Each year, countless market research studies are conducted to find “the next big thing.” The food industry is one that’s driven by trends and exploration. Consumers want something new, and food options that represent an overall different experience. As CPG companies develop the latest and greatest next options, a number of different themes are emerging in the food space.

What’s interesting to note is that rather than finding big items that unite everything under a single vision, what’s coming to surface are individual points of tension between two extremes. From high-end consumers to value-conscious buyers and from people demand fusion options to those craving authenticity, the market is becoming bigger and more fractured than ever before. This creates more opportunity, but also places more demand on companies to have strong market research agendas and understand their consumers’ unique desires.

Healthy and Indulgence: Two Extremes

Many of the themes that the food industry is grappling with in 2015 are competing tensions. A trend that emerged last year and is picking up steam in the year ahead is conflicting desires between healthy options and indulgence. On the one hand, more brands and consumers are moving toward health-conscious choices. Nestle, for example, recently made the decision to replace artificial ingredients with natural ones in many of its products. We’ve recently explored how products such as Coffee Mate, largely viewed as a highly processed artificial convenience item, is available with all natural ingredients and organic sourced Tahitian vanilla.

Yet many consumers still want decadence. For every consumer watching their waistline, cholesterol or environmental impact, there’s another demanding the latest and greatest heart attack inducing snacks and meal options. Consider that two of the most successful brands recently have been Chipotle, which is known for its sustainability and healthy options, and Taco Bell’s viral success of the Waffle Taco. There’s room for growth and innovation at both ends of the spectrum.

CPG Trends are Impacting the Broader Food Service Industry

Another trend that’s affecting how CPG companies operate is that they’re being perceived at the cutting edge of what consumers want. At one time, food experts watched restaurants to see what flavors and inspirations would make it into packaged goods. But today, innovation often begins on groceries shelves and then spills out into restaurants.

For example, Greek yogurt began as a retail phenomenon that’s being seen in other forms, from frozen Greek yogurt stores to experimental restaurant dishes. Much of this can be attributed to the sophisticated market research engines that today’s large food producers operate. From keeping a pulse on the market to conducting extensive concept testing, CPG companies are setting the tone for broader food trends.

Fusion and Authenticity: Two Ends of the Spectrum

The National Restaurant Association identified two major trends for 2015: fusion and authenticity. As a representation of what customers are looking for in the food space, this is illustrative.

Fusion is all about experimentation, and reinventing beloved items with a dash of something new. At the same time, authenticity speaks to the desire to connect with authentic flavors, natural ingredients and locally sourced products. Once again, these contrasting points open up significant opportunities for companies that understand the market.

Purchasing Extremes: High-End, Low-End

From a strategic business model perspective, several observers have noted that there’s growth at both the high-end consumer level and the lower end of the spectrum. High-end buyers are looking for superfoods, organic, farm to table, gourmand products and other experiences for which they’re willing to pay a premium.

At the same time, the most cost conscious spenders are willing to spend but are extremely conscious of value. This tension between values-based buying and value-drive buying is creating opportunities for innovation across product categories and price points.

Whether you’re trying to break into the growing health market or develop new product categories for the budget consumer segment, one thing is for certain. Market research is essential to succeeding in today’s demanding and somewhat fragmented food space.

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Each week, we’ll be highlighting ten products that are gaining momentum. Our top sightings of the week have been spotted by real shoppers with increasing frequency and are current leaders within their categories.

Here’s a closer look at the new products that have been getting the attention of shoppers across the nation.

Renola Grain Free Granola: At first glance, the idea of grain free granola may seem paradoxical. But what’s a Paleo-dieter or low-carb athlete supposed to do when they want to hit the road with some trail mix in their pocket? Renola Grain Free Granola may just be filling that growing niche. As the company says, in this “mix of fruits, nuts and seeds, we’ve combined delicious, wholesome ingredients like a trail mix, but in a versatile form like granola. Grain free and gluten free, Renola is LÄRABAR let loose!” Consumers just began seeing this on shelves at the end of last year, and it’s popping up with increasing frequency around the nation. Health fans are sure to pay attention to this one.

