In 1950, the average home kitchen held 10 spices, seasonings and extracts. Today that number is over 40. Eating at home is growing – 83% of Americans say they are eating more at home and going to restaurants less. The perimeter area of major supermarkets, where the fresh products are sold, is growing at twice the rate of the core area where packaged products are located. Consumer trends are all pointing towards more interest in freshness, flavors from all over the world, and healthier alternatives. So where do foods and flavors go from here?
To find out, I spoke with a number of people including Brendan Foley, President of Global Consumer and Americas Region at McCormick, the world’s largest purveyor of spices, with revenue of over $5 billion. Foley and others points out these trends:
The increase in cooking at home means greater impact of consumers’ decisions and less influence from professional chefs. That makes it more important for food and flavor companies to reach consumers directly and that means more presence on social media. Foley of McCormick says, “the phone eats first.” He means that so often, completed dishes are shared on social media and seen by Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest viewers before they’re ever eaten by people.
Heat – Pepper is on the rise. Foley says the use of pepper allows a consumer to make a dish their own and is a great shortcut to experiment with flavor.
Seeds – Seeds are now perceived as high in nutritional content and an excellent add-in for many foods that add texture and visual appeal. Seeds also absorb flavor, increasing the impact of flavor and spice, making them great catalysts for more memorable tastes.
Convenience – As with so many other aspects of consumer behavior right now, the need for convenience (so important for many trends including the growth of Amazon) is a key factor in the spice business. McCormick has seen an increase in pre-mixed blends of spices that allow consumers to experiment in ways they could never do on their own. Truffle salt is a good example of a popular flavor trend but something a consumer would find difficult and time-consuming to create on their own. East African flavors are another new trend, including a spice blend for grilling called Berbere that includes chili pepper, garlic, ginger and basil. It’s a hard combination for a consumer to get right by making it from scratch but a pre-mixed blend can easily personalize a dish. Not coincidentally, that kind of value-added product is a higher margin sale for the spice purveyor.
Fewer recipes – More consumers are taking pride in creating their own dishes without structured recipes.
Salt – I’ll start by admitting: I have no data on this one. But salt is everywhere. You’ll see it in the mythical Himalayan salt which is now on fashionable dining tables, despite no evidence that it’s better for taste or health. If you have a beauty routine, there’s a good chance that salt is there too, in your bath, on your face and in your body scrub. Growth in table salt is also positively impacted by the questioning of the deleterious effects it has long been believed to have on heart health.
As with all good consumer trends, there are now startups specializing just in salt. Jacobsen Salt Co. hand-harvests salt from Netarts Bay on the Oregon coast. Their products include not just table salt, but (delicious) salty candies including caramels, honey nut chews and licorice.
What’s Happening At Retail
Spice and flavor can also be its own retail venue. That’s the point of Savory Spice, a 28-store retail chain that sells 554 varieties of spices and flavors on its website and in its stores. Savory Spice is attempting to be big by being small, making flavors personalized to keep consumers coming back. Savory Spice also develops proprietary content on its website that is relevant to people who are interested in curating food and flavors. Savory Spice’s founders, Janet and Mike Johnston, told me “the world and the internet have made exotic food less exotic, and spices are an easy way to…bring the flavor of another culture and a region to your home quickly.” For example they said, “cumin wasn’t one of the spices in our spice cabinets growing up. But now it’s a top five spice for us. It’s a critical flavor for Mexican, Indian and Moroccan [foods]… and you can’t make a chili powder without cumin for Tex-Mex.”
Savory Spice is also seeing trends in spices that are hard for consumers to access on their own, like black garlic. It’s a fermented garlic, originally from Korea but now grown in the US. It gets buried and fermented for a month and it’s now a trending ingredient in hummus. Accessing those more exotic flavors is a key advantage for a specialty retailer like Savory Spice.
Where This Goes
Bringing unique experiences to consumers is the challenge for an industry that was built having consumers take salt and pepper off the shelf for replenishment. In that way, the food and flavors business is facing the same issues as other consumer products businesses. Consumers want it conveniently and they want it personalized. They want to make more of their own foods and have it be identifiable as something they did themselves uniquely. Whoever gives them that on a mass basis can win.
My firm, Triangle Capital LLC, does mergers, acquisitions and capital-raising for consumer-related businesses. If you’re interested in that we should talk.