3 contradictory trends in food consumption

Not every day will you find top executives from four of the largest food retailers in North America (Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys and Whole Foods Market) sharing the same stage to discuss food trends. I had the pleasure recently to moderate their discussion at the Business Strategies Forum (link in French) organized by the Quebec Food Processors Association.

The lively exchanges among food retailers focused on evolving consumer trends, emphasizing what they expect from their suppliers. As they spoke, I realized current major food trends have created some important contradictions:

1.    Local vs. global

Consumers increasingly want to know the story behind their food. The number of farm-to-consumer direct marketing outlets has grown in the U.S. and Canada, connecting consumers with their community. Yet, consumers want to be able to experience flavours from around the world.  This global trend is not only driven by the emergence of a strong ethnic food segment as immigration climbs, but is also the result of globalization and the many interconnections our world now offers. 

2.    Health vs. indulgence

Obesity and cardiovascular diseases are major health issues facing the Western world. Consumers are reacting to the issue by changing their food habits to include fresher, healthier food. Yet, food retailers’ research consistently shows a strong demand for indulgent, calorie-intense foods (i.e., sugar and fat).

3.    Price vs. quality

This contradiction is nothing new. Consumers prefer only high-quality ingredients in the food they eat. But quality comes at a cost. And Canadians remain very perceptive shoppers, forcing retailers to work with their suppliers and offer frequent price promotions to attract customers.  

So what are these retailers doing to rise to the challenge of these contradictory trends? They’ve decided to focus on:

·         Simplicity: offering clear choices to consumers – the best food vs. the most affordable

·         Efficiency: cutting costs aggressively to gain a competitive edge vis-à-vis their competitors

·         Speed: quickly reacting to consumers’ needs in order to build loyalty in their consumer base

Make these trends work for you

In the future, the most successful food processors and agricultural producers will be the innovators - those who offer new food products aligned to at least one of the emerging food trends. Giving consumers what they want requires connections with producers. After all, the whole process begins with the right farm product.

Connections remain important throughout the whole process too. It’s no surprise that marketing and production contracts are now more widely used in the livestock and crop sectors. Contracts facilitate the efficient distribution of products most demanded by Canadian consumers and help to build efficient supply chains. And it’s only the coordination across the entire supply chain that will enable Canadian agriculture to leverage the tremendous opportunities our domestic consumer base offers.

J.P. Gervais, Chief Agricultural Economist