Coffee-mate 2 Go: Just when you thought you couldn’t make a convenience product like Coffee-mate any more convenient, the brand has done it. Coffee-mate 2 Go is a line of small 3-fl. ounce bottles of ultra-concentrated Coffee-mate liquid. It’s easy to use, requiring just a couple of quick squeezes. It requires no refrigeration. The line currently has four flavors: Hazelnut, French Vanilla, Peppermint Mocha and Extra Sweet and Creamy. The product is on shelves around the country. Will consumers choose to take their favorite creamer on the go?

Pedialyte Advanced Care: With cold and flu season in full swing, it’s easy to see why Pedialyte’s rehydrating products for infants and children remain hot. This new addition to the Pedialyte product suite features the same anti-dehydration properties of regular Pedialyte, with the added benefit of prebiotics to help promote digestive health. Since Pedialyte is often given to people suffering from a stomach bug, consumers may be excited for the extra healthy punch. It’s currently available in the kid-friendly flavors of Cherry Punch and Blue Raspberry. The product is appearing on shelves along both coasts, as well as throughout the Southern U.S.

Atkins Nutritionals Endulge: Atkins is a diet that’s notoriously low in carbohydrates, going as low as 20 carbs per day in the induction phase. There’s a strong association with meat and vegetables. But Atkins has debuted its Endulge line, a selection of candy and treats for carb-conscious consumers. The line features 11 different products, with something for everyone from chocolate caramel squares to chocolate coconut bars. Consumers have been noting them on shelves throughout the U.S., and they’re especially prevalent in the Eastern and Southern U.S., as well as along the West Coast.

Plum Organics Organic Baby Food: Plum Organics offers a wide range of organic and health brands for the family, from babies through to adulthood. Consumers began noticing their Organic Baby Food products on store shelves last fall in the Midwest and Western U.S. In particular, sightings have included their “Stage 3” meals which are slightly more complex products targeting the 6-month old + crowd, with flavors such as Organic Barley Kale and Spinach with Basil, Quinoa and Leeks with Chicken and Taragon, and Sweet Corn and Carrots with Turkey and Sage. With its organic proposition and flavor palates that sound good enough to tempt an adult foodie, we plan to keep an eye on this brand and its growth.

Planters Smoked Peanuts: If you thought the variations already on the market for flavored peanuts were endless, we’ve got one more for you. Kraft Foods has introduced Smoked Peanuts to its line of flavored peanuts, which also includes Classic, Chipotle, Cocoa and Salted Caramel. With nuts continuing to be a favorite snack and Planters’ position as a leader with consumers, their innovation is leading to interest in new twists on the old favorite. Smoked Peanuts have been noted by shoppers from coast to coast.

Horizon Classic Mac: Horizon Dairy has introduced its own brand of boxed mac and cheese, Horizon Classic Mac. The Classic Line offers four flavors, including Microwavable Macaroni and Mild Cheddar, Pasta Shells and White Cheddar Cheese, standard Macaroni and Mild Cheddar Cheese and Pasta Cows and Mild Cheddar. They’re also offering organic and protein-added options. With its bright branding and distinctive cheddar spin, we’re interested to see how consumers embrace this product over time.

Barilla Italian Style Entrees: Barilla is making waves again on our top products list. This week, they’re capturing consumers’ attention with their new line of Italian Style Entrées. They’re marketed as a selection of quick and healthy microwaveable convenience meals that can be ready in 60 seconds, under the related tagline “Take a One Minute Break.” Flavors range from Bacon Tomato to Chicken Alfredo. They’re entering a crowded market, but fans of the Barilla brand may be excited about the option to get their pasta without having to boil and strain it. Right now, sightings are concentrated throughout the eastern half of the U.S. as well as in the Southwest.

