This month I attended the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association’s annual meeting. There was a session on emerging trends in fresh produce. They did a great job of elucidating several trends in the produce industry. Trends that those of us who eat, have restaurants, and/or grow produce should consider.
• Food trends start in fine restaurants and are dictated by excellent chefs. If fine restaurants begin serving dragon fruit and Brussels sprouts, and make them delicious, it won’t be long before Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday’s are serving them too, followed by some version of it showing up at fast food places, and then the consumer begins looking for them at the local grocery store. Most consumers are first introduced to new foods at a nice restaurant. This is even further solidified by the popularity of food TV, where new and unusual ingredients are utilized on a regular basis, for the whole world to watch.
• One of the hottest trends is “local food”. The opinion of the speaker was the large commercial growers feed the world, while small local growers romance the world. The thought was that if the small local growers can get more consumers eating produce in general, then the trickle-down effect will be that more and more people like fruits and vegetables, which is a good thing for everyone. These consumers will then be far more likely to purchase fruits and vegetables in restaurants, as well as pick them up in the grocery stores. Their propensity to purchase fresh produce won’t be limited to their CSA and farmers’ market. Local is good for everyone: both small and large growers, and the consumer.
• Consumers want a wider offering of healthy options, both at restaurants and in the store. We aren’t happy with burgers and fries any more.
• There is a government push to detour obesity. Although I’m not sure we can trust the government to dictate nutrition, I do believe people can’t be healthy without the focus of their diet being fresh produce. If the government wants to get involved with addressing the obesity epidemic, they should start with encouraging people to stop eating processed foods and start eating plenty of fresh vegetables. Why do I doubt this is actually going to happen?
• Food will become more and more multicultural. Did you know 45% of the millennial generation is not Caucasian? There will be more and more people asking for new and different types of produce. The savvy chef and grower will be considering things beyond potatoes and broccoli. How about some lemongrass? Maybe some turmeric and ginger? Perhaps a few poblano chilies?
• Consumers not only want food to be nutritious, they want it functional. Chefs will be the pharmacists of the next century. Wow! I like this trend because I am firmly convinced food is the foundation of health. We already see some Charlotte area chefs in this role, such as Julia at Nourish, the folks at Viva Raw, and Julianna at Luna’s Living Kitchen. You might think it sounds a little odd, but just head over to Luna’s on a Saturday afternoon, and you will see a long line of people who are already sold on the idea of “food as functional”.
• Consumers want absolute transparency. People want to know who grew it, where it was grown, what were the farming practices, if there are any GMO’s involved, and the list goes on. We already see this happening all the time. At the Farmers’ Market, people ask these questions every day. We also see a big push to label GMO products. Things like trans-fats are now listed on food labels (and are being phased out by the FDA). Grocery stores have photographs of their farmers hanging up in the produce aisle. This idea of transparency will likely continue to grow. I wonder if people feel a certain sense of distrust of the food industry. Perhaps it has betrayed us by telling us their “foods” nourish us, when they don’t… their “foods” make us skinny, when they won’t, and that their “foods” make us healthy, when they don’t. I’m not surprised at this trend of demanding transparency.
• Millennials eat six meals per day. This basically means they are snacking and not eating full meals. It implies they don’t cook. However, they want these six meals to be healthy, nutrient dense, fast, delicious, and easily available. They also want to be able to pre-order it, take photos of it to post on Facebook, and have their meals personalized exactly the way they want it. This is going to take a marketing genius to meet these needs, however, I’m sure it is going to happen, so we should start trying to get our brains around it, because these will be our customers. Did you know this generation now has buying power that exceeds the baby boomers?
I listened to all of these trends, and realized that selling produce to today’s consumer is going to be challenging. They watch the food network and want beautiful meals. They want fresh, nutritious, functional food with absolute transparency. They want many different ethnic types of food. They want all of this in a fast and convenient way, that requires minimal preparation, because a good percent of the population doesn’t cook. Alright, this is going to be difficult.
Eat your veggies,