Natural Foods Merchandiser

IFT seminar looks at how to change consumer eating habits


“Change the Food, Change the Consumer or Change the Food to Change the Consumer?” The title of this seminar presented at the 2010 International Food Technology Annual Meeting and Food Expo captures one of the perennial questions facing the natural products industry. The answer? A little bit of each, according to speaker Kantha Shelke, principal with Corvus Blue.

“It’s vital that food manufacturers change the food to change the consumer," Shelke said. “There’s an ongoing perception that if a food is good for you, it tastes bad.” Product manufacturers have to understand this concept to be successful. One way manufacturers are challenging this consumer perception: They are spending less on advertising and more on consumer education.

Another vital aspect of changing the food to change the consumer is product effectiveness. “I believe health claims are on the way out; a product must be efficacious —it must do what it says it is going to do [to gain consumer acceptance],” Shelke said. If the product says it is going to fill you up, it needs to fill you up. If it says it’s going to deliver an efficacious dose of something, it needs to do that, according to Shelke.

Shelke points to cooking classes for a glimpse of how the food landscape is changing. In the 1980s cooking classes had a largely female audience, were a group activity and a novel idea, and the curriculum often focused on menus that would impress. Today's cooking classes include both genders, children (boys and girls), knowledge of food, bagged lunches and culinary skills. This reflects a shift in eating patterns with more meals being made from scratch—a whopping jump from 42 percent in 1980 to 63 percent today (or 10 meals a week compared to 18).

Just look inside consumers' refrigerators to witness this change, Shelke suggested. "[Consumers] are shifting away from a refrigerator packed with finished products so that it’s like a grocery store, to a less full refrigerator with more staples," she said. “People have ‘menu’ plans now.”

Shelke added, "Through all of this only the honest, healthy and relevant will succeed in this marketplace.” And that may be good news for natural products retailers.

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