Don't confuse him with Betty Crocker, says 37-year-old Dallas Pagel of Bennington. But Pagel knows his way around the kitchen and does the majority of the grocery shopping in his household, making probably nine out of 10 shopping trips.
Pagel, a sales manager at an Omaha car dealership, wasn't thinking about being trendy when he stopped into Hy-Vee on Thursday to buy supplies for the homemade pizza he plans to serve when his parents visit this weekend.
But men increasingly are doing the meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking, and stores are starting to respond, said food industry consultant Phil Lempert, the “Supermarket Guru.” That's one of 10 trends Lempert is predicting for 2013. As part of his work for Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, he highlighted the growing popularity of frozen foods, the health needs of baby boomers and the ways technology is changing how shoppers relate to grocers.
“I really think that 2013 is going to be a very exciting year in the supermarket,” Lempert said.
Snacking and mini-meals
Want some cookies but don't want to consume more than 100 calories? Restaurants, food manufacturers and bakeries are making it easier to keep portion size in check by offering “small plates” and appetizers, along with pre-portioned packaged food, Lempert said. “The nutrition and the medical community tells us that we should be eating smaller meals throughout the day,” he said. “It's moving back to that 'roam and graze,'” but with limits. NPD Group research found that people are eating fewer items per meal but are snacking more, and more than half of Americans snack two or three times a day.
Men in the aisles
Men are cooking and grocery shopping more, and Lempert thinks more grocery stores will cater to them. While most supermarkets haven't created “man aisles” like one New York grocer did, Lempert said more grocery merchandise will be marketed to men. An example is packaging that promotes how a product benefits men's health. Pagel, the Bennington shopper, said he does a bigger share of the grocery shopping and cooking than his father did. Pagel is married with an 8-year-old daughter, and said it's convenient for his family that he shops on Thursdays, his day off. Plus he likes the control he has over what he buys. “I don't have to say what I want to eat, I can just buy it.”
Nebraskans won't stop eating beef, but with prices of beef and chicken estimated to rise at least 5 percent because of this year's drought, Lempert predicts a shift toward meatless proteins like eggs, nut butters, tofu, beans and legumes. ConAgra's Lightlife line of vegetarian and vegan products serves this market.
In the freezer case
Americans who want to save time in the kitchen but not compromise nutrition are finding more solutions in the freezer case, Lempert said. He said it's a myth that frozen fruits and vegetables are less nutritious. “Frozen foods are picked and packed at their peak of freshness,” Lempert said. Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer said newer stores have bigger frozen foods sections to accommodate customer demand and new product lines. “We are seeing more of the familiar labels, like the restaurant labels — (ConAgra's) P.F. Chang's.” She said diet offerings like ConAgra's Healthy Choice meals also continue to grow in variety, as do ice cream novelties.
Millennials go shopping
Lempert said supermarkets will cater more toward these consumers born between 1982 and 2001, who will represent a fifth of the population by 2020. He said food makers appeal to this demographic with foods that are flavorful and ethnically diverse. But they will have to compete to maintain buyers: Lempert said a recent Jefferies Alix Partners study found that Millennials are more focused on finding the lowest price over brand loyalty.
Lempert said nutrition and healthy eating are top priorities when Baby Boomers plan meals. The aging demographic will control more than half the dollars spent on grocery foods by 2015, Lempert said, and will be looking for more heart-healthy, antioxidant-rich foods. He said supermarkets will respond with more oily fish such as salmon, as well as green tea, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, popcorn, berries and whole grains. ConAgra's research ties its products like Hunt's tomatoes to these needs. The company said canned tomatoes provide the greatest source of antioxidants in American's diets.
A line on shopping
As more people use smart phones and tablets, Lempert says more consumers will use mobile apps when researching and buying food. Hy-Vee introduced an app a year ago that lets customers make a shopping list online that incorporates coupons. Shoppers can even use it in the store to get directions to a certain product. Just ask, where's the eggnog, and it directs you to the right aisle. The grocer is at work now on a new system that would let shoppers pay for their groceries using their phone as a “mobile wallet.” Lempert said some of the newest technology networks with kitchen appliances to turn on the oven or check how much milk is left in the fridge. In the future, he said mobile apps may help determine if fruits and vegetables are ripe, if foods have been kept at the correct temperature farm to freezer and even test for foodborne bacteria.
Most important meal
Ninety percent of U.S. consumers say they eat breakfast daily, according to NPD Group research, and Lempert said now people want to maximize the meal by finding the most nutritious breakfast. He said ConAgra has expanded its line of egg-white Egg Beaters with new flavors to reach these customers. Hy-Vee has installed an “oatmeal bar” where morning shoppers can fill a to-go cup with hot oatmeal and their choice of toppings. “Breakfast is hot,” Comer said.
Food tells a story
With packing claims “proliferating” as manufacturers try to sell their products' health benefits, Lempert anticipates supermarkets taking on the role of gatekeeper and actually demanding proof of claims before they will sell products. He also said the role of in-store dieticians will grow to help educate consumers on buying decisions. Comer said Hy-Vee has some 200 dieticians in its stores. “Customers really do want to know more about the food they're eating, what's in the food and what it can do for them,” she said.
With an estimated 40 percent of food going uneaten in the U.S., according to the National Resource Defense Council, Americans also feel guilty when they waste food. “We can't afford it morally, we can't afford it economically,” Lempert said. He recommends planning meals ahead of time by using tools like ConAgra's ReadySetEat site, which has recipes as well as ideas for using leftovers. Food stores are hearing more concern from customers about waste, Comer said, with many more inquires about, “What are you doing with the food you can't use?” She said the stores work with local agencies to distribute food to those in need, and several Hy-Vee stores, including one in Omaha, have started community gardens that use compost from in-store food production scraps.
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