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The New Age of Eating

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One of the future-oriented topics at last -autumn’s was the exploration of today’s consumers’ ‘new food mindset’ derived from the GDI’s newly -released 2013 European Food Trends Report and condensed into eight theses presented by and David Bosshart. Here’s a summary by co-author

1 Desperately seeking food skills – The status gained by a new food mindset. In an age where food as romance collides with food as science, a large portion of the population in the wealthy yet aging countries of Europe and North America are finding personal fulfilment in the acquisition of the skills of the kitchen. The need to live an ‘authentic life’ drives much of this new status. The ability to cook, especially to cook well, lends new status to the practical yet romanticized individual, the ‘foodie’. While the new food mindset values the professional time commitment surrendered in the knowledge economy during the week, it also values a vocational calling in the sensual realm. This can even be observed in the growth of online food pictures, posted on apps such as Pinterest and Instagram, which are fast becoming the most important communications ‘short-hand’ for socially active and media savvy cognoscenti.

2 The ‘life-time’ investment – Learning early, cooking & eating well forever. Modern industrial societies are awaken-ing to the economic reality that teaching children to eat well when they are impressionable and forming taste profiles increases the likelihood of them becoming healthier adults. While this idea is advanced by both public health activists and public culinary personalities, often the socio-economic realities create a two-tiered system for implementation. This means that schools and public forums will need to increase education and cultural awareness of food and health. Early transference of knowledge about cuisines, nutrition and culinary skills is crucial to a healthy society.

3 Forget mediocre ‘desk dining’ – Corporate food and the astonishing evolution of a boring category. As competition for skilled knowledge workers becomes more intense, one tool being deployed by the most forward-leaning companies is a new focus on the quality and diversity of food being offered in the workplace. The new canteen or company dining hall is a significantly important and highly leveraged corporate asset and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. The question asked in many leading edge corporate offices is “where should we have lunch today?” The answer is more and more becoming “I know, let’s go to the Cafeteria.”

4 Working meals – Less swank, more enterprise. Just as the company canteen is becoming the meeting place for corpor-ate employees on a regular or often daily basis, the outside business lunch has -also undergone significant changes. A generation ago it was not uncommon for a working lunch to be more about the place than the food and beverages being ordered in a white table cloth restaurant. In today’s climate the working lunch is more about work and less about the lunch. Internal catering for small meetings, fast access food bars, or lower cost (sometimes free) meetings taken in cafes and bistros are becoming the norm. Healthy menu offerings, power or energy boosting drinks, and faster service times are standard. The face-to-face meeting over a meal is still a crucial business communication tool, but the cultural expectations for where and how those meetings are conducted are fast becoming what really matters.

5 Shopping and dining – Restaurants in malls become the new anchor stores. Once retail centres were the domain of traditional hard goods retailers. As shoppers moved to finding those commodity items on-line, were less inclined to purchase impulse products while window shopping, or simply became bored with the retail selling space, sensory exciting restaurants and food courts moved up to become the purchase attraction. Throughout the retail space, the food offering is now more important as the draw for footfall than the name brand apparel or high end electronics outlet. Coffee bars, snack kiosks, and full-service fine dining restaurants are all the drivers of traffic in mall and retail centres. High street shops now feature in-store cafes; while traditional department stores have redesigned entire floors of food and food products. It is not unusual to hear one customer say to another, “I think I’ll have the Porcini Risotto … and take the Hermes scarf in hot pink” as they stroll through the store.

6 The new age of eating – The awaken-ed consumer. The choices for human beings have changed through time and economic circumstances. When survival is paramount, the primary question is “What can I eat?” When daily life is more stable, and conveniences are present, the questions become, “Where and when do I eat?” In a new age of eating, the awakened consumer makes food choice a personal statement, and asks, “How and why do I eat?” These new food choices, while seemingly unlimited, come with a social cost, including such things as the pathologies of diabetes, obesity, or food allergies; conflicts such as scarcity and distribution; the industrial efficiency of GMOs versus the sustainability of biodiversity; or in lifestyle decisions as different as veganism or low carbohydrate/high protein diets.

7 The quality revolution of mobile food –Hand-held fine dining. Mobil-ity, in all things, is a social trend brought about by new computerization, miniaturization, and a need for convenience in a time-starved daily life. Certainly fast food has been a part of this for more than 50 years. The premise in this thesis is that the availability of high quality ingredients, the casualisation of manners and etiquette, and the mobility of a population on-the-go all have conspired to make the consumption of items ubiquitous. Better quality food in easier to use formats requires items that are in a quick, convenient and affordable package – most often appearing as a handheld delight. Snacking, vending and impulse purchases are the new normal. Sit down, full-service meals are still prevalent but are becoming more age cohort specific, the young eat on the run, the old eat at a table. But habits formed early (see Thesis 2 above) tend to predict consumption behaviours later in life.

8 Airside, landside, railside – Dining at transportation hubs as a part of the journey.Travel, even for those on a tight budget, often used to require long periods of time. Meals were part of the experi-ence, whether on a train, boat or plane. Booking a passage also came with class specific dining options. But, just as mobility has entered the daily routines of the average person, meal service on the transportation conveyance has changed the way food is consumed during transit. Commercial airlines have uncoupled meals from the expectation of flight, to the benefit of ‘air side’ foodservice providers such as HMSHost and SSP; now meals are carried on board by the passengers. Trains have lost full dining cars, but the Main Station has become a thriving food court. Combined with new security requirements and longer flight layovers, the travelling public is being trained to plan their excursions to include a meal at the airport or train station.

This new European Food Trends Report concludes by observing that while being pushed and pulled in many directions, the consumer today is longing for healthy, fresh, sustainable, and good tasting food, but they need to have it provided in a convenient and cost-effective manner. The challenges of the not too distant past, such as survival or limited choice are today quickly becoming ones of over-abundance of choice but with less and less time to enjoy them. The poles of ‘Science vs. Romance’ are still far apart, but for some very interesting new reasons.