Eating has been a key social marker across the globe. But as that world becomes smaller in the face of technology and networks become grander, consumers demand more from their food providers—a balance in new experiences and nostalgia, wrapped up in a package of convenience, affordability, with a touch of artisanal charm.
“Of all the trends that are out there, the biggest contradiction is the demand for convenience while still wanting food experiences,” former SVP of Marketing and Brand Strategy of Food Network and Cooking Channel, current CEO of boutique food strategy firm F&Co, and professional foodie Susie Fogelson tells me. “And how brands address that is really challenging.”
Gone now are many of the lines that separated staying in and dining out, giving way to industry terms like “groceraunt,” “fast-casual,” and “food halls,” and making way for delivery partners and, of course, meal kits.
Seeing a big debut before now becoming a rapidly reshaping topic in food-buying, it’s undeniable that meal kits have successfully created their own category. But whether they are here to stay could depend on clearly projecting a brand identity, Susie notes.
“I think one of those seeing the challenges is in meal kits, who are trying very hard to differentiate themselves. Unfortunately, what many of them are doing is posting photos of food on social media, and that is not a brand,” she explains, expressing that she is a huge fan of what they are doing and would love to see a stronger identity emerge from them in marketing.
On the other side of the coin, grocers are working hard to create that brand for consumers but also meet that experiential-yet-convenient food criteria consumers have come to demand.
“What are grocery stores supposed to do? They need to provide convenience, but also create a destination,” Susie says, bringing us to some meal kit companies and retailers joining forces. “When a meal kit distribution becomes about the grocer, it is basically brand alignment. I think it solves a lot of problems that I think are critical for meal kits to solve. It offers an alternate means of distribution to offset those packaging and delivery costs, but also helps the grocery store as there are so many ways of getting food delivery.”
Susie also notes that she thinks one of the most explosive areas in the food experience realm is food halls, versus going to a movie or restaurant.
“There are about 25 new food halls in Manhattan alone, and all are doing well. There are expectations of a huge increase in them by 2020. I think there’s a lot to learn there,” she tells me. “Fast-casual is also an interesting area to watch. The lines are all blurring—consumers used to pick one based on what you feel like or your mood.”
As the game continues to heat up and the playing field becomes increasing populated, Deli Market News will continue to keep an eye out for the latest in all trends influencing the industry.