Tastes Are Changing. We All Might Have Missed This One.

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 8/21/2018

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Paul Schlossberg
Among my favorite things to do is spotting changes – especially in the food industry. My focus and attention has been directed at:

(1) Understanding changes in eating habits: Are we eating differently? When did we begin to do that? Why did that happen? Which foods are leading the changes in how we eat?

(2) Knowing where people are eating: Are we eating at home more or less frequently? When away from home, are we going to 'old' traditional places? Have new foodservice operations captured our attention and dining-out dollars?  

(3) Identifying the people who are shaping the change: Who are the important personalities in the food industry today? Why are they on the leading edge of change in the food industry? What do they see and what do they know that rest of us might not notice?    

The changes do not just pop up and say hello. One requirement is to read from a diverse list of magazines, newspapers, blogs and more. These days most of this reading is from a screen. My subscriptions are almost always received in my email inbox.

You also have to eat in restaurants to actually get a taste of what’s new. We have always enjoyed dining out. It does not matter if it’s a dive, fine dining or anything in between.

Cooking at home allows us to learn about new food and new cuisines by preparing and cooking it ourselves. We enjoy doing the cooking at home too. Most times, it's quick and easy. Occasionally we're working on relatively complex recipes. We have been fans of the television chefs, beginning with Julia Child's The French Chef.

Years later, we came to enjoy many of the chefs on the Food Network. We collected recipes and even cooked quite a few dishes –  there were successes and some failures too. In the last 10 to 15 years we visited restaurants owned and operated by some of these television popular chefs. Other shows gave us recommendations for restaurants to visit all over the U.S. and outside the country, too. Many, but not all, of those meals were fun and enjoyable experiences. Most of those meals were very reasonable in cost.

So let's get back to what all this means for folks in our business. In the May/June 2018 issue of Vending Times my article, How We Eat Has Changed. How Did You Change What You Sell?, addressed changing food consumption patterns. It included a four-point action plan for operators.
Even in such a short time, other changing trends were on the horizon. Recently, in the Aug. 8, 2018 posting at Bloomberg.com was a headline that was an attention-getter for me, The Twilight of the Celebrity Chef. "The once-flourishing celebrity chef industry has seen dozens of restaurants backed by some of the top names in the business close over the past year. Some chefs were done in by rising rents, overexpansion, and a shift among foodies toward  'authentic' fare that doesn't depend on having a celebrity in the kitchen."

In the next few weeks, we noticed an increasing number of articles and news reports about other "big-name" chefs closing down restaurants in the U.S. and beyond our shores. These were highly recognizable restaurant names – even if we had never dined at these places. Suddenly the bell chimed loud and clear. A new pattern was emerging, things were different. 

People, the dining-out public, have changed their expectations. It is connected to clean labels on food packages. The simplicity of real food as ingredients matters more than food chemistry on packaged foods. In the restaurant business we see the rapid growth of farm-to-table restaurants. Skip all that food processing. Take the most basic of ingredients and make good food from it.

This made me recall another recent story, this one from CBS Sunday Morning on July 8, 2018. The segment from YouTube is titled "Farming the land, in a national park." The farm-to-table movement is mostly about knowing where your food comes from. Chef Ben Bebenroth’s restaurant Spice Kitchen in Cleveland, is on that trend.


So maybe the new trend is ‘authentic’ versus the old trend ‘famous chef’s name on the door.’ It’s not fair to say that old trend meant bad tasting food or bad service. We’ve dined at some of those now closed restaurants. Our meals were very good and the service was excellent.

What if anything does that have to with our industry? The correlation, in my opinion, is very high. The people who buy from our stores have their own particular set of new expectations. They also want clean labels. New brands are emerging and our same shoppers are looking to try and buy some of these new brands versus their long-time favorite brands.

This subject, about how to deal with new and emerging (food, snack and beverage) brands, is something we’ve addressed in previous articles and blogs. So we will not dig in deeply on that topic again today. But the lesson is obvious for anyone in the food industry, product manufacturer, supermarket, restaurant operator, et. al.

Tastes have changed. The change is perpetual. Just when you think you understand what’s happening, it will change again. If you are ready for all of this change and are flexible enough to adapt to it, you might be in a good position to sell more stuff.

» Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached at Paul@DFWConsulting.net or (972) 877-2972 or www.DFWConsulting.net.