In the newest issue of The Lempert Report, food expert Phil Lempert writes that 2011 brought us higher food prices at unprecedented levels, crops and livestock destroyed by global weather catastrophes, nations at war over the lack of food supplies and more food recalls from unique points of origin. Americans love their foods – in supermarkets, on television, at restaurants and now even on their mobile phones – we are a nation obsessed with food trucks, molecular gastronomy and struggling to eat as local as we can. All of which has built a foundation for what may be one of the most exciting – and game-changing years in the food world: Welcome to Food 2012.

Trend #1: Food Prices
There is little doubt that in the coming years, we will continue to see food prices rise based on environmental conditions as well as offsetting higher production costs. The costs of fuel, feed, packaging, and food safety coupled with a higher demand for export all will factor into the retail price on the shelf. Many of the savings tactics most shoppers deployed in 2007 as the recession began, are still being used each time they shop for groceries – using coupons, frequent shopper cards, shopping lists, shopping at non-traditional foods stores and even trading down their choices to less expensive brands are part of the regular routine. Look for consumers to shave costs by augmenting their recipes by decreasing the amount of the more expensive meats and seafood and adding more non-meat proteins that are filling and less expensive, including adding whole-wheat pasta, tofu, lentils, brown rice and vegetables to recipes. Look for supermarkets to offer "lay-away" plans for larger purchases including holiday dinners that are tied into frequent shopper plans and offer bonus discounts (put $200 in your lay-away fund and store adds 10% bonus) and resurrect the bargain bins from the bygone department store era for deeply discounted opportunistic buys to compete with the dollar stores and outlets. Expect shoppers to use their mobile devices to calculate a price per portion cost rather than the unit price of individual products listed on the shelves. Just as the younger generation uses social networking as part of their everyday lives, expect this generation to be the "forever frugal consumer" using more coupons (higher than any other demographic) and searching for deals online (63% spend three hours or more each week - double that of any other group). Besides saving money, perhaps this will even force Americans to finally slim down.


Trend #2: Never Shop or Eat Alone Again

The rise of food blogs has set a foundation for group food experiences. Food trucks tweet their locations and flash food raves assemble underground at midnight. And it is not about the food. It is about connection, conversation and a sense of community. It is estimated that 30% of today’s U.S. workforce is made up of independents – as a result they have a greater desire to be in a shared food experience – “let’s meet & eat” if you will. Apps like Foursquare, GoWalla, Living Social and Yelp have shown how “group” is better than “self” and expect to see super food apps that bring previously unknown people together with common likes; to eat, prepare and shop together. Organic and coordinated through these apps, these communities will emerge based on specific channels of food interest (e.g., Greek foods, raw foods, beef, vegetarian, gluten-free) versus the communities of old built around similar demographics or socio-economic traits. One key to success will be embracing LoSoPhoMo - mobile marketing enhanced by the location, social and camera features of mobile devices. Expect the next app updates to include “social rewards” for these groups who shop together – much like the original concept of warehouse clubs – offering steep discounts for its members.