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10 HOT GROCERY trends for 2012

Move over real estate, location belongs to food and beverage now.

1. Pure. It’s not just for honey
Last year’s hottest product claim was “natural.”  is year, expect to see another word showing up frequently on packaging: “Pure.”  e number of products with the word “pure” has increased steadily since 2008 and it’s fast reaching a tipping point, according to Innova Marketing. For instance, Minute Maid Pure Squeezed orange juice and Sobe Pure water. While natural products are now common on store helves, the “natural” claim itself is somewhat vague. Promoting a food’s purity is more direct and falls in line with what shoppers are seeking. Jennifer Armentrout, editor of the popular food magazine Fine Cooking, says her readers want meat without nitrates and foods that are simple and less processed. As a claim, “pure” says all of that.

2. Pop! goes specialty foods

Although specialty food sales are down slightly in some markets (such as the U.S.), a joint study by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade and Mintel shows that 59 per cent of consumers purchase specialty foods and most of those purchases are made in grocery stores. Just look at the expanded cheese department in many supermarkets.  e top three sellers in the premium category are fine chocolate, olive oils and yes, cheese. But the product with the most profi le at the 2011 annual NASFT show? Popcorn.

3. Location, location

“Where does it come from?” is a question more shoppers will ask this year. So expect to see more labelling initiatives– from individual grocers highlighting products from local farms to country-of-origin identifiers such as flags. Last year, Agriculture Canada ran a pilot project in grocery stores using shelf wobblers to identify Canadian foods. It led to double-digit hikes in sales of cheese, meat and processed food at supermarkets that took part in the trials.

4. The butcher is back

Like home canning, rustic bread and cheese making, meat is getting the artisan treatment. For foodies, craftsmanship equals quality. Lesser cuts are becoming more popular and the snout-to-tail trend of using the entire animal is gaining a small following. Karl Gregg, of Big Lou’s Butcher Shop in Vancouver, says shoppers seem to care where their food comes from and “they’re starting to figure out the butcher shop is where they’ll get what they’re looking for.” Expect to see more demand for the butcher’s expertise, even at the supermarket meat counter. A new Loblaws store in Toronto now offers a dry-aged beef service (right). Shoppers can choose their cut and have the store dryage it for 28 days.

5. Packaging: Green is the new black

Packaging will go green like never before in 2012. Over the past year we’ve seen some interesting attempts. British grocer Asda (owned by Walmart) started selling milk in a biodegradable milk carton dubbed the GreenBottle. Meanwhile, Seventh Generation, a natural cleaning products maker, introduced a liquid laundry detergent bottle made of cardboard. A plastic liner inside keeps the whole thing from getting soggy. Expect to see more experiments as well as green packaging labels, such as the FSC mark from the Forest Stewardship Council.

6. Boomers: a little help?

Boomers have been big drivers of the healthy food trend. But as they reach into their 60s and even 70s, they’re going to want more. One example: the easier-to-open jar.  is year already, Philadelphia-based Crown Packaging unveiled a jar that’s twice as easy to open as a normal jar. Called the “Orbit,” it consists of two parts: a central lid that vacuum seals to the jar and an outer ring for opening and closing that offers high torque. UK jam company Duerr’s was the first to use the Orbit jar. Meanwhile, “retailers can play a strong role by offering lighter grocery carts, visible signage and easy-to-navigate aisles” for seniors, says Mintel’s Dornblaser.

7. The joy of indulging

There’s a simple reason two relatively new grocery stores in Toronto–a Loblaws (below) and a Longo’s–both have large sweets counters. Shoppers want to treat themselves with chocolate, cupcakes and other baked goods and confections. It happens to be part of a fascinating high-low trend in grocery shopping. While people seek the cheapest prices on many pantry staples, they seem willing to dish out a bit extra for a few premium items–especially sweet ones. If the economy stutters again, consumers will want to indulge in even more foodie treats.

8. The chef is king

In fine restaurants, chefs are driving the trend toward local artisan foods, which they equate with goodness, sustainability and responsibility. John Horn, chef de cuisine of the stylish Toronto restaurant Canoe believes his success is about relationships: “Ultimately, it’s the farmer I’m working with.” But we’re also seeing grocers hire chefs to turn their home meal replacement sections from ordinary to extraordinary and help shoppers with their culinary questions. For instance, the just-opened Sobeys in Moncton employs a full-time Red Seal chef, a designation that recognizes a chef’s skill and knowledge.

9. Hurry up! Convenience counts

Shoppers were already time-starved during the recession. As the economy recovers (we hope), and people start working again, they’ll feel even more pressure. No wonder grocers are replicating the restaurant experience up-front, with expanded and fancier home meal replacement sections and plenty of seating. Meanwhile, the supermarket is shrinking. Walmart this year will open a mini-version of its Supercentre format in Toronto. In the U.S., Walmart has already sped up development of its smaller formats, such as Walmart Neighborhood Markets (above), and New York–based Wegmans and Tesco subsidiary Fresh & Easy are shrinking the store too.

10. Technology transforms the store

We’re already seeing it in the aisles. A growing number of shoppers are walking around the store with a smartphone aimed at their face. Expect that to increase even more this year as consumer packaged goods manufacturers capitalize on the marketing potential of QR codes and retailers link phone apps to their own sales eff orts. But there’s more. Food importers, for instance, are using Facebook and Twitter to encourage consumers to ask retailers for certain products. Two Canadian food importers specializing in European fancy food–Qualifirst Group and Dovetale Collections–are already on top of this approach.

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