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Millennials, Technology Drive American Food Trends

By Bill Roth

Millennials and an explosion of healthier new products enabled through next-generation technology are driving America past sodas and fast foods. Tellingly, Americans achieved a beverage milestone while I attended the 2017 Natural Products Expo West: They now buy more bottled water than soda.

The new recipe for food and beverage sales success is to be healthy, cool, diverse and meaningful. This new success recipe now accounts for a third of our food and beverage purchases totaling almost $200 billion annually.

2017 Natural Products Expo explodes with people, passion and new products

I have been attending the Natural Products Expo for five years. My first show attracted 20,000 people. The business buzz at that time centered around the growth of natural food and beverage products, which then outpaced fast food threefold. But in reality natural foods sales were a still niche market within the food industry.

What a difference at the 2017 Natural Products Expo West.

This year’s Expo West drew nearly 80,000 attendees. The explosion in attendance mirrors the sales success being achieved by natural foods and beverages. In 2016, natural foods and beverages won 7 percent sale revenue growth. This compares to the entire food industry eking out just a half of 1 percent in sales growth.

Millennials are driving natural food sales

Silverwood Partners previewed its research on the top 10 food and beverage trends at Expo West. By my estimate, the millennial generation with their search for foods that are “cool with a purpose” are the key driver for eight of Silverwood Partners’ top 10 trends.

For example, Silverwood’s No. 1 trend is the emergence of personalized nutrition. That screams millennials. As America’s most diverse generation, millennials seek personalized foods that align with their diversity and personal health focus. It is the millennial generation that is driving Silverwood Partners’ observation that “one-size-fits-all is falling fast as consumers turn to personalized nutrition data.” This goes a long way in explaining why 80 percent of millennials have never eaten a McDonald's Big Mac.

Silverwood Partners also noted the rise in alternative ingredients -- noting that the “younger generation" is "prompting further snack innovations.” Or, as a millennial would probably say it, "We want snacks that are cool, taste great and align with our lifestyles."

Millennials also contribute to the following food trends:

  • Meal kit delivery

  • Plant-based waters moving beyond coconut

  • Sustainability driving agriculture

  • Further decline of traditional grocery stores

  • Demand for more informative food labels, especially for sugar

The millennial generation is pushing the food industry into an Amazon-like business model. The four key components of this emerging food industry model are:

  1. Digital search, engagement and ordering

  2. Expanded, and continuously refreshed, food diversity

  3. Food delivery choices and convenience, most especially door delivery

  4. Sustainably produced food.

Future tech is driving food solutions

Attendance was not the only evidence of how the Natural Food and Products Expo West has grown. The product booths at my first Expo West were easily housed on just one floor of the Anaheim Convention Center. This year, they took up all three floors plus the ballrooms in the adjunct Marriott and Hilton hotels. Most attendees were amazed over how the Expo West was outgrowing its ability to display products within one of our nation’s largest convention centers.

Next-generation technology is a major force behind this explosion in product innovation. Food future tech is focused on solving for the human and planet health. An animal-, sugar-, caffeine-, fat- and chemical-based diet has pushed Americans into a weight crisis that is endangering our lives and ability to afford health care. In addition, this food system accounts for over 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Three future tech trends were identified at Expo West to solve food’s negative impacts on health and climate:

  1. Creating plant-rich diets

  2. Reducing supply chain climate change impacts

  3. Designing climate friendly food and beverage products.

The iconic American hamburger is an example of how future tech is driving innovation. Impossible Foods, based out of Silicon Valley, California, sells a plant-based hamburger that smells, tastes and sizzles like meat. Beyond Meat, a competing plant-based hamburger, is selling out at Whole Foods.

Future tech’s food focus is not to convert people into being vegetarians any more than the iPhone was designed to be a 'better' phone. Steve Jobs' goal was to disruptively change the definition of a phone to create unimaginable value. Future tech’s food focus is to be similarly disruptive, delivering a plant-rich diet that amazes us with its taste, smells and price competitiveness. And in doing so, this industry aims to deliver the solutions we so desperately need to combat obesity, diabetes and climate change.

With these mega trends in consumer demand and food future tech, it is only a matter of time before natural products and beverages achieves its next milestone of representing half of all American food and beverage purchases.

Image courtesy of Natural Food and Products Expo West

Bill Roth headshot

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

Read more stories by Bill Roth