Whether healthy snacks on the go or fresh ingredients for cooking at home, consumer food trends determine the reality of retailers. Among these trends: lack of time and the need for specific meal solutions.
Whether it’s the workday, the daily commute or their private time, more and more people are on the go. At the same time, there are also many people who consciously want to decelerate their lives. Our eating habits are also affected by this paradox: Convenience food is becoming increasingly popular, especially among young, agile people, while a food "countermovement" supports ‘slow food’ and sustainability.
Both of these food trends have a major impact on retailers, who try to serve all consumers’ needs. A closer look shows how retailers are striking this balance, and how we at IFCO support them in doing so.
On the one hand, there are the consumers and ‘foodies’ who support a "slow food" approach. In a UK survey of grocery shoppers, millennials said they seek healthier food choices. They also want to know exactly where their food comes from and how it’s made. For consumers like these, the aim is to counteract the rise of fast lifestyles, to support local food and to combat people’s dwindling interest in where food comes from.
The Slow Food movement supports buying locally grown commodities and taking more time to cook – and then enjoy these meals at the table. Such consumers tend to be keenly interested in protecting the environment and avoiding waste. To reach these consumers, retailers need to communicate that they recognize these goals with sustainability messaging – so consumers understand that what they buy is "environmentally friendly." A McKinsey market analysis shows that shoppers will remain loyal to retailers with high quality fresh food, specifically fruits, vegetables and meat. Sustainability is the keyword here, and we at IFCO know exactly what this means.
"RPCs do not need to be recycled after every use, resulting in less energy consumption and landfill waste overall."
Selecting the right packaging, therefore, should be part of a retailer’s strategy. For decades, IFCO RPCs have provided a more sustainable solution for the fresh supply chain than single-use packaging. As Kim Hugow, Technical and Product Manager at IFCO, explains, "Some disposable packaging can be recycled, but these products still require a greater expenditure of resources to produce their material. RPCs do not need to be recycled after every use, resulting in less energy consumption and landfill waste overall." IFCO RPCs support product waste reduction by extending shelf life extension. The RPCs produce up to 60% less CO2 and 86% less solid waste than single-use packaging, while using 64% less energy and 80% less water.
Several studies also have shown that IFCO RPCs protect fresh produce and prolong freshness better for longer. These RPCs provide superior ventilation and cold chain protection, which helps remove field heat at harvest and ensure faster cooling and optimal temperature throughout the supply chain. As the studies confirm, the ventilation provided by IFCO RPCs is key to maintaining proper temperature and moisture along the entire supply chain.
Fast-paced, busy lives: Mostly tech-savvy and collaborative millennials – now the largest workforce demographic in western nations – have sparked change in the way retailers do business. With their packed schedules, these consumers often prefer healthy foods on the go, yet they don’t want to spend time washing, peeling or dicing fresh produce. This means retailers must look for new ways to make life easier for the consumer. Retailers also need to make the shopping experience more convenient – while maintaining standards of quality far above typical convenience-store fare. A grocery store’s assortment might include grab-and-go items, prepared foods, frozen meals and loose fruit and vegetables for shoppers looking for a quick snack.
To fulfill customer wishes fast, food producers are increasingly offering packaged fruit and vegetable snacks, such as ready-made salads, sliced apples, snack carrots or mini cucumbers. These shoppers also increasingly want healthy convenience foods, such as salad bars or vegetable side dishes that they pick up at the supermarket deli for meals at home. Overall, the market for fresh-prepared foods is annually roughly $25 billion in the US, according to market research firm Supermarket Guru.
Consequently, high-quality commodities are required along the food chain. The successful introduction of new convenience products requires not only novel ideas for products but also accurate knowledge of the needs of all market participants. Experts from IFCO, therefore, establish close links with – and between – growers, consultants, processors, food wholesalers, importers, exporters, retailers and catering specialists to develop a better understanding of consumer demands and industry needs. Kim Hugow adds, "Convenience products, for example, can also benefit from automation in food production facilities. RPCs can be used to transport fresh produce to producers’ facilities, and then to transport pre-packed food to retailers." This means IFCO can design and deliver new RPCs that respond to the growing demand for convenience food – like the following example shows.
Amidst these two trends, there remains another: Consumers are buying less food but shopping more often since the number of single-person households is growing. This trend is especially true in Europe. Further, millennials tend to cook less and prefer semi-prepared food. "That is where our new crate comes in," says Hugow. The RPC Mini Series crates are designed to protect refrigerated prepared foods, keeping them cool and reducing damage in transit. Notes Hugow, "This means less wasted food and higher-quality products at point of sale."
The RPC Mini Series development basically started with sandwiches in the UK. Sandwiches are a quick turnover industry with many products on the move in a short time. However, transporting higher sandwich quantities isn’t as easy as one might think, in part because UK sandwiches are cut into triangle halves. "Some retailers first tried our 300 x 400 mm sized crate, which is half of a standard Green Lift Lock RPC, but this crate didn’t pack up well," Hugow explains. A significant amount of empty space remained even when the crates were packed because only 6 sandwiches could fit at a time. As a result, UK retailers and sandwich companies asked for a way to ship and handle less sandwich crates.
Hugow and his team came up with a solution. "Our sandwich crate is quarter of the original size, and it can hold 5 sandwiches," he says. As a result, the sandwiches are packed inside perfectly, and in an appealing way, ready to sell. "We get more than a third more product on a pallet compared to the previous configuration with the 300 x 400 mm crate," Hugow adds. This efficiency leads to lower transportation costs for suppliers and less space needed in the distribution centers.
The production of the RPC Mini Series began in February 2020. At the moment, the UK rollout is underway with 30,000 RPCs: "After those first months of use, we can confidently confirm that the crate suits its purpose." Further, this is the first quarter-sized reusable crate on the market," adds Hugow. "As soon as the word spread that we used our new RPC Mini Series crates in the UK, customers from all over Europe asked for them, also." Whether customers want food fresh, fast or both, IFCO is continuing to create sustainable solutions to meet retailers’ needs.