Delicious Living Blog

Packaged foods declining, fresh foods rising

According to research from The Hartman Group, as consumers clue in to the value of fresh foods, the market for packaged foods is dying out. Is this good or bad news for packaged natural products?

A report from The Hartman Group, a mass-market consumer research and consulting firm, really caught my eye last week. In it, THG senior vice president James Richardson describes the market for packaged foods as “steadily, inexorably declining.” We recently alluded to the study in an article about our Future of Wellness research. (Emphases below are mine.)

Having tracked the fresh food trend for 25 years, Richardson writes, “about 10 years ago we started sounding the alarm about a trend away from processed package food among mainstream consumers, not just the natural foods crowd. Few listened.... The problem is really cultural: food culture is changing in a long-term manner that packaged food companies have yet to truly accept.

“The shift towards fresh food is … going on at all ends of the socioeconomic spectrum because cooking with fresh foods offers struggling consumers a stronger value proposition than spending extra money on convenient packaged food solutions and the growing desire for healthier meal experiences composed of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains casts most packaged foods in a poor light for more educated consumers.”

I hardly know where to begin with this. What most strikes me is the language he uses—words like “alarm” and “the problem,” which imply that he thinks this trend is a negative one.

On the contrary, his assessment practically makes me leap for joy! If it’s true that consumers really are beginning to understand that cooking fresh, whole foods at home is the best value and the best health approach, then the “cooking crisis” I so often hear about may actually be declining. It would mean that decades of bad food policy and choices, decades of being sold a bill of goods by unhealthy, fat-, sodium-, and sugar-laden food producers, finally may be losing steam, and that producers of unhealthy, fake foods are rightly running scared.

“The real opportunity is in fresh, packaged foods,” Richardson concludes. “What we call the Third Grocery Sector. This is the sector driving phenomenal growth in yogurt, hummus, refrigerated meal components, etc. And we find it to be largely a world of small independent producers who have a better alignment with long-term food culture trends, unfortunately, than many of the largest packaged food companies in the world.”

Again, hooray! All of you small independent food producers out there—we saw lots of them at Natural Products Expo West 2012—your day has come, and not just for the typical natural products consumer.  You’re the ones “aligned with long-term food culture.” Richardson uses the word “unfortunately” here—really?! I say, keep it up!

Do you see this trend in your own business? Tell us about it.

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