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Data Done Differently: Tracking Sustainable Food Trends


read time:

4 min

Consumer Insights

Hungry? So are your consumers. But the ways in which they’re eating and shopping for food have made some significant changes in the past few years. Consumers are demanding more options. Retailers want pick-up and delivery. (Although many still prefer to pick out their own produce.) Restaurant managers and owners want their order dropped on their doorstep. Talk about demanding. So what is driving these new food behaviors?

Shopping habits for local sourcing in plant and animal foods are changing

The trend of farm-to-table has been increasing in recent years, but may be even more critical now with supply chain issues. Restaurants don’t always have a choice in the matter and they are needing to pivot. While supporting local food sources may seem like a fairly positive side effect, it makes other ripples in the restaurant industry. Restaurants are decreasing their menu options, their available hours, and their staff. That’s before we get to the worker shortage in supply chains. Although that sounds bleak, it creates new collaboration opportunities in the restaurant space, not only of foods but of chefs and other food professionals. It could open a whole new culinary world.

“It’s time to understand what can be procured sustainably within your region, as the other options are being derailed by a multitude of forces.” — Caroline Glover, Food & Wine "Best New Chef" Winner

Meatless “meat” products are growing fast

Even if you’re unwilling to give up “real” meat products, 29% of meat-eaters report that they are interested in meat substitutes for health reasons. Soy substitutes are becoming less common in comparison to lab grown meat products such as Impossible meats. There will be an approximate reach of $15 million in the next three years. Should grocers and restaurant managers start adding these products to their menus with more frequency? Or could “meatless” meat be a passing fad?

Restaurant owners face multiple considerations when designing their menus, including how to preserve quality, safety, and sustainability. Cultured meat products are still more expensive than traditional but consumers are more likely to order the expensive item out of curiosity resulting in more revenue and gratuity. Omnivore consumers can tell the difference between “real” and “cultured” meat products. Lab-based meats are grown using animal cells, so any adamant vegan or vegetarian will probably avoid these options. It will be difficult to please everyone, but the trend of lab-grown foods is difficult to ignore in the industry.

Consumers prefer curbside pickup and delivery for groceries

Evil empire though they may be, Amazon Prime has forced change in the grocery industry. Consumers expect multiple options for accessing supplies. Not only are the options to pick-up or deliver crucial for food vendor success, but there has been a 22% rise in consumers concerned with eco-friendly delivery since 2020.

Although less noticeable since the pandemic, consumers are still a little more hesitant to purchase fresh products for delivery, opting for canned goods, snack foods, coffee/tea, and frozen foods. With the rise in grocery adaptation in the past few years, an increase in fresh food pickup and delivery is likely. Food freshness was the number one concern when allowing someone else to select store-made or raw food items for them. As a food retailer, delivery and pick-up options are important, but quality must be maintained in order to hold the consumer base and make these transport options viable long-term. Nobody wants a brown banana or a moldy cucumber.

“I think 2022 is the year of unapologetic food. Food that is very personal to the person cooking it. You’ll see a lot of blending of foods of chefs reconnecting with their culture and history, and combining it with techniques and inspiration for where they are in their lives now.” — Kevin Tien, Executive Chef of Moon Rabbit at InterContinental

Restaurant patrons use more takeout

The pandemic brought out the prominence of online ordering apps, such as GrubHub and UberEats. In my opinion, city-based restaurants and chains have done a much better job adapting to these preferred dining options than smaller restaurants. While it’s usually an added fee, many consumers are willing to pay for the accommodation. Since many restaurants are going through tough times, keeping up with the ordering trends should be a top priority.

Restaurant Business says that 59% of restaurant food sales to the Millennial generation are pick up or delivery. At this point in their lives, this likely includes the input of their children. Chicken nuggets, anyone? Survey says (63%of those polled) that it can be difficult to dine out with a young family, and pick up or delivery services bring on the convenience. [Mintel Press Office]

This explains why some restaurants, say Chick-Fil-A, cater to this audience. They have a variety of menu items, many of which specifically appeal to children, and the drive-thru service and customer service is reportedly top notch. While lines may always seem long at Chick-Fil-A, consumers have still positively responded citing better service and shorter wait times than at other QSRs.

If similar food businesses are struggling, they should take note of what's working: takeout options, good customer service, and providing multiple food selections for young families.

Home gardening and farming are gaining popularity  

With food shortage scares flooding the media, more and more families are considering growing at least some of their own food. Even in cities, there is a growing popularity in “vertical gardening” on walls and balconies. People can grow certain herbs and vegetables on wall attachments which is especially useful with limited space. While plenty of plants are quite simple to grow at home, more suburban consumers are seeking more drastic measures, such as raising chickens or other animals. Corporate food vendors would, in most cases, still be responsible for specialized soil or food, but it could mean a decrease in consumers seeking out once popular food options. There is even a movement on Instagram of families who almost exclusively exist on their own. It’s called the “homestead” trend.

While it doesn’t look like grocery stores, restaurants, and other food retailers are going away anytime soon, it’s important that they keep up with the ever-changing food trends and adjust accordingly. Adapt or die, right?

Source: GWI Online Grocery Shopping Report

Data Done Differently
Sustainable Food
Consumer Insights
Janelle Zacherl

May 20, 2022