Secret Clinical Strength: Consumers who sweat excessively due to biological or health reasons, stressful situations or athletic pursuits no longer have to visit the doctor for prescription antiperspirant or painful underarm Botox injections. At least that’s the theory behind the introduction of Secret’s Clinical Strength deodorant, which offers extra-strength protection for up to 48 hours. The line includes scented options, versions specially formulated for stress sweat and specialized products for athletes. It’s being seen at stores across the U.S.

Kellogg’s Jif Peanut Butter Cereal: Jif is a big name in the world of peanut butter, and Kellogg’s has introduced a brand extension with Jif Peanut Butter Cereal. Made with whole grains and “real Jif peanut butter,” this cereal is being seen around the country. At just 100 calories per serving, it’s offering another option for fans of Peanut Butter Bumpers at a lower price point and introducing another competitor for Reese’s Puffs and Peanut Butter Captain Crunch. We’re interested to see if the brand has staying power as it battles the competition for the attention of peanut butter cereal fans.

Want to learn which new products have launched in stores?

 

Every so often, a flavor trend emerges and spurs a product revolution in the food industry. Recently, spicy foods have been growing in popularity among U.S. consumers. The hot and spicy trend has been gaining steam in the past few years, but it became white hot in 2014 and promises to carry forward into next year. As a result, restaurants and packaged foods companies have been modifying their menus and product lineups to accommodate for a changing consumer palate. Here’s what’s driving the hot and spicy trend and here are some important lessons for business owners interested in introducing new products to the market.

The proof is in the numbers

According to recent data, 53 percent of U.S. consumers are interested in hot and spicy product offerings. Data also suggests that the shift towards heat isn’t exclusive to the United States market. Consumers around the globe are becoming more adventurous with eating, experimenting with flavorful spices, artisanal peppers, and unique recipes. One report indicates that Millennials are adding momentum to the spicy eating trend, but food preferences overall have changed slightly. Consumers are more interested in spicy foods than ever before and that’s creating opportunities throughout the foods market – including beverages, snacks, and full-fledged meals.

The immigration factor

There are a few factors at play that are helping to fuel hot and spicy eating. Industry experts cite recent immigration trends as a key factor in how Americans are eating. Over the past ten years, the Latino population in the United States has increased considerably. Immigration has also increased from parts of Africa where the favored cuisine integrates peppers and other forms of heat. The influx of new citizens has spurred an interest in spicier, more flavorful recipes, and an increased willingness to try new foods. As the population of the country continues to shift over time, different flavor trends will begin to emerge. One reason is because restaurants serving these types of foods becomes more prevalent and begin to interest a wider range of consumers.

Social media and television

But it isn’t just U.S. immigration trends that have helped spur a spicy eating revolution. There are other things at play here, such as social media influence and television influence. Visual social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram and celebrity cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen have exploded in popularity over the past few years. Many consumers are referring to Instagram and Pinterest for new recipes and product ideas or trying out things they’ve seen on celebrity chef television programs, encouraging more adventuresome eating overall. The constant exposure to new and interesting dishes has helped push American eaters out of their comfort zone with regards to their food choices.

The health factor

It’s also worth noting that cooking preferences as a whole have changed as U.S. consumers have become more health-conscious. There has been a shift away from fried foods and towards grilled dishes. Grilled foods tend to be healthier because they aren’t coated in batter and grease. As cooking preferences have changed, Americans have begun experimenting with different flavors and spices. While the shift isn’t directly related to the spicy food trend, it is worth noting because it speaks to consumers’ willingness to try new things.

As we head towards 2015, the spicy food trend is still burning hot. Products containing jalapeños, green chiles, and chipotle flavoring are becoming more prevalent on grocery store shelves.  If your company is interested in testing out an idea for a new product inspired by the hot and spicy trend, there is no better time than now to get started.

As 2014 is coming to a close, many business teams have begun thinking about their product lineups for next year. We took a look at the latest in concept test data as well as emerging trends that have been gaining popularity recently to give companies a head start on their product planning for the coming year. In 2015, US consumers are moving towards smaller portions, healthier, more natural products that can be consumed on-the-go, and smoked food items. The range in diversity points toward the importance of lifestyle and behavioral data when you’re developing your audience profiles and planning for specific product innovations. Here is a closer look at the top four food trends to watch as we head towards the New Year and how they might impact the prepared food landscape.

The next generation of eating local

The local eating trend that has recently been gaining steam is expected to continue through 2015 and beyond. For the past few years, consumers have been purchasing produce from local farms more frequently and CSAs and community gardens have been popping up all around the country. In the packaged and prepared foods world, consumers want more transparency of what happened to the food “from farm to table.” Industry experts are predicting that the next wave in local eating is growing and sourcing local grains. In 2015, we expect to see more people purchasing whole grains from nearby farms and grinding them in the comfort of their own kitchens. There’s also likely to be a resurgence or continuation of interest in so-called “Ancestral Grains,” which are perceived in some circles to be a healthy alternative to wheat.

Reformatting meals

Recent data suggests that the concept of ‘three square meals a day’ might be shifting. American consumers have begun embracing the idea of grazing, moving away from large meals and towards snacking and eating smaller portions throughout the day. There are a few things driving this trend, including busier lifestyles, a more health-conscious culture, and a desire for sustained energy. In 2015, we expect to see more individual portion packs, healthy snack options, and an array of small portion choices on independent restaurant menus. The idea of 100 calorie packs may migrate into slightly larger but still controlled portions sizes appropriate for on the go meals.

Smoky flavors

In 2014, umami-flavored foods took the restaurant industry by storm. As we head towards the New Year, these smoky, savory foods will continue to dominate the restaurant industry. Consumers can expect to see more smoked dishes appearing on menus at independent eateries across the country, and analysts suggest there will be a spike in sales of smoke-flavored products like packaged meats and cheeses at grocery stores as well. We also expect to see an increase of smoky flavors in packaged products. The American obsession with smoky and savory recipes continues in 2015.

Sugar alternatives

As the healthy lifestyle trend surges on, more consumers have begun exploring their options for natural sugar alternatives. In 2011, Stevia brand sweetener caught the attention of health-conscious consumers because it was regarded as a more natural, healthy alternative to sugar. More recently, coconut sugar (or palm sugar) has started to catch on with a mainstream audience. According to experts, coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than table sugar. This makes it a popular alternative for people suffering from diabetes and those interested in maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Foods and desserts sweetened with coconut sugar are likely to be hitting the shelves.

In 2015, we expect to see a shift towards locally grown grains, smaller portion sizes, savory and smoke-flavored foods, and increased use of coconut sugar as an alternative to table sugar. Other trends to watch for include fermented foods, more Asian-inspired dishes and products that use authentic ingredients, and a surge in grocery deliveries in place of traditional trips to the supermarket.

For many families this week, Thanksgiving dinner would not be complete without a side dish of cranberry jelly or cranberry sauce. The unique recipe has been a holiday staple for decades. But recently, the cranberry has taken on a life of its own. This year creative chefs are thinking outside of the box with flavorful concoctions that feature cranberries as a main ingredient. Packaged foods companies are also adding more cranberry-infused products to grocery store shelves. Are we replacing the standard approach to how we consume cranberries or is its increasing popularity opening up whole new categories for the New England native? Here are some ways cranberry is making its mark as an emerging food trend, and some important lessons for CPG companies interested in exploring this concept for their own product mix.

The history of canned cranberry jelly

While cranberry relish originated in the 19th century, canned cranberry jelly has been a popular item on U.S. consumers’ Thanksgiving menus since it was introduced to the market in 1912. Ocean Spray Company was the first major brand to develop the product, which came about shortly after growers began mechanically wet harvesting cranberries from the bogs where they grow. While mechanical harvesting proved to be more efficient than dry harvesting for growers, this method of gathering meant that some of the cranberries collected were bruised or damaged. Canned cranberry jelly represented the solution to the problem of these imperfect berries. Canning helped release the natural sweetness of the berries, thickening and preserving them outside of their typical growing season. As a result, this unique, gelatinous ridged product became a popular side dish on holiday tables and beyond.

Cranberries as an emerging food trend

There’s no denying that cranberry jelly is an integral part of the Thanksgiving experience for many families, but cranberries as an ingredient have also begun to gain popularity with consumers in recent years. Data from 2009 indicates that more brands have been introducing cranberry-infused recipes to the market. A whopping 562 cranberry products were introduced in 2009, up from 310 products in 2005.

The cranberry trend is spurred by a few different factors. American consumers have become more health-conscious over the past five years, and cranberries have perceived health benefits that align well with this particular trend. The flavorful berries are high in antioxidants, and many consumers have gravitated towards antioxidant-rich foods in recent years. Fruit-infused convenience foods and on-the-go snacking have become increasingly popular recently as well, which has helped add fuel to the cranberry craze. As a slightly bitter berry, cranberries are also fairly low in natural sugar and carbohydrates.

It isn’t just CPG companies that are driving the cranberry trend. Fresh cranberries are also making more frequent appearances in recipes featured on popular culinary websites. For example, media mogul Martha Stewart’s site features 26 different cranberry recipes for guests to explore. Recipes range from crowd-pleasing desserts like cranberry meringue and cranberry trifle to creative main dishes like braised brisket with cranberries. The prevalence of these recipes is spurring a renewed interest in the flavorful berry among mainstream consumers and foodies alike. The result is that cranberries are popping up more often outside of traditional holiday dishes.

Capitalizing on the cranberry trend

The healthy eating and snacking trends are still gaining steam among mainstream U.S. consumers, which is good news for CPG companies that are interested in capitalizing on the emerging cranberry trend. If your team has a new idea for a cranberry-infused product, the upcoming holiday season is a great time to test it out with the market for future product planning. Concept testing and limited edition product tests can help you get a better sense of how your target consumers will respond to potential recipes, and determine which cranberry product ideas will work best for your brand.

Do you have an idea for a new product concept you’d like to test?

The term convenience foods evokes specific images: Some people may think of quick stop stores and gas station shelves lined with bags of chips, candy, and trail mix. Others associate the term convenience food with drive thru restaurants serving up French fries and hamburgers. But in recent years, the concept has begun to evolve, and CPG companies are changing the way that consumers view convenience food. Consumers are looking for a wide range of foods and healthier options in forms that are easier to eat on the run or that help manage calorie or carb intake. Here’s how the concept of packaging for convenience is changing and some important takeaways for businesses in the packaged foods industry.

Packaging for convenience

One of the major changes in convenience food lies in the packaging. We’ve written in the past about how baby food companies are transitioning from glass jars to portable pouches. The shift in packaging has extended beyond the baby food aisle recently, with large brands like Motts and Del Monte foods developing squeezable applesauce pouches for an older audience. Pouches aren’t the only up and coming packaging trend in the CPG space. Single serve cups and snack-sized individual packages have also been becoming more popular in recent years. Major brands like Kraft, Cabot, and Velveeta have all introduced products and packaging designed for on-the-go eating. There are multiple factors at play, from customers looking for more environmentally friendlier choices to economic changes increasing the number of brown baggers looking for lunch options.

The health food shift

In the past, the term ‘convenience food’ conjured up images of snack-sized chip bags, candy bars, and single servings of beef jerky. Though these grab and go snacks are convenient, they aren’t always the healthiest options. But in recent years, as many U.S. consumers have made the shift towards healthier eating, companies have begun introducing healthy product options in easy to carry formats. From 100-calorie packs and pouches of pureed fruit to a frozen food aisle with a full section of organic products that can be made in minutes, there is now an array of healthy products available for on-the-go eating. The perception of convenience food as unhealthy has slowly begun to shift as brands have responded to recent health foods trend.

The convenience factor

As commute times have become longer and schedules have gotten busier, more US consumers are choosing to snack rather than sit down and enjoy meals. A recent survey estimates that nearly half of all eating occasions happen on the go. As a result, many restaurants are altering portion sizes to meet the demand of today’s busy consumer. The convenience eating trend has crossed over into the consumer packaged goods industry, and shoppers are gravitating towards single serve packs, pouches, and grab-and-go items that can be eaten quickly.

The eating habits of U.S. consumers are changing, and companies are responding by developing new products that align with recent food trends. For today’s consumer, convenience is key but leading a healthy lifestyle is also important. Businesses interested in connecting with modern-day consumers have been coming up with innovative single-serve packages for easy on the go eating and developing healthier product options. As a result, perceptions of convenience food have begun to shift.

If your CPG company is interested in capitalizing on the latest trends in convenience eating, begin by testing your ideas with the market.

Coconut water has been a staple in tropical countries for centuries. The unique beverage, which is not to be confused with coconut milk, is typically served fresh from young, green coconuts in places like Brazil, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean. It is a popular drink choice among local residents and tourists alike. But in recent years, the niche product has been catching on in the United States. Here’s how coconut water made its way from the tropics to the U.S. market and some important takeaways for businesses.

There are various rumors out there about the benefits of coconut water. Some companies claim that it can be safely injected into patients suffering from dehydration because its content is similar to human blood plasma. Others suggest that it’s more hydrating than regular old H2O. While most medical professionals wouldn’t advocate for using coconut water as an IV substitute, one thing is for certain: the unique, natural drink has taken the beverage industry in the United States by storm. Companies like Vita Coco, O.N.E., and Zico are reaping the benefits.

Coconut water was introduced to the mainstream U.S. market a decade ago. As the story goes, Vita Coco co-founders Ira Liran and Michael Kirban were inspired to develop their product after talking with two Brazilian women in a New York City bar. The women talked about how much they missed coconut water since moving from Brazil to the United States. After taking subsequent trips to Brazil to learn more about the unique drink and testing out the concept in the U.S., Liran and Kirban launched Vita Coco in 2004. Shortly after Vita Coco’s launch, two other major brands emerged. Zico and O.N.E. developed their own versions of the tropical beverage in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

The concept didn’t take long to catch on in the United States. Coconut water was initially popular with health-conscious consumers. The three major brands touted coconut water’s unique benefits, including its mineral and electrolyte content, in their marketing efforts. For active Americans, coconut water became a popular alternative to sports beverages. It contains fewer calories, sugar, and more electrolytes than your average bottle of Gatorade. Despite its higher-than-average bottled beverage cost – most coconut water products cost between $2-$3 – it caught on quickly because Vita Coco, Zico, and O.N.E. did such an effective job with their marketing campaigns. Well-known celebrities have also helped boost the popularity and visibility of the unique tropical beverage. Madonna and Matthew McConaughey were early investors in the Vita Coco brand, and Rhianna, Sienna Miller, and Jessica Alba have also added fuel to the coconut craze. Countless other celebrities have been spotted enjoying coconut water.

The rest, as they say, is history. By 2009, Ira Liran and Michael Kirban’s Vita Coco had posted sales of close to $20 million in the United States. Last year, domestic sales of coconut water topped $153 million. Experts predict that those numbers will continue to increase in the coming years. Ongoing celebrity endorsement, effective marketing, and investment from beverage giants like Coca Cola and Pepsi are helping keep coconut water in the spotlight. It continues to fly off the shelves at local grocers and specialty stores around the country.

Coconut water’s success can be attributed to effective marketing and product positioning. In the past decade, Americans have become much more health-conscious and aware of what they’re putting into their bodies. As a result, the demand for more natural products has grown considerably. Coconut water is both natural and rich in minerals and nutrients. The three most popular brands have done an excellent job marketing their beverages to appeal to health-conscious consumers.