With growing selections of healthy snacks, store brands, recipe apps and international flavors, supermarkets will evolve in 2014 to better meet consumers' desires to save money, save time, eat healthfully and enjoy their food while doing it, a supermarket expert predicts.
The “Supermarket Guru,” ConAgra Foods consultant Phil Lempert, said in his annual trend forecast that supermarkets are making dramatic changes to respond to the demands of an evolving consumer.
Here are Lempert's Top 10 Trends for 2014:
Supermarkets and food manufacturers are responding to consumers' desire for a more protein-packed breakfast by stocking new breakfast products such as more varieties of Greek yogurts and ConAgra's Egg Beaters. Breakfast now is “much more focused on the protein source,” Lempert said. Progressive Grocer magazine said cereal manufacturers are responding by adding more whole grains.
Hy-Vee is expanding its breakfast offerings, including more premade breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal bars, and frozen breakfast entrees people can buy and bring to work to heat up, spokeswoman Ruth Comer said. Its new Plattsmouth, Neb., store has a full-service restaurant serving breakfast daily.
Growing Latino and Asian populations, coupled with increasing consumer demand for variety, are bringing more “global flavors' to the supermarket, Lempert said. International food products are gaining distribution in mainstream grocery stores. “We're going to see more and more of that as those populations continue to rise much faster than our Caucasian population does,” Lempert said.
Hy-Vee has expanded its in-store selection of international prepared foods, such as Chinese food and sushi, Comer said, and is bringing in new bulk spices as customers' interest in cooking with international flavors grows.
Also in Omaha, Nash Finch this year remodeled two supermarkets, including a former No Frills, into Supermercado Nuestra Familia stores with a focus on serving Hispanic shoppers.
Click to cook
Stores will make it easier for shoppers to use their mobile phones to shop. Lempert sees more shoppers using the Web to plan meals, make grocery lists and then find the items in aisles. He said that in a recent online ConAgra Foods survey, one-third of consumers reported using their mobile phone while at the grocery store, most often to refer to shopping lists and recipes.
In 2014, he said, more stores will let customers order online and just pick up the fulfilled order from a drive-up window. “It's really a very easy way to satisfy customers,” he said.
That trend hasn't taken off yet in Omaha, but Hy-Vee and Baker's both have apps that let shoppers create shopping lists, find items in the store and track coupons.
People are eating fewer prepared meals and more snacks, NPD Group research indicates, but they also want to eat healthful foods. As a result, 60 percent of new snack food products are positioned as “better for you,” Lempert said, citing Innova Market Insights.
In response to demand and competition from health-foods stores, Hy-Vee is expanding its in-store “health markets,” which include bulk and packaged snack items like popcorn and trail mix.
Millennial-generation shoppers are forcing supermarkets to participate in social media and online sales channels. Lempert predicts more grocers will start sharing recipes and products on sites like Pinterest. Millennials are expected to outspend baby boomers by 2017, Progressive Grocer reports.
And supermarkets will have to evolve their online shopping and delivery options to compete with or connect with services like Google Shopping Express, a new home delivery service available only in California. “I think you're going to see it ramp up very quickly,” he said.
A Baker's supermarket in Bellevue saw more than 2,500 people attend a book signing with food blogger Ree Drummond, “The Pioneer Woman.” “Just another sign of the power of social influencers,” Baker's spokeswoman Sheila Lowrie said.
Private brand sales growth continues to outpace branded products' growth, and retailers will continue to expand their lines of private brands by working with manufacturers like ConAgra, Lempert said.
Retailers aren't just looking to create knockoffs, they're developing unique products with attractive labels, he said.
“People don't see it as a store brand,” he said. For example, he said ConAgra has worked with retailers to create unique lines of spelt pasta and gluten-free pastas with quinoa.
Hy-Vee has store brands ranging from its less expensive Country Fare line to specialty products that don't even say “Hy-Vee,” Comer said.
Baker's “Private Selection” line includes gourmet ice cream and other “artisan” foods, Lowrie said.
Lempert said supermarkets will cater to a new type of shopper, the “indie woman,” with semihomemade meals.
The indie woman, 27 or older, lives alone, has no children and is too busy working and socializing to spend time on elaborate menu planning. The term was used by AdWeek in 2012 to describe these 20- and 30-something fashionable women who have strong brand affiliation but not much time for homemaking.
“They're building their careers,” Lempert said.
ConAgra's Bertolli and P.F. Chang's frozen dinners appeal to this shopper, Lempert said. Supermarkets are expanding their premade meal offerings to cater to busy women on the go.
Supermarkets will increasingly use in-store community rooms not only for culinary classes, but also for other types of community gatherings, Lempert said. He calls it an extension of social sites where people swap recipes.
“The supermarket becomes that community center,” Lempert said.
Omaha-area Hy-Vee stores host events such as a gluten-free support group, holiday baking events and slow-cooker classes. Whole Foods' Omaha store's calendar includes a children's cooking class, an online Twitter chat about holiday wines and a discussion on Transcendental Meditation.
Food packaging has been evolving beyond the can and box to include using containers like pouches and cartons for soup and wine.
In the future, customers will want even more information about their food than the typical package can present, Lempert said, so manufacturers will use technology to add another dimension. They'll increasingly use codes customers can scan with their mobile phones to find out more about the food's origins and uses.
“We want more information, but we don't want to have to Google it,” he said.
More supermarkets and manufacturers are expanding their community service work, Lempert said. He said a ConAgra survey found 62 percent of consumers want to support companies that donate to social causes, such as ConAgra's Child Hunger Ends Here program.
Baker's charitable work supports hunger relief, women's health and military families.
At Hy-Vee, too, “customers are going to see more of those things,” Comer said. Hy-Vee said its efforts increasingly invite consumers to be part of the effort, through purchases or social media.