By becoming immersed in the culinary landscape, Trendologist Kara Nielsen helps clients of the Center for Culinary Development stay current and competitive. I had a chance to chat with her about how retailers can be more trend-forward and what products/categories she's keeping her eye on. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.
Isn't it enough to stock healthy products? How important are food trends?
Kara Nielsen: Americans are always fascinated with what’s new and what’s novel. I think to look like a responsive retailer, you need to have a least a small percentage of your product mix be something that’s up to date and up to the minute. What kind of chia products do you have? What kind of raw products or grass-fed dairy products do you have? You don’t have to be the edgiest person, but it seems like you certainly need a percentage of your store featuring new products. One problem I sometimes see with retailers is customers can’t always tell what is new. Communicating what’s new is essential if that’s an important quality for your store.
What steps can retailers take to keep on top of trends?
KN: I think natural products retailers are in a really good position to respond to the trends coming out of the natural food and health world. It’s important for retailers to find key niche markets, like paleo but also groups such as cancer survivors. One way to do this is to find the voices in their community that are influencing customers. It may be a popular restaurant chef or even food cart.
Do you think "natural" is becoming more mainstream?
KN: Consumers are turning towards cleaner labels with a shorter ingredient’s lists that they can understand. People want to know what the ingredients are and that they are "natural." The audience for products with no artificial colors, no artificial flavors and a limited amount of preservatives is definitely growing. At the same time, the confusion over labeling also is growing and people do get a little befuddled. Local is becoming more important the organic and in some places even Non-GMO, because customers can understand it.
What natural categories will become major mainstream players?
KN: I’ve been talking a lot about sprouted grains, which have long had a place on the bread isle of natural foods grocery stores. What I’m seeing now is an expansion into other places like the rice and snack isle. That’s where it starts getting interesting from a trend point of view, when something starts jumping into a new place. Sprouted grains are definitely on the rise.