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    New ‘Eating Culture’ Emerges

    Study results pose significant implications for food retailers

    We’re no longer a cooking culture – we’re an eating culture, and it’s something retailers will have to grasp in order to better serve their shoppers.

    That’s the overarching theme based on the findings of a comprehensive food culture study presented Monday at the Food Marketing Institute’s Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

    Daymon Worldwide CEO Carla Cooper and Hartman Group founder Harvey Hartman presented the two-year study, “Reframing Retail Through The Lens of Changing Food Culture,” that combines insights from qualitative and quantitative research methods, plus targeted ethnographic interviews in the major urban markets of Seattle, Detroit and Dallas, to inform the surveys and capture in-person, in-home and at-store behavior.

    According to Cooper, the results of the study demonstrate a “seismic” shift in the ways consumers are interacting with food, including evolving consumer shopping behavior and brand preferences. “An eating culture is inherently more inclusive than a cooking culture. Everyone is an eater, so everyone can participate,” she says. “As a result, we as an industry need to reconsider our consumers and customers …not as cooks, not as shoppers … but as eaters. Equally as important will be to take the next step and adjust business strategies to align with consumer expectations and desires. We all have a role to play in bringing the implications to life for the benefit of our organizations and our customers.”

    The study details how consumer food experience has outgrown the family kitchen, resulting in less cooking, more frequent shopping trips and a desire for food experimentation and exploration. “The research reveals significant changes in eating patterns and how they impact shopping for food,” Hartman says. “Food is now everywhere, and our routine engagement with it is more direct and personal than ever before.”

    And the upshot, Hartman says, is that retailers must embrace this change to better serve their customers.

    The cultural shift took place in a social context in which more households consist of single people or couples without children, and with more men as primary grocery shoppers – moms are no longer a key target. The shift has altered how consumers eat and shop, what they eat, and how they view brands and retailers.

    Most eating occasions (52 percent) are snacking, and the fastest-growing snacking occasions are pre-breakfast and after dinner; snacking occasions more often include healthy food options. More people are embracing solitary eating occasions. Further, more eating occasions are spontaneous, with 63 percent of respondents deciding what to eat within an hour before consumption.

    Consumers are experimenting with new foods in greater numbers; nearly half of respondents tried new cuisines on their last eating occasion and more than half are adding these new foods into their routines. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of eating occasions involve some prepared foods.

    Furthermore, about half of all shopping trips are driven by eating occasions, compared to about a quarter for pantry stocking, driving up the chances of impulse purchases. More shoppers are brand agnostic, suggesting that products should be merchandise by attributes and not brand.

    Moreover, shoppers in greater numbers are looking to grocers for inspiration – they want retailers to be curators of a relevant mix of products and brands, ready to guide them on how to prepare and serve these foods.

    “Are we prepared to appeal to a broader array of shoppers?” Cooper asked. “It opens a lot more doors and a lot more wallets.”

    The study, announced at the 2012 FMI meeting in Dallas, includes these components: the power of the retail experience, quantifying the most influential aspects of the retail experience; consumer orientation to brands, quantifying the degree to which consumers become habituated to certain brands versus choose different brands for categories they routinely shop; and the significance of occasions in fragmenting traditional weekly shopping trips into more frequent visits oriented to eating occasions.

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