by William and Mary Weaver
Interested in ways to “Follow the Money Trail?” Many large commodity groups and restaurant associations, for example, seem to think that one way to do that is by researching consumer food trends. According to Heather Mikulas, Penn State Extension, “A lot of big organizations spend millions of dollars researching flavor and taste trends and as growers and marketers, we can benefit from their research if we use it in our growing and marketing plans.
“By studying consumer food trends identified for 2013,” said Mikulas, “we can get ideas of new customers to market to, which products to promote, and newsletter topics that will interest our customers.”
Buy Local is here to stay. It’s emphasized on TV, even outside the cooking shows. Health considerations are also still very important. “We’re getting hit repeatedly with health messages. People want to know, ‘How can I use this healthy vegetable?’”said Mikulas.
Another big trend is juicing — both juicing veggies and making green smoothies. Juicing fresh vegetables and fruits appeals to the “raw foods” crowd, as well as the merely health conscious, and this trend is creating a new demand for celery, parsley, fruit, and cucumbers. If you think your customers would go for it, you could try selling “juicing kits,” already-made-up packs of these vegetables that customers can pick up quickly.
Watch what’s happening in your own community and find out what your customer’s are asking for. This could be simply a matter of talking with your customers, or you could make up a more formal survey and ask your customers to fill it out.
Special diets are in — the raw foods, organic, seasonal, gluten free (spaghetti squash can be an important faux starch item here), high protein, vegan, vegetarian. Some customers are very passionate about their special diets, and if you can help to meet their special needs, you can increase your overall sales.
Asian flavors continue to be popular, but trending toward Korean, Thai and Vietnamese. Herbs for this trend include cilantro, lemongrass, chives, and garlic. Chilies will remain popular. Stir-fry veggies, including mustard greens and Bok-choi, will also be in demand. Pickled vegetables fitting into this trend include daikon, turnips, and onions, which brings us to another major trend.
For 2013, sours are expected to be a big deal, and not just for the traditional oriental pickled vegetables mentioned above. Value-added suggestions could include sauerkraut or do-it-yourself pickles. Varietal vinegars are popular with do-it-yourselfers, and vegetables can be lacto-fermented or brined. Another important trend for do-it-yourselfers is artisanal food themes.
Consumers are starting cooking clubs, and trading ingredients is catching on among folks who have pot-lucks or dinners together. Could you supply otherwise hard-to-find herbs or garnishes?
Agritainment is still a trend for 2013, and corn roasts and summer barbecues on the farm will still attract customers. Feeding and entertaining people on your farm will give you the opportunity to be looked at by your customers as ‘their’ farmer, building customer loyalty to your farm market or CSA, or to your stand at the farmers market.
Turning to restaurant supply, intense and healthy flavors are in, replacing the butter, bacon, or cream that were previously used by chefs to add flavor. Now chefs are using vegetable stocks, mushrooms, beets, demi-glazes, and Miripoix base. Mikulas said Trader Joe’s, sells a Miripoix base for $2.99 a quart. It consists of chopped up celery and carrots, a great way to add value and provide time-saving for busy consumers.
“In fact,” Mikulas said, “time-saving products have become so important that a whole wall of some large Pittsburgh supermarkets is filled with pre-cuts of many kinds, which are sold at very high prices.”
Another restaurant trend, to appeal to vegans and vegetarians, is turning vegetables into the ‘meat’ course of a dinner. This is miles beyond tofu. For example, in some restaurants, you can try cauliflower ‘steak,’ or kohlrabi bourguignon, giving a whole new twist to ‘Eat your veggies’.
Kids’ menus are changing in restaurants, with fewer fried food and more fruits and vegetables, following the health trend. The kids’ menus are more whole-foods based. Skewering, petite vegetables, and edamame are in for kids. “Edamame is particularly popular this year, both for its protein, and because the beans are great for little fingers,” Mikulas said. “Protein-rich grains are also important in kids’ restaurant menus.”
With chefs, as well as with home cooks, sugar-sweet is increasingly out, and natural sweet is in, as in fruits. Mixing sweet and savory is in, as, in apricot fennel soup.
If you have the ability to grow any grains, whole grains are also in, and customers are looking for locally grown whole grains for the health benefits. Some customers would like freshly ground grain to make granola bars, for example.
Along the same line, popcorn is also popping along. As a whole grain, both the seed grain and the value-added popped products also have health value. “Popcorn can be low in fat and calories,” commented Mikulas. “All types of seasonings can be used, such as the trendy sweet-and-savory. Or you can go ‘over-the-top’ and load it up with chocolate and caramel.
Fortunately for growers, customers in 2013 are not so much looking for rock-bottom prices and financial value as they are for nutritional value and quality and freshness.
by William and Mary Weaver