More consumers are eating at home, a food industry movement that has remained unchanged for nearly 10 years. Today, 82 percent of American meals are home cooked, according to research by the NPD group. Restaurant sales are in their worst slump since the Great Recession. Today’s diners eat out 185 times a year now, compared to its peak in 2000 at 216 times a year.

Numerous factors are kindling the drop.

  • High cost of restaurant meals. Eating out is expense restaurant meals are almost three times as expensive as a home-cooked meal. And the cost for a restaurant meal is likely to increase as the minimum wage across the country increases.
  • Convenience of streaming from home. Diners would rather eat in their own space watching a favorite show rather than eating in a public space with strangers.
  • Comfortable home surroundings. Diners are practicing “Hygge,” the Danish art of coziness. Americans want to stay in their house “to find comfort and shelter from the maddening crowd,” the study notes.
  • More people work at home. The American workforce is increasingly based at a home office, dropping the amount of workers who grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant on their lunch break.
  • Healthy food is trending. Clean and healthy lifestyles are topping food prediction lists, like vegetarian meals, vegan milk and probiotic-packed everything.
  • Popularity of pre-made meals. Meal kits continue to dominate the market, generating $1 billion in revenue worldwide in 2015. Predictions show meal kits will hit $10 billion by 2020.
  • Ease of online grocery delivery. Fast, home grocery services are available nationwide now, with some retailers offering same-day delivery.
  • Consumers changing preferences. New generations of diners prefer cooking at home more than their elders. And if they’re going out to eat, they prefer fast casual over a sit-down restaurant, another change from their parent’s generation.

This creates more opportunities for food companies, though. Today’s home cooks are itching for unique, healthy food a niche fermented product fills. Here are five ways fermented food producers can capitalize on the growing eat-at-home trend:

1. Advertise Quality and Health Benefits

Health and wellness are leading the food industry natural, organic, whole, gluten-free, preservative-free, sugar-free and clean are all buzzwords visible on labels at grocery store shelves. According to a Forbes article, this healthy eating trend is not slowing down. Eighty-eight percent of consumers say they’d be willing to pay more for healthier foods.

Fermented food producers must actively promote the health benefits of fermentation. Consumers are craving the probiotic-packed, nutrient-dense ingredients in fermented foods. Advertising a product’s health impacts will attract consumers.

2. Partner with Meal Delivery Service or Ready-to-Eat Meal Producer

According to Nielsen data: “ While the food retail landscape isn’t one that sees an over-abundance of frequent, market-shifting innovation, meal kits are proving to be just that. In just a few short years in fact, they have carved out a unique and profitable niche in the U.S. grocery landscape.”

About 9 nine percent of Americans purchased a meal kit in the last six months, totalling 10.5 million households. And 25 percent say they would consider buying a meal kit in the next six months, totalling more than 30 million households.

Fermented food producers who get their products into ready-to-eat meal kits will see big returns. David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of “Eating Patterns in America,” says: “We don’t look for this trend to change anytime soon and operators and foodservice manufacturers can take advantage of the stay-at-home movement by offering at-home eaters with innovative ready-to-eat meal solutions and a greater degree of convenience.”

3. Post Recipes Online

Don’t tell consumers why your product is so great show them. Post recipes and an accompanying enticing finished meal picture on your website regularly. These recipes should feature your food product as a key ingredient. The internet is a powerful tool for promoting food — “food” was the second most searched category on the internet. Consumers are looking on  the internet for recipes rather than relying on family favorites. A study found 40 percent of consumers learn about food via websites, apps or blogs, and half use social media sites to find recipes.

