Quality sways picky diners - The Packer

Quality sways picky diners

02/25/2013 09:27:00 AM
Fred Wilkinson

Fred Wilkinson, Food for ThoughtFred Wilkinson, Food for ThoughtRemember “home meal replacement?”

As food industry lingo goes, the term seems about as dated as “compassionate conservatism” does in political circles.

While the phrase may be a relic of the turn of the century, the concept surely has as much emphasis and importance as ever.

“Meals away from home,” as food marketers are more apt to say these days, command a large slice of the U.S. foodservice market.

When the economic downturn hit a few years ago, consumers looking to stretch their food dollars found themselves increasingly bypassing the fry-pit drive-through and instead purchasing prepared meals at grocery stores, warehouse clubs and other retailers.

Now, however, consumers are opting for restaurant fare more frequently, according to the market research outfit Technomic.

Maybe consumers have resigned themselves to the “new normal” economic climate, or maybe — more optimistically — they have renewed confidence in their financial footing.

Technomic’s research also suggests consumers are getting pickier, and their standards for freshness and quality are becoming stricter.

To their credit, Technomic reports, grocers and other retailers are changing their menus in an attempt to win back diners.

A positive trend for produce sellers: Among the new lures is a focus on more variety for vegetable sides, according to the “Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report.”

Another welcome finding from a fruit and vegetable marketing perspective: While value and price continued to rank high on consumers’ list of wants, so do taste and freshness.

And although half of consumers report the quality of prepared foods has improved in the recent years, around 40% of them want to see more brand-name foods that they typically associate with greater perceived quality.

Did you hear that, brand licensers?

A final trend worth watching: Diners are more open to trying different ethnic foods.

Specialty sandwiches and hamburgers — two offerings with plenty of room for produce innovation — were named among hot menu items.

fwilkinson@thepacker.com

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