By Phil Lambert
This year brought us higher food prices at unprecedented levels, crops and livestock destroyed by global weather catastrophes, nations at war over the lack of food supplies and more food recalls from unique points of origin.
Americans love food, which has built a foundation for what may be one of the most exciting — and game-changing — years in the food world.
Here’s where I see things heading in 2012:
We will continue to see food prices rise based on environmental conditions as well as higher costs of fuel, feed, packaging, food safety — coupled with a higher demand for export. Shoppers will shave costs by revising recipes by using less meat and seafood and adding more non-meat ingredients that are filling and less expensive, including whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, protein such as tofu and lentils, and vegetables.
Never shop or eat alone again
The rise of food blogs has built a foundation for group food experiences. Food trucks tweet their locations and flash-food raves assemble underground at midnight. And it is not just about the food. It is about connection, conversation and a sense of community. One key to success will be embracing LoSoPhoMo — mobile marketing enhanced by the location, social and camera features of mobile devices.
Baby Boomers keep right on truckin’
The generation of 76 million who started turning 65 years old last year will control 52 percent of the total $706 billion spent on groceries by 2015, making them the largest food influencers and purchasers. As they age, they are becoming more interested in those foods and beverages with health benefits.
Increased emphasis on the “farm to fork” journey
Shoppers have become increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from, which is why 2012 will bring an added emphasis to a different kind of food celebrity — the farmer. We’ve seen “buy local” become one of the most important supermarket offerings; now we get to meet the people who are the producers, farmers and ranchers.
The end of the checkout lane
Many shoppers are learning to appreciate the tech-savvy nature of their mobile device (what used to be our cell phones!) Being able to compare prices at nearby retailers and get mobile coupons increasingly delivers information-rich store visits. This year we go beyond finding out nutritional, allergy and country of origin information on individual products and receiving special offers via our mobile devices, to checking out as we shop.
Ethnic food revolution
Food trucks are replacing gourmet and specialty stores as the channel to experiment and discover new food experiences, especially when it comes to ethnic foods. Truck operators with ethnic roots have the ability and knowledge to share the heritage and romance of their culture’s food, a benefit many shoppers enjoy.
New role of the male shopper
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 41 percent of men are now cooking at home — double that in 2003. It is all about Dad and family; husbands who help out at home enjoy happier relationships.
‘Xtreme’ home cooking
With continued pressure on the economy, more of us will eat at home to save money. Think of it as extreme home cooking where, following the lead of extreme couponers, these everyday cooks pride themselves on making the most out of the least.
How sweet it isn’t
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing the amount of added sugars of all kinds (especially in soft drinks). Reduced sugars will be the biggest health claim in the coming year. A revised Nutrition Facts Panel will indicate whether sugars are added, occur naturally or are a combination of the two.
The sound of food
People judge the readiness of foods by their sounds. We judge the freshness of soda based on the sound of the gas as it opens. Multisensory perception will be one of the new “food sciences” in 2012 as psychologists and food scientists join forces to create and influence the sounds of foods to convey freshness, taste and even health attributes.
Phil Lempert is the editor of SupermarketGuru.com and reports on the latest trends on NBC’s “Today” show, ABC’s “The View” and local Chicago news programs. E-mailPhil@SupermarketGuru.com.