4. Share Quality Product Pictures or gastroporn

In the food industry, presentation is everything. Sharing a quick, blurry photo snapped in poor lighting will not appeal to consumers. Use “food porn” tactics. The term (meaning a glamourized image of food) is changing food advertising. A study found the most attention-grabbing shots feature:

  • Moving food. A picture of a glass of orange juice being poured is more appealing than a picture of a static glass of orange juice. This is because, to viewers, it implies freshness. “Protein in motion” is another term used to capture successful food photography, like oozing egg yolk, melting cheese and steaming meat.
  • First-person perspective. Feature food as if the viewer can pick it off their screen and eat it rather than a picture from a third-person perspective of someone else eating the dish. Adding a spoon approaching from the right, for example, results in a consumer being 15 percent more willing to buy the product than if the spoon approaches from the left.
  • Healthy food. The food porn movement is famously dominated by unhealty eats, like pizza and desserts. But a study by university researchers called “Fetishizing Food in the Digital Age” found that healthy food garners more “likes” than unhealthy food.
  1. Market to Right Audience

The population segment most often eating at home: families and groups of five or more people. Single adults with incomes above $100,000 drive restaurant sales. It’s no major surprise it’s much cheaper for one person to eat out than a family but should be noted in marketing plans. Cooking at home is still synonymous with cooking for a group.   

Photo from: Foodies Feed

 

Are more people leaving stressful, fast-paced careers to start a simpler, rewarding life as a food producer? Articles are popping up all over the world about people ditching the corporate rat race and transitioning to traditional food making. An article from Japan Times details the story of a couple who left tech jobs in Tokyo to make miso in the country. Yu Maeda and Michinori are now taking over a 34-year-old Oshikida brand miso, an additive-free miso producer. Their miso is made by mixing cooked soybeans with kōji fermentation starter, salt and water.

Read more (Japan Times) 

Fermented foods are up 149% in restaurant, the biggest food trend of 2018. In 2019, restaurants should expect customers to be seeking probiotic, fermented foods all year long advises Upserve, the restaurant management company. The funkier, the better. Traditional fermented food like sauerkraut actually saw an 18% decline in restaurants. Americans are craving more adventure on their plate, so kombucha and kimchi are selling well. Also a growing trend: plant-based items.

Read more (Upserve Restaurant Insider)

When in doubt, throw it out? Smell check? Taste test? Eyeball it? Food date labels have become so confusing that many consumers use their own sensory check to decode food expiration dates.

The food industry noticed. “Use By” dates are becoming uniform, with nine in 10 grocery store products now printing consumer-friendly labels. By 2020, all products will carry a simplified date. The 10 date-label categories will pair down to two – “Best if Used By” and “Use By.”

From Farm to Trash

Critical to food product relabeling is curbing massive amounts of food waste. A study by Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council found more than 90 percent of Americans are throwing away food before it goes bad because they misinterpret the food label.

“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist. “Phrases like ‘sell by,’ ‘use by,’ and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended but wildly ineffective food date labeling system to get a makeover.”

Over 40 percent of the American food supply doesn’t even make it to a plate. That amounts to $165 billion worth of food that’s thrown away annually. Food waste has become the single largest contributor of solid waste in U.S. landfills. The USDA and EPA set the first national food waste reduction goal in 2015: 50 percent less food waste by 2030.

Industry Move

The product labeling initiative was launched in 2017 by the two largest grocery trade groups – the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. Geoff Freeman, GMA president and CEO, called it a “proactive solution to give American families the confidence and trust they deserve in the goods they buy.”

The standardized labels are not mandatory. They are voluntary.

The USDA Food Inspection and Safety Service made the recommendation in 2016 for food manufacturers to to apply “Best if Used By” to product label. But the industrywide label standardization is not government mandated.

“Virtually every discussion included concerns regarding waste generated as a result of consumer confusion about the various date labels on foods and what they mean,” said Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman. “I am pleased to see the grocery manufacturing and retail industries tackling this issue head on. Not every issue warrants a legislative fix, and I think this industry-led, voluntary approach to standardizing date labels is a prime example.”

Dozens of consumer packaged goods brands and retail companies voted unanimously to change expiration dates exclusively to “Use By” by January 2020. Major brands like Walmart, Campbell, Kellogg and Nestle all spearheaded the change.

The 2020 date was set to give companies time to change dates on their packaging. It also coincides with the release of the new FDA nutrition facts panel.

