A food world ‘changing at incredible speed’ will see grocery stores and restaurants adapting in 2018 | Money
Chances are your mother did all the family grocery shopping, pushing a cart around the same store week in and week out, buying the same ingredients for the same rotation of meals.
Buying food that way is a distant memory for most households, and the pace of change will only pick up in the new year.
Food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants are fighting for fickle shoppers’ food dollars by rolling out new technology, cooking methods, store concepts, flavors and ingredients.
“The food world around us is changing at incredible speed, and we must evolve,” said grocery industry consultant Phil Lempert.
Here’s what observers say to expect from grocery stores and restaurants in 2018.
Grocery stores are making it faster and easier for you to put dinner on the table. Consumers want to cook but are strapped for time, NPD Group restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs writes.
This year, more stores, including Kroger, Family Fare and Walmart locations, will carry meal kits, no subscription required. Family Fare recently launched a new line of pre-cut produce, something other chains also carry.
Target, which acquired delivery service Shipt, and other retailers will add online ordering services, with pickup or delivery options.
And grocery stores will look increasingly like restaurants, with prepared food stations and in-house restaurants called “grocerants.” In some cases, grocery stores are going into the real restaurant business — Iowa-based Hy-Vee and Michigan supermarket chain Meijer both will open Wahlburgers restaurants, a burger chain founded by actor Mark Wahlberg and his brothers.
Plant-based diets are moving into the mainstream.
Vegetables will continue to replace carbs — think cauliflower “rice” and zucchini noodles, the National Restaurant Association says. Olive Garden, for example, is adding a spiral-cut squash pasta dish to its menu this January.
Plants are increasingly replacing meat, too. More fine dining menus will showcase meatless options, food industry marketing agency THP expects. Fresh Thyme grocery stores say they carry a barbecue flavor jackfruit that is a substitute for pulled pork.
And more plant-based and even “lab-grown” meats are on the horizon at the supermarket, thanks to big-dollar investments from venture capitalists and packaged foods companies, says Mintel, a market research firm.
Plant ingredients are proliferating in cheese and ice cream products, too, the Specialty Food Association says.
No one’s writing off meat, though. Consumption is growing, and chefs are innovating. They’re serving “butcher cuts” like beef shank and top sirloin cap, and pork collar and skirt steak. Butcher cuts are “on trend and inexpensive,” the National Restaurant Association says. Iowa-based Fareway Stores expanded its meat-centric Fareway Meat Market concept to Lincoln this year.
Local sourcing of meat is still important for restaurant diners, especially millennials, the group says.
Game meat, leaner and flavorful, is gaining on menus, THP says. Look for elk, ostrich, quail and pheasant. Fresh Thyme grocery stores carry frozen elk, venison and bison.
In 2018, look for ethnic flavors like sambal, a southeast Asian chili paste with sweet and sour ingredients, and Latin chimichurri herb sauce paired with entrees, the National Restaurant Association says.
Next fall, expect to see more maple flavors, as sales growth slows for pumpkin spice, Supermarket News predicts.
Smoked meats are popular, but chefs are also smoking cheeses, butters, vegetables and desserts for fuller flavor, THP says.
Chefs are looking to the garden for inspiration — the vegetable garden and the flower garden.
Retailer Natural Grocers says we’ll see manufacturers include more plant-based or “botanical” ingredients thought to improve brain function and mood.
Floral ingredients like hibiscus, lavender and elderflower add value to high-end food products, according to the Campbell Soup Company’s Culinary & Baking Institute.
And beyond their health benefits, veggies add natural color to recipes while letting companies leave some artificial ingredients off the label, THP says.
Those bright colors look as good on your Instagram feed as they do on your plate. Consumers will keep documenting their meals on social media, shaping how restaurants design dishes, said fast-food industry magazine QSR.
That’s because eating isn’t just nutrition, it’s an experience. Smart marketers will give diners permission to indulge, with healthy ingredients to offset the guilt of eating big, tasty entrees, QSR reports. They’ll position products for the growing number of consumers who are into “self-care” as a respite from stress, according to Mintel.
And they’ll think of restaurants as theater that gives people a reason to go out, such as open kitchens and more technology at the table, New England Consulting Group founder Gary Stibel told QSR.
Sugar tops the list of ingredients consumers are looking to avoid, so expect to see alternatives on packages, the Specialty Food Association says.
“Syrups made from dates, sorghum, and even yacon and sun root will join monk fruit on the market as emerging options for sweet,” the association’s head of content, Denise Purcell, writes.
Companies like Cargill, which makes Truvia stevia leaf extract, are developing new lower-calorie sweeteners. And old-fashioned honey is a big winner in this category, Supermarket News says.
Consumers, most of them far removed from the farm, will keep up the pressure on food processors to source ingredients produced in humane and sustainable ways. These include raising chickens without antibiotics, as Tyson is, and using slower-growing breeds of chickens, as Perdue is experimenting with.
Expect to see more packaged food touting that it’s vegan or non-GMO, market reach firm Packaged Facts says. These “all-star package callouts” are a positive cue to shoppers — even if many farmers are skeptical.
Restaurants, too, will consider practices that conserve water and energy and reduce food waste, the National Restaurant Association says. Whole Foods says to look for “root-to-stem” use of vegetables to cut back on waste.
Family Fare will start selling “misfits” produce in January in its Omaha locations, something Hy-Vee and others do.
Technocrats are taking over the experience of procuring food, restaurant and food consultant Baum + Whiteman says. Google, Amazon and Apple are making it possible to order food just by asking out loud for it. Social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat are partnering with companies like GrubHub and OpenTable to let you order food, make a reservation and rate your purchase.
Look for more mergers in the digital food ordering and delivery industry as competition thins the herd.
Some restaurants are going entirely cashless, and digital systems control the experience of getting a reservation, ordering from the menu, paying your bill and tipping your waiter. (Consider the growth of restaurant management system Toast, opening a new office in Omaha next year.)
Someday you might be able to order your food just by looking into the camera — a KFC restaurant in China has a facial recognition kiosk that remembers your order when it sees you.
Hot or not?
“Glam cakes” shine with glitter, gold leaf and sparkles, THP says. Look for how-to videos on your Facebook feed.
Jewish deli foods like a corned beef sandwich or a cheese blintz are seeing a popular resurgence, QSR reports.
Citrus isn’t news, but when’s the last time you ate a kumquat or a pomelo? As mandarin sales grow, so does interest in unusual citrus, THP says. Sorghum, the ancient cereal grain, is also taking off.
And booze is now on the dessert menu: beer-infused ice cream, gin-and-tonic popsicles, and alcoholic slushies, Baum + Whiteman says.