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Across the Editor’s Desk: Trends, forecasts

LOREN KRUSE 02/14/2011 @ 2:00pm Editor-in-Chief Successful Farming

Winter is a time to look both back and forward. While your fields rest, it is ideal to assess the progress of your business and set some assumptions and expectations for the growing season ahead. It also is a good time to look beyond your farm to learn more about the world of the ultimate customers for whom you produce.

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed such a day of learning that took my mind from food to field. It started with a presentation at my company by Harry Balzer, who has long followed the actual eating patterns of Americans as chief industry analyst and vice president of the NPD Group. Everything about food is very important to my company. My office is just 41 steps from the test kitchen of Better Homes and Gardens magazine and other sister publications of Successful Farming magazine.

Balzer says consumer behavior is mostly driven by habits. And habits are hard to change. For example, he says in 1978, the three most ordered food items away from home (in descending order) were a carbonated beverage, fries, and a hamburger. In 2010, the same three were at the top, but the hamburger had jumped fries to number two.

Three Factors That Drive Consumers To Change

Three key factors help drive consumers to change behavior, Balzer says. The first is something new. We like to try to new things, but don’t necessarily mistake this for a trend, he says.

The second factor is convenience. “We have always moved to making our lives easier,” Balzer says. He jokes that the fastest-growing appliance in America is the power window in a car. The number of restaurant meals eaten in a car per person has doubled since 1984.

The third factor is cost. “We have never let food costs rise faster than our incomes,” he says. With purchasing power generally falling over the past decade, consumers have held food spending in check.

Can you guess the item Balzer picks as the food of the decade? It is yogurt. Nearly 29% of Americans now consume yogurt at least once every two weeks. That’s up from 16.3% in 2001.

After the food presentation, I attended a grain outlook meeting in the afternoon sponsored by Heartland Co-op. The planting season weather forecast I heard was not nearly as delicious as hamburgers and fries. Craig Solberg of Freese-Notis Weather predicts a cool, late spring. Too much like yogurt for my taste!  

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