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Five Changes in American Eating Habits to Grab in 2017

In an uncertain world, one thing is certain. Americans will eat! But how, where and what are key bits of information for restaurateurs who want a share of the American wallet.

Here are five overarching foodservice trends to grab hold of in 2017, according to researcher The NPD Group:

  • Experience will make the difference. To stand out, food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice operators must go beyond sustenance. People will seek out experiences, whether through exploring street food vendors, emerging ethnic flavors, or hands-on experiences, such as learning new food prep techniques. Connecting your product or brand to an experience people are eager to share with others can be an important differentiating factor in 2017.
  • The battle for share of stomach will intensify. For several years now, more than 80 percent of meals have been sourced from home; fewer than 20 percent have been sourced from foodservice, and dollars are evenly split between the two. Food manufacturers will benefit from a trend toward eating meals at home by capitalizing on consumers' desires for fresh, authentic foods. Foodservice operators will increasingly leverage technology to conveniently get their food on the in-home table. At the intersection of this trend is the retailer, who will continue to blur the line between retail and foodservice.

  • The "blended meal" of outlet food eaten at home will continue to rise. Consumers are dining at home more, and they value fresh and authentic foods, but convenience remains an important part of the equation. People don't always source meals entirely at home or away. Look for various components of "homemade" meals to be sourced from items fully or partially prepared. Opportunity exists all along the preparation spectrum, from meal kits to restaurant delivery.

  • The trend is for food to become more personal. Even in a mature, low-growth environment, there will be opportunities for double-digit growth. Today, more than ever, the consumer is in charge, not the supplier, says NPD. Access to information is empowering people to do things on their terms. The days of a one-size-fits-all blockbuster idea are over. Consumers will seek out foods with a variety of value-added attributes (fresh, natural, organic), positive benefits (energy, brain food, etc.) and social value (local, sustainable, transparent). Some of these opportunities may seem small by big company standards, but that is where the growth is.

  • Meal occasions will evolve in flexibility. People aren't adding new eating occasions to their day, but how meal and between-meal occasions are composed will continue to change. Foods that offer the flexibility to compose an eating occasion to fit specific needs at a given time will grow, whether packaged goods or foodservice offerings. Consumers will make choices on price point, portion control, and portability – whatever allows them to craft a snack or full meal, spend a little or a lot, take a break or eat on the run.

"The search for white space, growth occasions, and new product opportunity will be more important than ever for food companies and foodservice operators in 2017," says David Portalatin, vice president, food industry analyst at NPD Group and author of Eating Patterns in America. "Opportunities to grow and innovate are out there but the key to finding them in the coming year will be staying in touch with the consumer. They're the ones in charge."

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Don Sniegowski is editor of Blue MauMau, the daily news journal for franchise & small business owners. Call him at +1 (270) 321-1268, tweet @bluemaumau or email don@bluemaumau.org.