#BlountSummit - Final Update
After a break for lunch, it was time for Craig Levitt, managing editor of Grocery Headquarters to lead a deep dive into the subject of "Marketing to Millennials." After taking the attendees through the demographic and psychographic profile of this hugely important and massive market segment, Levitt drilled down into the sources of this group’s power and influence, which come from not only buying power that will dictate the landscape for manufacturers and retails for the next two or three decades, but also because this is the generation that has always know about, had and harnessed the power of social media and peer-to-peer influence.
Levitt’s discussion also unearthed preferences and biases within millenials that come from this group’s awareness of and commitment to principles of fairness and social justice, environmental stewardship and acceptance of global cultural differences. The last element, more than the others, drives this generation’s preferences for diverse culinary influence, spicy foods and “adventurous eating.”
Millennials, it was discussed, show a higher interest in and preference for “value” than other generations did at similar points in their buying lifecycle. This reality brought store brands to the fore in the discussion, which it turned out was also well-supported by available data.
Millennials and their penchant for spicy, world-inspired cuisine was the perfect set-up for the next discussion, which was led by Chris Warsow, corporate executive chef at Bell Flavors & Fragrances. Perhaps the day’s most fascinating discussion, Warsow mesmerized the attendees describing the process and timeline involved in identifying and staying ahead of culinary and taste trends. To learn that Bell Flavors is typically three or more years out in their trend spotting and product development seemed to blow away the majority of those in the room.
Peter Romeo, VP of content & editorial director at both Restaurant Business and Foodservice Director magazines, led the final segment of the Summit. He set up his discussion with a presentation that took a humorous look at the push/pull that goes on between consumers and consumer activists and restaurant chains over healthful options like lower-calorie, lower-fat and lower-sodium options on the menu. The “conversation” as Romeo set it up, goes something like this:
Consumer activists: “You need to offer more healthful options.”
Consumers, chiming in: “Yeah, that’s what I want!”
Restaurant Chain: “Right away! Here is our new super-healthy menu!”
From here is was discussed, with many anecdotal examples being bandied about, how those healthful menu items, and of course the inventory required to make them a reality, would then languish, unordered and unappreciated, until the restaurant accountants finally ask “What happened here?!?!”
This, it was explained by Romeo, is how it used to be… Or so we think. The reality, the ensuing discussion uncovered, is that there are plenty of indications that consumers are embracing healthier choices: the success of grilled vs. “crispy” chicken, alternative sides and smaller fry servings, and of course the host of successful new healthy restaurant concepts. But that, argued Romeo, was only half the story. For every success, there seems to be one or more counter-indications that healthy eating is where America’s dining public is trending.
As examples began to fly around the room, it became clear that one need look no further than the hottest products in recent memory: Taco Bell’s Doritos Taco, KFC’s Double Down, which saw cheese and bacon sandwiched between two fried chicken filets, and Wendy’s 1850-calorie Baconator. After a very lively discussion of crazy menu ideas, Romeo brought the group around to his thesis: the biggest change in consumer preference is not the desire for healthier food, it is the desire for more wholesome food, which means less-processed, fewer or no additives, locally-sourced ingredients, fresh baked, no preservatives, seasonal, etc. All of these terms, according to Romeo, communicate “health” in the eyes of consumers.
To celebrate a successful Summit, at the conclusion of the day’s discussion, Blount shuttled everyone by trolley to nearby Castle Hill Inn, one of Newport’s famous mansions that has been converted into an luxurious inn, and which offers breathtaking views of Newport Harbor, for a traditional New England lobster bake, which the group learned comes from the local Native American tradition of celebrating the conclusion of any major success with friends, neighbors and guests.