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Food Trends: Link Farmers to Consumers

by Jane Eckert

Every year a variety of food experts and organizations come out with their list of food trends for the coming year.  These lists include both specific food items that they expect to peak or be in high demand, plus general habits of consumers as it relates to both the eating and preparing of foods.  I always find these lists interesting as they often they tend to overlap and agree in forecasting the future.

Here are several of the 2012 food trends that the food guru’s and industry are predicting and why I feel that, as farmers, we are in a good position to increase our sales and create a stronger connection with our customers.  It’s time for you to not only read about these trends but figure out ways to improve and expand your marketing message to increase your sales and capitalize on these consumer interests. 

#1 Eating locally produced foods continues to top this list as it has for the past three years.  We’ve read about “locavorism” and “farm to fork,” and these messages continue to resonate with consumers as they have begun changing their purchasing habits.  Consumers are now getting the connection that local foods equal a more healthful way of eating.  They understand that purchasing the fruits and vegetables fresh from the fields and in your farm stand, versus purchasing canned foods, provide more vitamins and nutrients with no preservatives.

As part of this movement, there is renewed interest in purchasing local meats and cheeses, fresh baked goods and specialty foods prepared using fresh farm ingredients. There is no doubt most farms have seen an increased interest in on-farm bakeries, fresh prepared deli products and selling locally raised meats and cheeses in our farm markets.  Many farm markets have begun sourcing from their farm neighbors, adding those products that they might not grow or raise.

An important message of this movement is that the consumer wants to know the farmer and who they are buying from; the consumer wants to be able to trust the products you sell. 

#2 While the restaurant industry reported that 2011 sales have rebounded somewhat, there is still a large group of families and singles that are cooking more at home and eating out less.  Yes, they want to also eat healthy, but many are eating at home because it is more economical.

The use of coupons and discounts continue to increase in order to attract these shoppers.  It has become a way of life for every demographic group to clip coupons and watch for weekly specials. People that never clipped coupons before are finding it a fun pastime and often brag to their friends about the money they saved on a recent offer. We certainly see these types of ads in the weekly grocery supplements, and now farmers are also getting on board with coupons in their e-newsletters, Facebook postings, Groupons and other types of outlets.

#3 Baby Boomers still control much of the money in this country, and their impact on food sales will continue to be an important factor.  Boomers have certainly jumped on the bandwagon to purchase healthier foods to improve their energy levels and general state of health. Boomers also like to take advantage of a deal when purchasing.  Boomers and empty nesters are choosing to eat smaller portions of food and therefore the five pound bags of apples just may be too much for these folks to purchase at one time. Selling in multiples and quantities to match their household size will be important.  Frankly, I’d love to buy just one piece of pie, and often only have the choice of a whole pie.

Of all the trends I’ve read about, the most interesting data I’ve seen in regards to baby boomers shows that 41% of males are now in the kitchen and participating in cooking the meals (and not just controlling the grills). Men now have the time to cook and seem to be enjoying it!  The data related to men also tells us they are beginning to do more of the shopping, so deciding how to appeal to male shoppers will be our next marketing challenge.

It’s always fun to read about the new food trends and to see what might really be catching on and how it will impact our farm businesses. As farmers, we do need to be mindful of these trends and always on the alert as to how we can meet the needs and wants of today’s consumers.

Some of the sources that I have used include the International Food Technologist, Phil Lempert dba “Supermarket Guru”, James Beard, and the American Farm Bureau “Foodie News,” plus the Food Channel network.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.