i2live recently sat down with Jill Houk, Consulting Chef, to discuss the major upcoming consumer trends for food manufacturers, and the correlations between the hospitality industry and food products.
Ms. Houk honed her culinary skills as a professional catering chef and cooking instructor, but even more than cooking, she loves developing new products and recipes for consumers. Although she originally pursued a career in information technology consulting, she later followed her dream of becoming a chef. She adeptly combines these two disciplines into culinary consulting—mixing the research and project-management skills she practiced in information technology with her knowledge of flavors, cooking techniques, and consumer dining trends that she learned as a chef.
Ms. Houk will share her insights in an exclusive i2live webinar, “Food Industry Trends 2012: Exploring the Relationships between Hospitality and Consumer Packaged Goods” on Thursday, March 22, 2012, at 2 p.m. ET | 11 a.m. PT
FOR A RECORDING OF THIS EVENT, please contact us.
What consumer trends should food manufacturers expect in the next five years? What are the key market factors that shape these trends?
The competing trends of local eating and global flavors will continue. On the one hand, consumers will become more attuned to local foods and local traditions, while continuing to embrace foods from all parts of the world. This will result in a fusion of global flavors using local ingredients. For example, we’ll see Indian and African spices and cooking techniques applies to local produce. The percentage of manufacturing within the U.S. will increase as a result of economic and environmental pressures. We’ll also see a greater emphasis on portion size and healthy foods.
What are the correlations between the hospitality industry and food/cookware products?
Consumers have increased the number of meals and snacks they eat in restaurants over the past decade — despite the economy — so it’s only natural that foods you find in restaurants and hotels make it to consumers’ home kitchens. An example is the localvore trend. Once restaurants began sourcing products locally and tending rooftop gardens, home consumers began to do the same a few years later.
How are ideas that come from hotels and restaurants expressed in the average grocery shopper’s choices?
Restaurant trends are generally simplified when expressed by home cooks. Continuing with the localvore trend, you may see that a restaurant grows 80-90% of its produce, and sources all meats from its own state and neighboring states. Home cooks, on the other hand, wouldn’t have as great a percentage of the food in their homes come from within a few hundred miles. You may see half of the foods being local, coming from the home cooks’ gardens, CSAs, and farmer’s markets, with the rest of the food coming from other parts of the world.
How do you help food manufacturers like Sara Lee and Ajinomoto translate trends into new packaged foods?
I track national and global trends in agriculture, foodservice, restaurants, hospitality and décor. I also work in consumer focus groups and privately with consumers in their homes to see what they use in their kitchens. From here, I help my food clients determine what trends will translate from the hospitality industry into home kitchens.
What are food companies’ major challenges in terms of delivering new trends/tastes in convenient formats, such as microwave-ready meals?
The biggest challenge is time. It can take six months to a year to develop new foods on a commercial scale. And by the time a food is perfected, market-tested, taken into distribution, and advertised, the trend may be over, or a competitor may have stepped in.
What should food companies do to stay on top of the latest consumer trends?
Read and observe as much as possible — not only what’s happening in the world of food, but also where public policy is heading. What’s happening in nutrition? What’s happening in architecture? What are the most popular TV shows? Each of these offers a glimpse into the consumer experience, and consumers’ aspirations. Also: dine out. Taste the different flavors and observe plating. Ask about technique. Here is where you’ll find inspiration for new consumer products.
How would you define culinary consulting?
Culinary consulting is as broad as any type of consulting. It can be anything from guiding a restaurant through selecting a location, negotiating a lease, building out a dining room, selecting décor, selecting dishes and glassware, defining a menu, hiring servers, and so on. Or it can be working with food companies and cookware manufacturers on specific parts of bringing a product to market. Where I engage in culinary consulting is in the area of consumer engagement, which means I help food companies understand consumers and guide them in developing and launching new products, as well as creating strategies that entice consumers to buy products. I also help with identifying and engaging brand evangelists, which are influencers outside of the company that use your products and explain to others why they should.
What are some ways you determine the next home-cooking trends?
I like to follow consumers on social networking sites, such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. Any time I see an item pinned frequently in Pinterest, I know that the public is receptive to it.
When it comes to determining these trends, what comes more into play for you: Your knowledge as a chef or your experience information technology consulting?
While I rely on both, my knowledge as a chef wins out. I can research what consumers want — which is a skill I learned in consulting — but knowing what works and what doesn’t in terms of flavors, textures and ease of use — which are chef skills — helps me determine what trends are traditions in the making and which are transitory.
What will your upcoming webinar focus on?
How companies can use the skills I have to chart trends and create new consumer goods. We all have the same information around us. I’ll share what information is important and what’s not, and how to use the information you find to create a pipeline of new products.
Jill Houk will be the featured presenter in an i2live webcast, “Food Industry Trends 2012: Exploring the Relationships between Hospitality and Consumer Packaged Goods” on Thursday, March 22, 2012, at 2 p.m. EDT. Ms. Houk will present her research findings on the latest food trends and her own insights from years of experience consulting for Ajinomoto, Applegate Farms, Driscoll’s Berries and Sara Lee. Sign up now (free).