toward meal kits has led to an influx of investors funding meal kit start-ups. This market is expected to reach $1.5 billion in sales in 2016 and is expected to grow in leaps and bounds over the next five years, according to a report by Packaged Facts (Baertlein).

There was also an article on discussing the U.S. grocer Whole Foods entry into meal kits. The author Lisa Baertlein writes, “Whole Foods recently began testing sales of Purple Carrot’s vegan meal kits on Wednesday, joining forces with one of many startups that threaten mainstream grocers by delivering boxed, cook-at-home meals.” How much do these meal kits cost? Purple Carrot’s test kit retails for $19.99 and is meant as a single meal for two. The interest is not only with Whole Foods, but Kroger one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. has said that they are interested in creating a meal kit or partnering with an existing operator.

As consumers become more informed about every area of their life, and as information and articles are easily shared amongst friends on social media sites, there will be a continual changing of attitudes and behaviour. We see this not only with tech companies but even in how we eat. As individuals start to understand more how whole foods are better for us, the markets are forced to respond. The secret for businesses in this ever changing landscape is understanding what the customer is wanting and learning how to tailor make products that fit their needs and expectations. We believe that Market Research Online Communities is the solution for understanding your customers.

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