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Monday, October 29, 2012

The Gluten-Free Market: “I’ll Have What She’s Having”

What does the consumer of gluten-free foods and beverages want?  Well, what does any grocery shopper want from foods and beverages?  Good taste, affordability, convenience, and nutritional value.  (Usually in that order.)

Product development in the gluten-free market initially focused on replicating the properties of foods that are traditionally wheat-based.  Then the emphasis shifted to the development of foods that people who live gluten-free actually want to eat.  Indeed, product quality has improved measurably in the past several years, as evidenced by Packaged Facts’ proprietary surveys.

Members of the gluten-free population demand the same respect and attention given to mainstream consumers in other ways, too:  foods and beverages that resemble their standard counterparts in terms of taste, texture, nutrition, range, variety, availability, convenience, novelty, packaging, shelf placement, and, ideally, price.  The word that comes up again and again to describe how gluten-free consumers want to be treated is “normal.”

Marketers have addressed these demands from the inside (ingredients) out (packaging).

To make up for the properties lost when gluten is eliminated from a recipe, gluten-free formulations have often included a half-dozen or more different kinds of starches as well as added fats, sugars, and salt.  Not exactly the top five ingredients advocated by Michael Pollan and his fellow foodies.  In addition, gluten-free diets are often lacking in dietary fiber and B vitamins, among other nutrients. 
Our new report on gluten-free foods and beverages charts an increase in new gluten-free products that contain ingredients to address such deficiencies.  In addition, convenience foods like snack bars and microwavable meals are proliferating, and recent product introductions include foods and beverages that cater to culinary adventurers and shoppers with sophisticated palates.  Finally, product packaging is being redesigned and updated so the gluten-free customer doesn’t feel “weird” at the checkout counter.

Gluten-free consumers routinely shop around until they find something they like.  When they do find something they like, these consumers are extremely brand loyal.  Not to say fanatic--get between a gluten-freer and her or his favorite Udi's product at extreme peril. And gluten-freers don’t hesitate to share their opinions and reviews with other gluten-freers, or with anyone, for that matter.  On blogs, for example.

For more information about our full report:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Premium Private Label Trumps Frugal Fatigue

A characteristic of past recessions has been “frugal fatigue.”  Shoppers get tired of living within their means and paying down debt and long to treat themselves to something expensive or at least frivolously indulgent.  Frugal fatigue is especially common among those who tended not to be particularly frugal prior to a recession. Long-term savers, who have made a lifestyle of frugality, have immunized themselves against the siren call of splurging.

According to a 2011 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), 71% of respondents said they were “tired of pinching pennies."  However, simply wanting to take a vacation from a frugal lifestyle does not mean that shoppers will act on that impulse--particularly given the severity of the recent recession, where not simply creature comforts but jobs, homes, educational degrees, and retirement prospects have been on the line. Therefore, among respondents to the survey, only 7% said they were getting set to splurge even though their financial circumstances had not changed. The vast majority, 93%, reported that they would continue to be frugal.

In the grocery aisles, the premium quality and progressiveness of the current generation of private-label products has been a boon to shoppers who are maintaining a more frugal lifestyle, whether as a long-term philosophy, a sensible adjustment to the economic downturn, or a remedial treatment for previous excess.   Brand lines such as Costco's Kirkland Signature, the private-label based Trader Joe's, Target's Archer Farms, Wegmans store brand products, and Whole Foods 365 rank among the red badges of savvy shopping.


A Packaged Facts Food Shopper Insights Survey reported in our recent study on private label foods and beverages  found that nearly two-thirds (62%) of shoppers believe that private label food and beverage products are usually as high quality as name brands, and more than half (53%) believe that private label products are often a better value than national name brands.

The contemporary premium private label product is often priced only slightly below that of the national brand, reinforcing the sense of equity between the two.  However, the private label brand is then offered at a promotional discount price, often available only to loyalty cardholders. In this way the private label products satisfy the need for saving without making shoppers feel that they are sacrificing quality.  Thus is frugal fatigue defeated!

The successful interplay of shopper needs and perceptions and marketer efforts to develop and promote quality store brand products can be seen in the financial results of grocery retailers. The Kroger chain of supermarkets, for example, reported for 2011 that its private label products represent over a25% of its sales dollars and 35% of units sold. The overall growth rate for private label products at Kroger is greater than that for national brands. Several other grocery marketers indicate that they are targeting their private label products to account for a third of total sales in the next few years.

