It's time to start thinking about 2014. What does the New Year have in store? Which trends are petering out? Which ones are gaining momentum?
You may be surprised about how much insight you'll gain with a single set of statistics about the way Americans spend their disposable income when it comes to food. The information below all comes from The Economic Research Service, USDA.
Take a look at this downloadable infographic about disposable income and food spending trends:
This infographic shows that Americans are spending more money on food. You may also notice that they are going back to spending more money on food eaten away from home.
The biggest trend in the grocery store is PREPARED food. We expect this to continue into 2014 and beyond. Prepared food is found on every perimeter, every aisle, and in every section of almost every food store. After all, grocery stores do need to compete with restaurants on some level. People want to serve food at home but they don't always want to make it from scratch. They also like the healthful-looking and less expensive options in a grocery store. These options are extremely visible and ready now. When was the last time you prepared pasta, bread, or pasta sauce from scratch? Now you might not even boil the pasta or heat the sauce. You might even reheat a finished pasta dish because you purchased it from your grocery store.
According to a press release by Packaged Facts, prepared food was a 32 billion dollar source of income for grocery stores in 2012. This is a 7.5% increase from the previous year.
Have you noticed that the raw meat counters in grocery stores are shrinking? They're usually smaller than the deli now. In one store I visit regularly, the raw meat counter is less than 1/4 the size of the deli counter. I certainly never noticed this change until I started working on this article.
I remember the deli having cole slaw, macaroni salad, and cold cuts. The view has changed a lot these days...
The deli now offers much more than cold cuts and cheese. It serves prepared salads and hot entrees. One store guarantees that a cooked chicken will be hot and ready to go from 11AM to 9PM. If there isn't a chicken at the ready, you'll get one for free.
The deli can even extend around the store. Entire aisles around the perimeter now contain all sorts of "grab and go" meals, from salads to wraps to dips. Heat-and-serve pizzas come in many gourmet flavors, and wings rival some the best restaurants' varieties. And don't get me started on sandwiches. These lunch staples now come in many flavor choices, all of which are ready to go right now. Unlike restaurants that only offer menus as a way to glimpse the selection, grocery stores offer the real thing in a visible, touchable format.
"Leg up" is often the marketing focus.
Each food manufacturer wants to give their product "a leg up" on the competition. This means that the options are bigger, more natural, more flavorful, certified organic, raised in the wild, more colorful, more exotic, etc. This new focus is much more prevalent than previous nutrition marketing fads like fat-free or carb-free.
Have you ever seen a "watermelon filet"? It costs roughly as much as a steak.
Check out the range of varieties of tomatoes that you can see the next time you're at the store -- there are tons of options! Check out these "Plum Zebra Tomatoes:"
Everything in the produce aisle is also more colorful. It's easy to spot tri-colored grapes, tri-colored peppers, assortments of multi-colored potatoes, etc.
Golden beets and multiple colors and varieties of kale and chard are also way more plentiful than they have been in years past. Check out the photo below -- it's from a typical grocery store, not even a Whole Foods.
The organic section of the average grocery store is definitely getting larger each year. One store put all of the organic food in the front and back of the produce section. That way, you actually have to look to find the traditional items, which are scattered in the center.
Another trend in the produce section is "kits," which give you everything you need to make a Caesar salad or all kinds of slaw, including kale slaw or broccoli slaw. You can also buy stir-fry veggie kits. Check out this kit for guacamole:
Seafood has started to feature newer adjectives like "sustainable" and "wild caught":
Even the orange juice aisle is overwhelming with choices:
And the bakery often offers single-servings of decadent gourmet treats, which you could previously only find in the finest restaurants:
Fat-free, carbohydrate-free, calcium-added, and many other nutrition-related mantras are waning, but gluten-free is still still going strong.
Want to see another trend that we expect to continue into 2014?
Grocery stores are giving scores to many items on their shelves. For example, here is a "NuValue" score for bread:
Karla Logston, RN, BS, CDE, Senior Manager, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, sums these trends up well when she writes, "We are noticing a healthier trend in grocery stores in our area. More and more are taking some of the guesswork out of reading food labels by posting a “green” label on the shelf by the product price, which indicates a healthier choice. I have also noticed specialty stores opening that offer only fresh produce and meat products. No canned or frozen goods are sold in these stores."
Karla continues, "What I am looking forward to is something I recently heard about. Grocery stores in some regions of the county are setting up “buy and make” areas in the stores. Since Home Economics is not offered in most schools, many 20-somethings tell me they do not know how to cook. These centers would allow shoppers to purchase items and then create a healthy meal onsite that could be taken home. Assistance would be available for those that need some added instruction. Perhaps this would encourage people to cook more meals at home, which is usually a healthier option than eating out all the time."
Grocery stores do have the technology to prepare restaurant-quality food and hold it all day. Check out this roast that was cooked all night at 145 degrees F in a Rationale Oven (photo taken by author at National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Rational Cooking Equipment, Denver):
Hemi Weingarten, Fooducate Founder, sums it all up best -- "Food will continue to occupy our thoughts and actions on a daily basis."
If you've observed a food trend or have a comment about food trends, send it to @foodhealth on Twitter or post it to our Facebook page.
By Judy Doherty, PC II.
Do you want to be on top of 2014? Check out all the new items in the Nutrition Education Store:
Vitamin and Mineral Charts:
Rainbow Eating Pattern Materials:
Health Fair Kits:
Bulletin Board Kits:
Cooking Demo Programs:
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.