The Mother of All Trends

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The Mother of All Trends

By Don Longo, Convenience Store News - 03/11/2014

Happy New Year. Our first issue of 2014 takes a look at 14 key trends that our editors feel will have a significant impact on the convenience store industry this year. Some of those trends are driven by politics such as “The Living Wage Movement” and “It’s Obamacare Decision Time;” others by demographics such as “Driving in Decline” and “New Hotspots for Growth.”

But a few of the other trends, such as “The Mobile Consumer,” “Grazing” and “Coming Soon: The Convenience Restaurant Industry?” are being powered by an overarching trend that consumer research firm The Hartman Group calls the “Roadside Pantry Effect.” I think a better term might be “Perpetual Food Consumption,” and I feel this trend will help shape the future of food retailing.

Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt describes it as “a new twist on ‘the world is your oyster.’ The notion that ‘food is everywhere’ is a refrain heard almost constantly in food industry circles and is an accepted fact among consumers.” Consumers now navigate a world of 360-degree food availability, picking and choosing from a huge pantry of roadside as well as virtual options, according to Hartman analysts.

This trend obviously encompasses much more than immediate consumption and the widespread availability of food-on-the-go options at convenience stores and other retailers across the nation. To Hartman, these stores are like a roadside “pantry” from which consumers have 24-hour access.

And it goes beyond that. Consumers don’t stock up on food as they did in the past. They also change their minds on a whim. A planned shopping trip to the grocery store can quickly turn into a visit to a local restaurant, a phone call for takeout food or a stop at a convenience store.

The Hartman Group’s research shows that consumers don’t want to plan their meals in advance. “They can now eat on a whim, which makes food exciting and fun,” said Demeritt. “Even when they do have a plan for shopping and cooking, they can abandon it at the last minute and say, ‘Let’s have pizza instead.’ At work, they can say, ‘I don’t want to have Lean Cuisine today; I’ll do Chipotle’ [Mexican Grill], because they overhead a co-worker talking about it.”

I know that’s how we do meals at my home. I can’t count the number of times my wife or I have purchased ingredients for the evening meal, only to order takeout or go out to eat by the time we get home from work.

Some of this is technologically inspired as well, as Demeritt points out. A photo on Pinterest or a review on Yelp can easily change a consumer’s mind about that evening’s meal. Meals today are often a mash-up of different components — a takeout dish, a fresh veggie, something frozen — all purchased from a variety of different retail outlets. Seventy-seven percent of all eating occasions now include some sort of prepared food, according to The Hartman Group.

Whether you call it the Roadside Pantry Effect or Perpetual Food Consumption, consumers have an enormous array of food choices available, at any place, at any time. Convenience retailers with exciting food offerings and great service are particularly poised to benefit from this trend.