“Consumers are at the helm of redefining food culture today,” stated Shelley Balanko, who is senior vice president of The Hartman Group. She spoke as part of a panel discussion at the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) annual meeting held in Kansas City, Mo., this spring.
“Culture acts basically like a fence. It holds all consumer food and beverage decision making; it sets the parameters,” she said.
A few decades ago, people were fairly hands off when it came to food engagement. Today, most consumers are “playfully” involved with food and beverage culture, she explained.
She pointed out four main factors that drive food and beverage decisions:
2. Health and wellness
3. Culinary values
Looking specifically at health and wellness, Balanko noted that in their research, they have found that most Americans think they should be doing something more in this category. Most often, that involves changing the way they eat. Balanko noted that 44 percent of Americans “tried on” a new way of eating in the last 12 months.
Diet changes tend to be very personal, individualized, and proactive. She explained that “one size fits all” diets are on the decline while very personalized approaches are on the rise. “Today’s consumers see themselves as unique, and they want to be able to customize or tweak the way they are eating or drinking to meet their specific agenda,” she said.
One result of this consumer-driven, more holistic approach is that some foods and beverages that were once demonized are coming back into favor. “Full fat dairy is one example of this,” said Balanko.
Another part of today’s food culture is transparency, which includes product packaging. Beyond food labeling requirements, consumers are looking for packaging that fits their overall values and tells a story about where that food came from.
“It’s consumers, not industry or government, who are setting the tone for our food culture today,” Balanko said. “They are redefining food quality and will for the foreseeable future.”