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    Editors Digest

    Our team ate plenty to select this year’s best new products

    By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ

    This month, Progressive Grocer announced the winners of its annual Editors’ Picks contest, after many weeks of evaluation as well as digestion by our editorial team.

    As food industry journalists, it was our sworn duty to eat them all.

    You can read all about the winners in PG’s September issue. But I thought you’d like some insights on what influenced our decision process.

    The contest’s entry period winds down every year in mid-June, just as our team is getting back from the annual International Dairy-Deli-Bakery expo, where we not only ate many more things, but got some great perspectives on the latest culinary, flavor and consumer trends.

    For example, the general sessions included Sherry Frey of Nielsen Perishables, speaking on “Merchandising, Marketing and Innovating for Entertaining Occasions,” in which she noted strategic cross-store connections for special occasion shopping.

    “If we don’t have total store connectivity, we’re setting ourselves up for long-term failure,” Frey asserted.

    Frey laid out “a new road map for looking at categories.” For example: for “fresh and fancy entertaining,” key categories like steak, deli snacks and specialty cheeses are natural tie-ins for fruit and vegetables, herbs and seafood. Consumers wants “convenient solutions for turn-key entertaining,” Frey said, noting that deli is a key driver for such purchases.

    OK, products that offer solutions for turn-key entertaining and lend themselves well to cross-merchandising with other categories: check.

    At least three speaker sessions at the IDDBA show focused on product transparency, namely allergen information.

    “If we’re going to continue to build trust with shoppers, we need to be more transparent,” “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert said in his “Focus on Allergens,” the latest installment of IDDBA’s ongoing food safety initiative. Lempert cited survey data indicating that only 15 percent of consumers have confidence in free-from product label statements. Further, 85 percent of shoppers think companies don’t care about their dietary needs.

    Further statistics show a strong need for store associates to be better trained to handle products and be better educated about allergens in food products: Food allergies among children rose 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, four in 10 claim food allergies or avoidance of certain ingredients, and the number of people with allergies is doubling every 10 years.

    “As an industry, we have not moved fast enough,” said Mike Eardley, IDDBA’s president and CEO. “We can all win, or we can all lose.”

    Eardley also noted that Millennials are overwhelmingly interested in fresh, organic, natural and free-from foods. In response, food manufacturers have gradually been moving toward simpler ingredient labels and dropping artificial ingredients.

    OK, products that have simple ingredients, clean labels and clearly display their free-from status: check.

    After missing an opportunity at the National Restaurant Association show a few years ago, I was really excited to hear celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who discussed how chefs are perceived by the public in the “pre-Emeril and post-Emeril” worlds.

    The rise of this “cult of personality” among chefs has helped to drive a greater interest in food as well as the transformation of supermarkets from mere stores selling food to showcases of culinary prowess, Bourdain said.

    In a Q&A session led by Albertsons Safeway’s Jewel Hunt, Bourdain identified what he sees as the current key culinary trends: heat; “funk” and “rot” (e.g. fermented foods); “stinky cheeses”; organ meats; slow cooking; and spices. “We are catching up with the great food cultures of Europe, Latin America and Asia,” Bourdain said.

    OK, products that are chef-inspired and reflect emerging culinary trends: check.

    All that, plus they need to taste good.

    Read all about our 2016 Editors’ Picks winning products in PG’s September issue.

    By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ
    • About Jim Dudlicek As editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer, Jim Dudlicek oversees daily operations of the magazine, spearheads its signature features, produces PG’s monthly Trend Alert newsletter on center store issues, moderates its regular webcast series, and writes and comments about a wide range of grocery issues. A food industry journalist since 2002, Jim came to PG in June 2010 after covering the dairy industry for 7½ years, during which time he served as chief editor of Dairy Field and Dairy Foods magazines. A graduate of Marquette University, Jim is fascinated by how truly progressive grocers inspire consumers to enjoy food, transforming the industry from mere merchants into educators that can take the most basic of all necessities and turn it into something profound and life-enhancing.

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