What Your Customers Want in 2018

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By Robin Mather

The 2018 trends predictions from a variety of sources reveal a fascinating array of opinions about the issues that will drive your customers’ purchases this year.

“Clean” and “transparency” will continue to be consumer buzzwords for 2018. Manufacturers are updating their packaging to look as clean as the ingredients inside, and customers are increasingly seeking more knowledge about the foods they eat. They want to know how those foods are produced, so “non-GMO certified,” “fair trade certification,” and details about animal welfare and sustainable production are helpful on labels.

Making Transparency a Governing Principle

EPIC Provisions takes clean and transparency seriously, says Katie Forrest. the company’s co-Founder. “At EPIC, we created a public ‘honesty pledge’ — our animal-by-animal sourcing library — for our consumers to consult and verify where their food comes from. We’re damn proud of our suppliers, their practices and how the animals used in our products are treated through every stage of their lives.”

There’s a larger goal behind such transparency, she says. “Our goals extend far beyond our own company practices. We want to help our consumers understand how we’re pushing the massive meat industry to improve its standards and realize the need for transparency in food production. Through this, we have laid a foundation for truth and created a platform for injecting truth into a realm of business known all too often for murky, inaccessible and misleading information.”

EPIC’s decisions for its products and their sourcing begin with big ideas, including better health for the animals and the environment, and supporting producers who emphasize animal and soil health, she says.

“Every move we make revolves around providing food that is better for our animals, better for our bodies and better for our planet,” she says. “Using 100 percent grass-fed and pasture-raised beef and cattle ties directly into that, especially our mission to spread the word on regenerative agriculture and how food production can positively impact our soils and lands. No matter how you slice it, grain- or soy-fed cattle don’t receive their naturally intended diet, and don’t boast the same nutritional or ecological value as pasture-raised, grass-fed and regenerative options.”

EPIC’s mission also includes fair treatment for the growers who provide the animals for its products. “By supporting ranchers who practice holistic land management and put a premium on animal and soil health, our products meet the gold standard,” Forrest says. “They empower consumers to impact our planet’s health while improving their own well-being.”

Plant-based Proteins are Hot.

“Healthy snacking isn’t an oxymoron anymore,” says Robbie Rech, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Hope Foods, which makes a variety of hummuses. “People are realizing in a big way that snacking, if done right, can really help them be their best. One example is that a healthy snack in the afternoon helps put down cravings, keeping you from a big meal or an unhealthy snack that makes you feel horrible and crashes your energy. A balanced snack, like hummus and vegetables or hummus and crackers can actually give you the energy to finish the day strong.”

While healthy snacks may have once dutifully chowing down on something flavorless and boring, that’s no longer the case, says Rech. Today’s snacks are not only full of flavor, they’re also full of all the things that do a body good. “Hummus has a really good balance of protein, fiber and carbohydrates, with no sugar,” he says. “There are amazing flavors in hummus that gives a health-conscious foodie that mid-afternoon fix that helps them be their best self.”

Using good ingredients is important, too, Rech says. “Chickpeas, garlic and olive oil are all great sources of antioxidants. Avocado Hummus is becoming very popular, and makes for a a convenient way to get some avocado, loaded with vitamins, healthy fat, protein and fiber, into your diet.”

Puffed, Popped and Popular

Whole Foods announced its 2018 trends, and high on the list were puffed and popped snacks. New technologies make almost anything puff-able and poppable, Whole Foods says, and even old-fashioned chips are getting an upgrade into better-for-you versions made from things like jicama, parsnip and Brussels sprouts.

Products such as Veggie Pasta Snacks pack a healthy vegetable punch, says Pasta Snacks Chief Marketing Officer Adam Cohen. With red bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli and kale, they offer “an extra kick of protein, calcium and iron.”
Cohen’s snacks are made with semolina flour, ancient grains and Italian herbs, he says,

“Snacking is important for a healthy lifestyle,” he says, “but instead of ruining your healthy eating habits, it’s best to stick to better-for-you options that still satisfy your cravings — like Pasta Snacks. Guilt-free with nutrient-dense ingredients, these are a must-have for any healthy snacker.”

New consumer interest in flavored sparkling waters and other beverages such as kombucha surfaced on a number of trend roundups, with Whole Foods noting that “these drinks are a far cry from their sugary predecessors.”

Other Prognostications

Grocery industry veteran and trend-spotter John Karolefski of GroceryStories.com says he expects to see more product information available to shoppers via scannable QR codes. “A major education campaign will take place in 2018 to make shoppers aware of the codes and prompt them to scan to learn more about the food they’re buying,” he says.

Marketing and press relations experts at MSL have their own take on trends. They’re predicting, among other things, a rush to instant gratification, as food delivery systems try to outdo one another in sating their customers’ appetites. That could include meal kits, but also snacks that have enough protein — typically 10 or more grams — to tide over customers until their next full meal.

Convenience store retailers say they expect lunchtime sales in their stores to grow in 2018, with 67 percent of respondents to a National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) consumer survey seeing lunchtime sales as their biggest opportunity. “People love food inside a convenience store. It’s a one-stop shop for them,” said Parvez Himani of Pryia Impex Inc. in Alpharetta, Georgia, in a NACS report.