We are still experiencing the same trend in food that has been going on since 1870. One word describes it and that is efficiency. It applies to every stage of food production. Why did I pick 1870? That is the year when the percentage of farmers went from 58% to 47% in this country, which illustrates agricultural efficiency as a population statistic. Compare that to the most recent figure of 1.4% of jobs being directly on the farm and 14% of jobs in farming and food processing. In 1870, a middling purifier was invented to produce a superior flour (more food processing). The first weather report was transmitted by telegraph. Later in 1872, many fruits and vegetables were improved through better agricultural methods. And in 1874 margarine was produced. And also in this year the pressure cooker was invented to cook faster.
(Source: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/timeline/comp.htm )
Everyone wants more for less effort, which is how we become more efficient and progress as a society. This still applies to our modern food chain:
- Farmers want higher yields with less effort and lower cost.
- Food manufacturers want higher sales and profits – they are always looking for the holy grail for consumer demand and they have done this through decadent calorie-dense foods and trends and fads: the fat-free fad, the carbs-are-bad fad, the huge-portions-for-better-value fad, more-calcium foods, lower-trans-fat foods and now with the “restaurant is in your kitchen” trend among others. Fast food companies know that we love to drive through and have dinner in the car in 5 minutes when we are pressed for time and hungry now.
- Grocers and other food retailers want to increase sales and optimize their operations. Many offer prepared foods we can take home and serve right away to hungry families.
- Consumers want better meals in less time and many need to stretch their food dollars. They want to think they have more nutritious food or something special. They also view food as a source of entertainment as seen on cooking channels, in many written articles and the creativity of chefs. Of course some are simply too busy to do anything but eat on the go. Some poor populations live in food deserts where access to anything but convenience stores and fast food restaurants is the only choice.
Our economy and society has steadily become “more efficient” since the dawn of agriculture and this has kept constant through the industrial revolution and now the digital revolution. The adaptation of the digital era has eaten up a lot of free time and income as everyone spends more time and money on their gadgets and becoming “digitized”; furthermore as the book Googled points out, life as we know it has been disrupted because of the internet and there is a general scramble to do more with less.
Here are market “efficiency” trends for food that we feel will continue:
- All retail food stores seek to bring the restaurant into the house – we feel that is a large trend that is here to stay:
- Consumers get the comfort of home and fancier foods for less effort and lower cost than a restaurant meal. TV and food blogs have educated them to demand these foods but budgets have driven them into the stores to buy them already made and grocers have obliged. Sales of prepared foods are now 58% of the deli sales mix for most grocery stores.
- Salad mixes, prepared produce, roasted meats, fancy prepared seafood, fruit platters, party platters, spice mixes, gourmet soups, prepared sauces, exotic bakery items and much more are now common. Just like what you find in your favorite restaurant!
- The produce aisle has quite a few more “already prepared items”; “steam in the bag” produce has become more popular with more choices.
- Frozen foods, ethnic foods and private labels foods are more numerous.
- Walmart is the largest seller of groceries (Business Insider 2017). The superstores offer value, good selection and the opportunity to one stop shop.
- But the new trend now is grocery delivery service. Consumers have many choices to have their groceries and even their meals delivered.
- Prepared ingredients are more plentiful. It is easy to find all kinds of prepared meals and dishes like salad mixes, salsa, and soups ready to go.
- Local foods are being featured as this trend booms due to millennial demand. This can mean prepared foods or seasonally grown. Whole Foods and Trader Joes are known for their local and seasonal produce offerings that taste better and are lower in price than many other options.
- Only items that sell and sell profitably are kept on the shelves. Did you notice that the cake mix selection is smaller? Ditto with salad dressings, mayonnaise, cuts of meat, low-fat ice cream and fresh fish.
- Food manufacturers want to sell and sell at a profit so they are still wooing consumers with the lures of “extra nutrition” and “extra convenience” with package claims and offerings. Flavor and seasonings will continue to be creative and emphasized.
- “Nutrition” has become a convoluted claim with bits of this and bits of that to sell a food, not help someone manage a whole diet.
- There are more low-sodium or no-added-salt foods available now. But that doesn't mean you can stop reading labels - there are probably 500 down and 50,000 to go! (just a playful guess!)
The bottom line of what all of this means for the consumer?
Many consumers are “under water” with their nutrition and overall diet. They are getting too many calories but very little fiber or nutrients for long-term health and weight control (health.gov). The Dietary Guidelines’ most important message in 2015 is to get the nutrients needed in the calories allotted. We do not need acai juice, special antioxidants, phytochemicals or probiotics. We need more fruits and vegetables, cooked whole grains, beans/legumes, and skim dairy which all adds up to more fiber, more nutrients, and fewer calories.
“The Power of Fresh Prepared/Deli,” a study commissioned by the Fresh Foods Leadership Council of the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI).
USDA ERS, Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy,
UBS Global Research