Excerpts from the Educational Programs at the 2008 ICCA Summit in Portland There were two great sessions related to Consumer Trends in Organic, Natural and Sustainable Cuisine. We had a panel discussion featuring Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru from the Today Show; Roberta Cook, Ph.D. a Marketing Economist with the University of California, Davis; Kurt Hankins, Sr. VP Longhorn Culinary and Jim Goggin, Senior Vice President Foodservice Groups for Ventura Foods. The second session featured Kate Peringer form the Hartman Group in Bellevue, Washington, specialists in consumer research. Phil Lempert began the educational session with a presentation on today’s consumer and their preferences including their opinions about natural, organic and sustainable as it related to food purchasing. The Monday morning session was the unveiling of the SupermarketGuru 2008 Consumer Panel Survey that was the result of 3500 intercepts in all 50 states. “This is the first time in the history of conducting this survey that Freshness was in the top five reasons people buy the foods they buy,” Lempert stated. The Top Five Reasons Consumers Buy the Food they Buy #1 Taste #2 Health Benefits #3 Price #4 Foods My Family Will Eat #5 Freshness The Supermarket Guru equated marketing for the consumer to capturing an elephant. He stated, “You must get in front of it and dig a deep hole to capture it.” He continued to show examples from the past where fads came on to the scene and seemed to disappear as fast as they arrived. “Do you remember the scramble to purchase the Razor scooter?” he continued, “today they are found in any dollar store.” He also added that fad diets will always be popular. The consumer media makes a great deal of money publishing them. He offered a challenge for the foodservice industry to get ahead of the pack and look at the aging baby boomers. He added the fact that 53 percent of consumers dislike supermarket shopping and 14 percent say they hate it. “In 2010 the first boomers will be 65 years old and they will be looking for healthier food options and still be one of the largest consumer groups,” he boasted. Lempert also spoke about how the growing population will challenge our natural resources. Consumers will demand better packaging, lower the carbon footprint, support of fair trade and accurate in-depth information. In the survey 73 percent said they would like to see a carbon footprint rating on packaging and technology is making the consumer better educated on issues they care about. Dr. Cook showcased the role produce is playing in both the foodservice and retail arenas. Consumers are increasing the preference for fresh produce, but restaurants are lagging behind in their offerings for these items. The USDA estimates that only about 10 percent of fresh fruit and 20 percent of fresh vegetables are being purchased in foodservice channels. She also showed a slide featuring the leading fresh market vegetable states; California was first with 50 percent of the harvest followed by Florida in a distant second at only 8 percent. Dr. Cook discussed the changing preferences of consumers to the term organic. The data stated that price definitely plays a role in the purchase decision. When asked if the price for an organic item is 20 percent higher than the conventionally grown counter part, would you purchase it – 57 percent stated they are less likely to purchase the organic version. Both Dr. Cook and Kate Peringer from the Hartman Group, a nationally known research firm based in Seattle, showed data breaking down consumer preference and their understanding of the terms organic, natural and sustainable. There is some confusion about these terms especially the use of natural. Consumers in a recent Hartman Group survey this year show less confidence in the term natural. Peringer stated, “Consumers feel the term natural is becoming more of a marketing term and they have less confidence in purchasing items just because the packaging states it is natural.” There definitely seems to be an increase in consumer’s interest in avoiding products using growth hormones and antibiotics. The Hartman Group 2008 survey asked consumers what properties suggested a product was organic; the survey results show the absence of growth hormones has increased to 75 percent from 67 percent in 2005. In the same comparison absence of antibiotics went from 49 percent in 2005 to 69 percent this year increasing their feeling a product is more organic. A Food Marketing Institute (FMI) survey in 2008 asked, “Who should be responsible for ensuring that food is nutritious?” The changing results over the past three years were very interesting. There was more than a 10 percent decrease in both manufacturing and government’s participation in ensuring our food quality and consumers were also less confident that food stores (-6 percent) were going to fill that role. Eighty-two percent said they were the ones who would ensure that the food they eat was nutritious. The bottom line is that consumers are conducting more research and are more interested in the nutritional value of the food they are purchasing. Look for this to be more of a trend and not a fad.