Grocers in the Catbird Seat for Food Convos

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Grocers in the Catbird Seat for Food Convos

By Meg Major, EnsembleIQ - 01/12/2017

Amid a flurry of 2017 trend forecasts, food clearly rules the roost. As one of the most popular topics of conversation on social platforms, “Food attracts clicks in huge numbers,” according to MSLGroup’s list of top food trends for this year. “That's why in 2017, every consumer brand manager will be asking: How can we use food to start a conversation about our brand?"

To be sure, that’s a great question for everyone out there in PG land to ponder, particularly the food retailer types, who are clearly in the catbird seat to seize – and hold – the floor as the essential food conversation starters. The prime platform to jump-start and sustain the dialogue, of course, resides in the fresh produce department, whose sheer beauty can’t help but provide wildly attractive eye candy to showcase its powerful clout as “the new pharmacy.”

At the precipice of a whole new era poised to see consumers investing differently in their health, MSLGroup’s recent research further asserts: “In 2017, food will increasingly become [consumers’] favored ‘medicine,’ in both meals and food-based supplements. Even doctors will increasingly get on board,” per the annual F&B study, whose summary findings irrefutably confirm that produce merchants have unlimited opportunities to lead the charge.

With holiday fare finally out of the picture, an ideal starting point to plot a new course and secure higher shopper affinity is that of plant-based, vegetable-centric meals, which are riding high on new year tip lists.

Among the more insightful observations come from Baum + Whiteman’s yearly trend predictions report, which describes vegetables as “the new comfort food” while pointing to Pinterest user data suggesting that “people are sifting the concept of comfort away from ‘emotional’ dishes like mac and cheese to those reflecting more healthful considerations. The word ‘veggies’ in Pinterest comfort-food searches jumped 336 percent in the last year . . . while lasagna, macaroni and stroganoff were off 69 percent, 55 percent and 50 percent,” respectively.

Hence, retailers must be ready to offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to shoppers seeking to add more produce to their plates.

“Vegetable-centric eating is finally mainstream, and it’s paving ways for the future of food and produce consumption,” notes Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s Specialty Produce. Caplan and her Los Alamitos, Calif.-based team identify four emerging fruit and vegetable items for 2017: radishes, purple cauliflower, hard squashes, and tropical fruits and aromatics.

“Retailers are embracing this change by expanding the number of vibrantly colored vegetables and providing more produce variety for shoppers,” explains Caplan, who can’t help being ecstatic about the uptick of interest in, availability of and experimentation with new and unique items.

While conventional supermarkets have been hard at work perfecting their produce strategies in recent years, the fast-growing Aldi US is also touting affordable vegetables and fruits as a top-priority category of its 2017 agenda.

In addition to significantly expanding its fresh produce and organic offerings, the Batavia, Ill.-based discount food retailer is offering customers a new online resource to help them say "hello” to healthy. Beginning this month and continuing through March, Aldi's hellohealthy portal will feature new weekly meal plans, recipes, videos and tips on how to shop for a variety of eating styles like Paleo, vegan and plant-based.

Overcoming Barriers

"It's the time of year when everyone is thinking about making a fresh start and resolving to eat better,” says Sally Kuzemchak, RD, author and Aldi advisory council member. And that resolve is all the better if it involves “a new fruit or vegetable, or a smarter way of preparing a favorite recipe.” Citing Aldi’s core message of prices that are “a fraction of the cost compared to other grocery retailers,” Kuzemchak points to research showing that people often give up on healthy-living resolutions because they’re overwhelmed by a number of factors, including the perceived higher cost of healthy foods.

"In addition to providing high quality groceries at the lowest possible prices,” including an expanded selection of fresh, organic produce such as bananas, apples, tomatoes, avocados and salad mixes, Aldi spokeswoman Liz Ruggles says the 1,600-store chain’s new consumer resources – including its new alliance with food and lifestyle partners Cookie and Kate, A Couple Cooks, The Healthy Apple and My Heart Beets – “can help our shoppers achieve their goals in health and wellness."

Clearly, grocers have unlimited opportunities to maximize their voice in the national food dialogue, and the time has never been riper to take full advantage of it.