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Food Trends: Consumers Want Healthy, Local Foods

Healthy, fresh, local foods are not just for the young crowd.

That’s Scott Mushkin’s bottom line about this growing movement to fresh, local, unprocessed, and healthful food, and it’s spelled out in new consumer research he completed in the last year. “It’s turning on its head the way we thought about food in the 1950s through the 1980s,” he says. “Local and fresh is in; processed is out. That trend has spread throughout every age and income bracket in just the last two years.” 

The only bracket where the trend doesn’t fit, according to Mushkin’s research, is the extreme lowest income, under $25,000 a year, he says.

Mushkin is the lead food trends researcher at Wolfe Research in New York, a firm that specializes in consumer trends. On the basis of his multiple studies over 15 years, he has a reputation for spotting things early. “Retail food is my passion,” he says.

Trends

Here are the big food trends he highlights now.

Youngsters are the movers. “Millennials have come of age,” he says. “Their changing food preferences are being heard.” 

He uses eggs as an example. “Think how it’s changed,” he says. “It used to be that eggs were small, medium, or large. In grocery stores now, you can get cage-free, omega-3 enhanced, local produced, and others. The simple egg has been transformed to meet the trends of local, fresh, and healthy.”

Ethnic choices are growing, too, he says. Twenty years ago, there was not the breadth of Hispanic, Italian, Korean, and other choices. 

“These are very dynamic shifts,” he says. “Our research says that it now transcends geography. The Midwest tends to trail the national trends, but not by much. The South has definitely caught up with the coasts when it comes to eating healthier.

“It has become an obsession with lots of people of all age and income brackets. In fact, the most robust growth since 2013 comes from women who are outside the millennial generation,” he says.

The driving force, he speculates, is growing distrust of big business and government. “People just want to go against them. That includes how they’ll eat,” he says.

Social media plays a role, he continues. “You can see stories everywhere in conservative or liberal media about something that causes cancer. That builds distrust, and it spreads. 

“We are living longer and we want to be healthier, and the secret is, at least partly, in what we eat. We know the science says that diseases like diabetes are avoidable if we would just eat healthier,” he says.

Mushkin admits to a fascination with the millennial generation. “The oldest are turning 35 this year,” he says. “The average age is still only about 25. Their peak is still over 10 years away,” he says.

His advice for farmers comes down to one word: transparency. 

“It’s a hot-button issue. In our focus groups with young women, they want to know where their food comes from. The actual source. 

“The family farm still has great appeal with them. Now they want to know the story behind the food. If it’s a family farm story, that’s a very good thing,” he says.

This article is part of a series titled Meet Your New Boss: The Millennials. 

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