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On the Go Is Where Food,
Beverage Are Going

Founder, Trendincite

How, when and where consumers eat and drink is changing, Amy Marks-McGee, founder, Trendincite, told attendees of the 102nd Annual NAFFS Convention. Their habits, she said, are influencing their food choices and how fast they get their food is an important factor. This, she said, is a global trend, not limited to the United States. Consumers are on the move; as a result, “Snackification” “Dashboard Dining” and the introduction of the “fourth meal” have become major drivers in new product development.

Marks-McGee said data shows that in 1985, consumers ate 19 meals per year in their cars. That number jumped to 32 by 2005 and to 18 meals per month in 2012 – nearly 20% of all their meals.

“Deskfast” is another phenomenon Marks-McGee identified as affecting product development. She cited results from a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers – two in three millennials either skipping breakfast or eating lunch at their desks two to three times per week. These consumers eat many of their meals “out”, where they can enjoy flex-casual or order at a counter and take their food with them. Younger consumers are eating at home but ordering their food in.

Manufacturers, she said, are responding. Portable breakfast items are being added to the shelves, offering little or no preparation time, ease of convenience and carry-friendly formats.

“Dashboard Dining” is happening all throughout the day; 28% of people surveyed said they eat in their car because of a long commute; another 25% said it’s for convenience or because they are in a rush.

Another area of new product development identified by Marks-McGee was meal kits. Made for at-home preparation, a lot of these new products are offered on a subscription-based service. Consumers say lack of time, small households and a desire to learn to cook are among the reasons they enjoy this format. Supermarkets, Marks-McGee said, have invested in their own meal kits that can be picked up at the store with fresh ingredients.

Marks-McGee said eating habits for many are evolving into all-day snacking because of busy lifestyles. She added that a Mintel report said “anything can be considered a snack.” The most popular snacks today are healthy, protein-packed snacks. People are being “mindful” about their snacking, she said, choosing items that also have function in their diet.

She identified a trio of snacks geared for different times of the day. For the morning, a morning cluster of ginger root, chia, green tea; for midday, dried apples, cayenne, walnuts for an afternoon boost, and; for evening calming, the ingredients are dark chocolate, lavender, turmeric and dried cherries to help with sleep.

Meal replacement items are also on the rise, Marks-McGee said. Tech companies, she noted, are playing a role. Whether it’s through vending machines, self-service, robotics, online order placement or cubbies for easy pickup, technology is playing a big role in the way people eat.

Vending machines, she noted, are a big trend. The service is quick, there’s little or no human contact and the items are available 24 hours a day, she said, citing cupcakes, cocktails and ice cream as well as champagne and fresh bowls with reusable glass containers as newer additions to offerings available in vending machines. When surveyed, people said they used kiosks or machines because they were viewed as faster, more customized or more accurate. 

Restaurant service is also changing to keep up with convenience and on-the-go demand, Marks-McGee said. According to a National Restaurant Association and Technomic study, about 60% of restaurant occasions are off-premises, across all forms, including drive-through, take-out and delivery. She said this indicates a need to speed up, streamline the dining process. She cited cashier-less stores, robotics, subscription delivery and food trucks as ways this is taking root.

Marks-McGee said that according to the Economist, there are currently more than 4,000 food trucks throughout the country, with a 7.9% annual growth rate for industry revenue. She cited a 24% growth in food and beverage launches with a food truck or street food claim. She said there’s an app to help consumers discover a food truck’s offerings and location. She said there are even food trucks with no people inside – for example, a smoothie shop on wheels called Ono Food.

Food halls are the new food trucks, Marks McGee said, offering consumers variety and portability in one place. This is a relatively new phenomenon, she said, with 300 major food halls expected to exist by the end of 2020. Consumers see this option as affordable, customizable and offering more options to take out, she said.

Just as Marks-McGee was finishing her presentation on the importance of food mobility, convenience and portability to consumers, the NAFFS luncheon rolled into the adjacent parking lot: four local food trucks offering delicious lunch options to the NAFFS attendees.

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