Since When Did Eating Get So Complicated? [Opinion]

fork digging into a plate full of saladHave you noticed lately how we eat is getting a makeover? It is happening all around us, and I suspect many of us might not have even noticed. I have observed it in grocery stores, restaurants, markets, and other spots. And, it is a lot like other happenings in life — all these changes come to pass and it suddenly hits you — things are different.

I heard a great quote one year at PMA Fresh Summit, when Phil Lempert (the “SupermarketGuru”) was speaking about hot consumer trends in food. He said something like this: “Consumer trends are like an elephant’s rear end. They are huge, but most people don’t see them until they have walked on by.” Meaning, by the time you notice it, the real money-making opportunity has passed.

That hits me when I walk through my local Publix or Walmart produce section. Suddenly, we have individual cucumbers or potatoes wrapped in plastic. Fresh produce items ready to heat and serve in handy cook-ready packaging. It is common now that when I walk through, I see some form of produce I don’t even know what it is. It all seems to focus around simplicity, local, healthy, packaging, smaller portions (in some cases), and show me something different.

Walk past the juice aisle. Thank goodness orange juice still has a lot of shelf space, but close by there are juice concoctions galore. I keep waiting to see a bottle promoting the latest offering of “kale, banana, pine cone garlic, oak leaf green tea.” I am joking, of course, but not by much.

When you exit the grocery store and go online, the way we eat is changing even more. Suddenly, I am hearing a lot of my friends raving about Blue Apron. It is an online service where you order a meal and the ingredients are delivered in perfect proportions with a recipe on how to cook — what I am told — pretty amazing meals. According to an article by Fortune, Blue Apron delivers about 8 million boxed meals per month and has annual sales of about $960 million.

There are similar services like Hello Fresh and Plated that are catching on fast. When I started hearing my friends rave about these services, I asked myself: “Where did that come from?” There goes that elephant’s rear end.

I have become a devotee of the car service Uber. Recently, I have begun seeing restaurants participating in Uber Eats. It’s a new app that allows you to order food for home delivery. Do a little research on Amazon’s new AmazonFresh online food service. It could likely be yet another game-changer from the retail giant.

The bottom line to all this is the way we eat is undergoing massive disruption. Some people want to blame or credit the fickle nature of Millennials. That’s probably true to some extent, but I believe it has more to do with technology and 24/7 access to our world’s information. After all, when I look at my own behavior, I feel like a Millennial trapped in a Generation Xer’s body.

Market disruption can be maddening, especially for you. Do you plant a new crop only to have consumers move to the next shiny object leaving you holding the bag? But, it also can mean opportunity.

Drive to your closest big city. Go to Publix, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s. Observe what consumers are buying or lingering over in the stores. Maybe, even strike up a conversation with a shopper or two and ask why they are buying what they buy. Or, reach out to the AmazonFresh’s of the world and see if your farm can cash in on a new trend. You might just find that elephant’s rear end before it has walked on by.

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