All this makes it easier for shoppers to keep on keeping on with their careful spending, with lower risk of frugal fatigue.   Moreover, the ever-evolving private label product lineups help support the 21% of the NFCC survey respondents who said they have “made lifestyle changes, but they are positive and I intend to keep them.”  For smart shoppers committed to careful spending as the “new normal,” premium private label products can wield a lot of brand appeal.

For more information on our full report:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Breakfast With a Health Halo: How Vegetables Are Invading the Most Important Meal of the Day

Breakfast just got a whole lot healthier. While the starchy, sugar-loaded and syrup-drenched foods long associated with breakfast endure, they do so alongside an ever-broadening assortment of nutrition-centric creations. These menu items are all about delivering a potent punch of essential goodness in the form of vegetables and legumes that were once regulated primarily to the domain of later mealtimes. There’s hash featuring yams and zucchini, steamed veggies hugging eggs or tofu in whole wheat tortillas, and—perhaps the most extreme example of this shift toward a newer, healthier early morning meal—breakfast salads that combine a few familiar breakfast staples with an assortment of fruits and vegetables.

We should have seen this coming right? In some countries outside the U.S., vegetables with breakfast aren’t that unusual. After all, a proper Full English breakfast would be deemed lacking without cooked tomatoes, beans, and mushrooms. Even in America, vegetables at breakfast aren’t completely unheard of. At the very least, they make a semi-acceptable appearance as brunch items including asparagus with poached egg and hollandaise sauce and omelets with colorful jumbles of onions and peppers. Plus, one can’t forget our long history of drinking vegetables in the form of canned tomato and V-8 juice in the morning, or even the popular trend of consuming veggie-laden smoothies.

But according to The New Healthful, a report by Packaged Facts and San Francisco-based strategic food and beverage agency CCD Innovation, this emerging trend is different. This new healthful breakfast inspiration focused on vegetables is in ample supply and seemingly more and more in demand. Diners realize that sugary, starchy breakfasts won’t get them very far and are seeking innovative, more filling options that really give them something to chew on. Vegetables and legumes in the morning make particular sense for those going meatless or skipping meat and animal products altogether as they can fill out a sandwich, bowl, or plate in more nutritious ways. Beans are doubly interesting as a breakfast ingredient because they supply fiber in addition to protein.

The opportunities for restaurateurs to capitalize on this demand for veggies and legumes at breakfast are immense.

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Frozen at the peak of freshness" cuts both ways

According to our August 2012 national online survey, preference for fresh foods is the top reason (57%) surveyed consumers cite for not buying frozen foods in the last three months, followed by a preference for home-cooked foods (35%). Fewer than one in five shoppers say they have not bought frozen foods because they don’t like the taste, don’t have enough freezer space at home, are not confident in frozen foods’ nutrition, or are not confident in frozen foods’ quality (a concern that is, nonetheless, notably more prevalent among women).

Although “fresh” would seem to be an oxymoron in frozen foods, frozen food marketers are increasingly promoting their foods by squaring off against fresh foods head on. The goal is to convince consumers that they do not have to sacrifice taste, quality, or nutrition by taking advantage of the convenience of frozen foods.  One direct example of this effort to move the needle on consumer attitudes is in the name of one of the top regional frozen vegetable marketers, Fresh Frozen Foods. The company’s website ( emphasizes that “Studies consistently reveal that frozen produce is as nutritious, and in some cases even more nutritious, than fresh produce.”  It references the FDA’s conclusion that the nutritional value of frozen fruits and vegetables is the same or better than that of their raw counterparts, and the University of Illinois research study by Dr. Barbara Klein, a professor of food and nutrition, which found that frozen vegetables can have equal, or higher, nutritional value when compared to fresh vegetables.

Likewise, Pinnacle Foods has worked “fresh” into the Birds Eye product line, with its Birds Eye Steamfresh line of steamable vegetables and side dishes. And when ConAgra debuted its line of Healthy Choice Steaming Entrees, it promoted the launch with the tag line, “Healthy Choice has nothing to hide with its new line of fresh-tasting frozen entrees.”  The entrees boast a clear plastic tray that enables consumers to see the ingredients and “the vivid colors of the vegetables, which are frozen at the peak of freshness.” 
Asserting frozen’s claim to the merits of freshness is part of a larger tug-of-war within grocery stores, where the traditional center store of shelf-stable and frozen foods must step up its game to compete against the refrigerated and bakery/deli/prepared food offerings that lure shoppers along the store perimeter, including hot foods bars and well as chilled ready meals.   At the same time that frozen competes with fresh whole foods on convenience, it must compete with in-store fast food on quality and wholesomeness.  Fortunately for the frozen food aisles, “frozen at the peak of freshness" cuts both ways.

For more information on our full report: