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Shifting consumer needs are shaping eating patterns

Shifting consumer attitudes, behaviors and demographics; an evolving marketplace with ongoing channel and digital disruptions; and increasing competition for consumer mindshare and dollars are changing the playing field for food companies and foodservice operators, according to The NPD Group. The key shifts are how consumers shop, define convenience, use restaurants and foodservice outlets, and personalize health and wellness, according to NPD’s recently released Eating Patterns in America report.

“Consumer eating attitudes and behaviors are evolving in ways that transform long-standing consumption patterns. Shifting demographics, changing meal composition, more fresh foods, and new attitudes on beverages all create challenges for growth,” said David Portalatin, NPD vice president, industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Today’s macro environment isn’t generating organic growth for the food and foodservice sectors so we’re dealing with a 1 percent world.”

In addition to changing consumption patterns, consumers are also making fewer visits to restaurants, opting to stay at home or spend their money on experiences or something else. As a result restaurant visits declined for the last several quarters, but evidence of the country’s stay-at-home culture is that foodservice delivery is growing.

Among the top factors contributing to the shifts in consumption are the attitudes and behaviors of two largest generational groups, baby boomers and millennials. Millennials have now surpassed boomers in numbers but boomers remain a large population and their behaviors still have a significant influence on the marketplace. For example, as boomers age they use restaurants less and their cutback has resulted in 292 million fewer restaurant visits per year. Like the boomers did before them, millennials, a generation strapped by sizeable student debt and other committed expenses, are agents of marketplace change as they move through their life stages. They continue to influence the food and restaurant industries with their want of authenticity, fresh and social consciousness.

“Although the food and foodservice industries are in a stalled growth mode, there are still pockets of growth,” said Portalatin. “To grow in these challenged markets will require renovation by some, reinvention by others, and by many a deeper understanding of what consumers really need and want.”