In their article A Seismic Shift in How People Eat, The New York Times announced that, “Eating habits are changing across the country and food companies are struggling to keep up.” To some extent, this is not news. We saw these trends emerging more than 10 years ago in brand tracking work I did for a large CPG company, tracking all of their categories. And, we noticed the effects of these trends in a recent away-from-home dining study for a client in a different industry.
What is news is the fact that this trend now has real momentum as new food manufacturers and retailers have managed to deliver great products and profitably, by tapping into what was a nascent, largely latent, set of consumer needs. But that would be just scratching the surface.
I venture there is a deeper current of consumer/public opinion at play. The American public is now deeply skeptical of large institutions. There is, in my opinion, a deep yearning for the local, the small, that which is more closely connected to me and where I live. Perhaps this gives people a greater sense of security, a sense of accountability, a closer connection between one’s self and the maker of those things we choose to consume.
I suggest that this institutional skepticism linked with human need for connection, is and will continue to negatively impact large manufacturers of mass produced products—food and beyond. Combine this with the power of new technologies to finely slice the consumer demand curve, making the tails profitable and you have the makings of a powerful business and marketing transformation. I think we can all see this happening in food and entertainment, and it may be why we can see other large companies struggling. They may be too big, too complex, and too disconnected from local markets.
Companies have an opportunity to tap these deeper, latent feelings, beliefs and values by leveraging new research techniques rooted in psychology, behavioral economics and brain science. These methods have proven to be powerful stuff for many of our clients who need to uncover and render more visible the deeper, inchoate, needs that consumers have, in the area of food and beyond. And, on a personal note, it’s some of the most exciting, impactful work we do.