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By Larry Marchese, public relations representative for Blount Fine Foods
The morning session of our very first Blount Culinary Summit has gone very well -- engaging, informative, and lively with not only lots of laughter, but a few ah-ha moments as well.
In his opening remarks, Blount Fine Foods President Todd Blount told attendees, "As a powerful, privately-held company, we answer only to our customers and ourselves, without conflict. We are not only empowered to keep the customer first, we are expected to."
Next up, playing the role of Summit host was Blount's EVP of Sales & Marketing Bob Sewall, who explained just how honored Blount was to be able to host a discussion that includes the industry's leading brands, thinkers and media.
Speaking for Blount's research & development capability were VP of Research & Development William Bigelow and Corporate Executive Chef Jeff Wirtz. After overviewing Blount's two-pronged R&D approach and processes, Bigelow asked Wirtz to introduce the culinary team and also explain Blount's successful Johnson & Wales University Culinary Internship Program.
The first star of the day was Joan Driggs, editorial director at Progressive Grocer magazine, whose session on "Trends in the Marketplace" was a perfect way to engage the room and set expectations for the rest of the day. She hit attendees with plenty of thought-provoking facts and statistics. Some of Driggs' more room-moving numbers included:
- Restaurants remain a threat to grocers as the gap between grocery and restaurant expenditures continues to shrink (it used to be $50 billion; today it is as little as $15 billion).
- After generations of growth in the size of U.S. households, we are seeing that trend not only slow, but reverse. Today, 57 percent of U.S. households have only one or two people living in it.
- Grocers are capitalizing on the opportunities presented by smaller households, where cooking for two can seem like an unnecessarily daunting task, especially for the "millennial generation" that has fully embraced well-made, wholesome prepared foods.
Driggs then shared two statistics that make it clear that opportunities in prepared foods do not automatically represent low-hanging fruit:
- Twenty-seven percent of consumers report that they have gone to their grocery store specifically to purchase a prepared meal for their household; but
- Seventy-three percent of consumers report they have purchased prepared foods once inside their regular grocery store.
The implication in these two statistics is that well-made, well-presented and provocatively merchandised prepared foods can draw in consumers as they pass.
From trends in consumer behavior, Driggs turned her comments to trends in consumer preference, where opportunities like gluten-free, clean labels, organic and even daypart came to the fore. Millennials seem to be an important force driving trends today, as Boomers age and become more predictable in their buying behavior. Driggs later noted that while Millennials have abundant levels of clout in the marketplace, a large subset of the segment still does not have corresponding purchasing power.
She closed with a challenge to attendees, which many in the audience have already begun to address in their stores:
- Deliver against need
- Simplify lives
- Differentiate... but keep it recognizable
- Nourish the spirit, as well as the body
Doing these things for shoppers, Driggs argued, can form connections that are simple, but strong.
Driggs handed the podium over to Legal Sea Foods' Executive Chef and EVP Richard Vellante, whose discussion on sustainability was a fascinating look at how one very well-respected, high-end restaurant brand balances between what their restaurant guests are demanding, and the constantly moving demands of various and often competing "experts" who influence public discourse. Because information (and misinformation) are so readily available to consumers, pleasing every person is nearly impossible. For Legal Sea Foods, navigating this push/pull comes down to engaging in what the company believes are environmentally sound practices. Vellante believes where and how Legal Sea Foods practices sustainability ultimately becomes a decision that directly impacts their brand.