retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Each year at this time, I find myself scouring the internet to take the pulse of what people are saying is hot and what’s not on the table, on retail shelves and in restaurants. That's particularly appropriate this year, which has been named the “International Year of Pulses.”

That pulse declaration was made by the United Nations General Assembly, and is being touted on social media platforms worldwide. Full disclosure: I just learned that pulses are legumes such as dry beans, lentils and peas. On a macro level, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is promoting pulses as “nutritious seeds for a sustainable future.” And in the gourmet legume aisle, tastemakers will find that cranberry beans and black beluga lentils are the “it” pulses this year.

Acai, I say: Challenging pulses for the “superfood” designation is the acai berry. Having mastered the pronunciation of quinoa, we can now add acai (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) to our vernacular. The acai berry is a grapelike fruit harvested from acai palm trees, which are native to the rainforests of South America. Acai bowls utilizing the berry and a variety of toppings (oatmeal, peanut butter, fresh fruit) are being touted as the new go-to breakfast favorite at smoothie and juice shops across the country.

Cue the disrupters: According to consultants Baum and Whiteman, the two most noteworthy trends in 2016 are not food-centric, but rather “disrupters” in the form of high-speed food delivery to homes and offices and a national conversation regarding the tipping and pay disparities at restaurants. Consumers who are accustomed to immediate delivery gratification from a high-end restaurant or 7-Eleven will be demanding the same from their local retailer, whether it be via uberEats, Amazon Prime Now or a yet-to-be-named service. Look for high expectations in urban areas.

More boxed dinners on doorsteps: The popularity of subscription delivery meal kits continues to grow. Consider this: Blue Apron now delivers 5 million meals a month, up from 500,000 just 18 months ago. It continues to lead the category with Plated and Hello Fresh. But upstart competitors such as Sun Basket and Freshology are moving beyond the standard and vegetarian menus, offering gluten-free, organic, paleo diet, low cholesterol and lactose free meal options.

An oenophile’s worst fear: Sales of wine packaged in a can are on the rise. Whole Foods will introduce Presto sparkling wine in a can this spring, and the Union Wine Company in Oregon is proud to bring “good wines everywhere with less fuss.”

Other predictions percolating on line:

• The National Restaurant Association survey of 1,600 chefs reported consumers remain focused on locally sourced meat, seafood and produce. The chefs themselves are looking farther afield to Africa for inspiration and spices.

• Expect more bold new ice cream flavors such chorizo-caramel, hibiscus-beet and black pepper-butter pecan.

• ”Grass-fed” will be a new buzzword for products ranging from milk, eggs, yogurt, butter and cheese to packaged meat snacks and even protein powders.

• Purple potatoes, corn and beets will be adding that hue to snacks, drinks and even organic cornflakes.

• Look for vegetables to dominate the plate in the form of carrots wellington or beet tartare, with meat, poultry or fish as the side dish. Zucchini ribbons will be replacing traditional pastas as well.

• Savory flavored yogurts will compete with vanilla and fruit flavored offerings

• Seaweed is the new kale.

What’s the business takeaway here? Savvy retailers should of course capitalize on the big trends - promoting locally sourced products and increasing delivery options. But there’s also a great opportunity to create easy-to-prepare packaged meals a la Blue Apron for in-store pick up or do a store demonstration on how to make an acai bowl at home (use the frozen puree with a blender and toppings).

As far as the wine in a can … I think I will let the millennials in my household give it a try first. They are already accustomed to wine in a box.

Comments? As always, send them to me at .
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