Simplified Labels

The old labels – which included options like “Sell By” and “Display Until” – left consumers in a guessing game. Most products don’t include an explanation of the date, like whether it’s a descriptive feature for the store or the consumer. Even grocery store workers were confused. Employees were polled and reported they, too, cannot distinguish dates on food labels.

The new labels mean:

  • “Best If Used By” – quality designation. This is the date the food manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.
  • “Use By” – safety designation. Perishable food is no longer food after this date.

Legal Change on Horizon

Is a government mandate likely?

Currently, the only product federally regulated for expiration dates is infant formula. There is no legal definition for food expiration dates in most states. And state food labeling standards vary widely – 20 states restrict stores from selling products after the expiration date, while 30 states don’t enforce such a rule.

The Food Date Labeling Act was introduced to Congress in 2016, but no further action has happened. The act would legally require food date standardization, and require the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services to educate consumers on date label meanings.

Interesting, the proposal also questions the subjective nature of expiration dates. It states no one could “prohibit the sale, donation or use of a product after the quality date for the product has passed.”

Fermented food and drink bar GYST is expanding locations, workshops — and research. The Minneapolis-based company is teaming up with University of Minnesota Food Science and Nutrition Department to study the health benefits of a consistent diet of lacto-fermented foods. GYST will study topics like: will the health of soil produce better fermented foods, does organic produce create better fermentation and do different vegetables produce different bacteria.

Read more (City Pages)

Female leadership is sparse in the craft beer industry – just 17% are CEOs and 21% are executives. Tanisha “T” Robinson talks about breaking the glass ceiling as the female CEO of BrewDog’s U.S. operations. Robinson says there is a huge demographic opportunity to draw in more women and people of color to the industry. “If craft brewers could figure out how to authentically connect to women and people of color, they could sell a lot more beer,” she said. “That’s something that I highly doubt most craft brewers are talking about or thinking about, but it’s something that is important to me — that craft beer should be open and accessible and authentic and approachable for everyone.” She says partnerships, events and collaborations are a great step.

Read more (MarketWatch) (Photo: BrewDog)

Grocery store food prices are expected to rise this year. Projections by the USDA show prices increasing 1-2% in 2019. Still, that’s the fourth straight year of deflating or lower-than-average inflating retail food prices. The biggest price increase for fermented products are dairy products (3-4%) and bakery products (2-3%). A few fermented products are projected to decrease in price: meats (-0.25% to +0.75%), processed fruit and vegetables (-1-0%) and nonalcoholic beverages (-0.25% to +0.75%). Dairy products will be a particular concern for the U.S. food industry. Because of trade tariffs imposed on Mexico and China, dairy exports are declining. In the U.S., demand for dairy products is “relatively weak,” but expected to recover.

Read more (Supermarket News)

A Japanese tofu company has developed a “miracle protein” – a fermented vegan cheese. Sagamiya Food, a 60-year-old co. known for their tofu, makes the vegan cheese by fermenting low-fat soy milk. Chefs argue vegan cheese often lacks flavor because it is not fermented. Sagamiya Food’s vegan cheese – called Beyond Tofu Miracle Protein – is blazing a future for fermented vegan products.

Read more (LiveKindly)

The global tempeh market will grow 4% over the next 5 years. More supermarkets will carry tempeh, contributing to the fermented soy product’s growth.

Is the future of chocolate in Brazil? Brazil is the 7th largest cocoa producer in the world. A Forbes articles highlights Brazilian chocolatiers that focus on the cacao cultivation process. These “bean to bar” products come from producers practicing sustainable farming methods. There are no preservatives, no dyes and the farm land is “cabruca,” a Brazilian form of agroforestry where much of the farm land is left untouched. The cacao plants are grown in open plantations, adhering to the country’s law that 20% of a farm’s forest floor must be kept intact and undeveloped. Cacao from the Leolinda family farm is fermented twice to improve impurities.

Read more (Forbes)