Contemplating Food Retail Trends

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

This time of year, we begin to work on our planning documents, from three-year plans to the more specific and detailed annual business plan that we prepare for the start of our fiscal year in July. As part of these annual rhythms, we assess trends in the industry, thinking about how our Co-op will fall in line or buck trends. As an engaged Co-op shareholder, it stands to reason that you would be interested in this information as well.

Despite the multitude of ills that the pursuit of convenience has wrought, convenience continues to be a governing trend in the food retailing industry. More and more options are available in grab-and-go food service areas that previously might have required some home preparations, like bone broths and fancy hard-boiled eggs. Value-added meat preparations, like marinated meats, that take decisions and time out of quick meal prep at home continue to be big favorites for harried shoppers. The Co-op has certainly observed these trends and responded with consistent offerings, and we continue to experiment with a few more to see if shoppers are in fact looking for more options.

Expanded “flavor profiles,” as they say, continue to captivate shoppers. Flavors derived from Asian cuisine, as well as African and South American cuisine inspire today’s shoppers, especially younger ones. Turmeric, ginger, peanut, and chili all have avid followers. Some of these foods also support various health benefits, and therefore are particularly sought-after.

As the wellness trend continues to expand, more and more gluten and dairy alternatives have spread into nearly every product category, and CBD-infused products are rapidly proliferating. If you have not taken the time to research outside the dairy cooler doors or the grab-and-go coolers, please do: you will see more alternatives all the time, and some of these are local. More vegan or plant-based alternatives are popping up in every category.

The final trend, as identified by food retailing trade journals, is sustainability. Climate change and the relationship to food production and transport is finally being exposed, and organic production, antibiotic-free husbandry, and all related practices are becoming more and more appealing, especially in the perception of transparency.

So, it would appear that our Co-op is well-positioned to provide leadership and support in these food trends, as all of these growth areas are in our wheelhouse. There are, to be sure, some trends that will give pause, like the data that found that groceries are purchased in four different locations in a given month, a higher number than last year’s data, suggesting that people will buy groceries wherever it seems convenient: grocery store, dollar store, drug store, gas station. On the positive side, bricks and mortar still seems like the preferred channel for food purchasing, with slightly fewer young people looking to buy groceries online than in past years. It would seem that the overall experience of going to the store is still enjoyable to the digital generations and, in looking around our Co-op and our café, it would appear that we have our share of young shoppers who in fact do enjoy this option.

Furthermore, this is an era when we must get more involved, not less. So please heed the calls to action in examining your household waste stream and what you can do to change some habits in order to reduce the amount of plastics that require a place on our planet. Consider getting involved with organizations like Equal Exchange, which is actively getting citizen-consumers engaged in vibrant communities making change in the food system. For our part, we will continue to work on our product mix to ensure that we both increase our local offerings and that we have plenty of value options on the shelves. We will also continue to improve our waste-stream production and replace problematic packaging wherever we can. And we will continue to provide you with information for your decision-making, all the while providing a friendly and supportive shopping atmosphere. We also will continue to work on what diversity, equity, and inclusion could look like in our organization. Together, we can help to improve this world!

See you in the aisles!

By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager