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Food marketing professor discusses eating patterns

January 31, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

The consumer drives the food industry. The U.S. population currently is about 290 million with less than 2 percent growth per year, but some sectors of the food market are growing much more quickly.

Food companies focus on those segments, such as organic, soy, vegetarian and health foods, according to John B. Lord, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Lord's professional interests focus on the changing eating patterns of the American consumer and how food companies are responding to the consumer challenge.

Lord made his remarks at the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Association's 86th annual meeting at the Kauffman Community Center Friday night. About 180 people attended.

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"Wal-Mart is the single biggest thing that impacts the food market," Lord said. "They have driven production offshore with their low prices."

Many more choices are available to the consumer now, Lord said.

"Fifteen years ago, we had Oreo cookies," he said. "Now, there are about 12 different varieties. We have Double Stuff, mini-Oreos, peanut butter Oreos, chocolate and peanut butter Oreos ... But the average household gets 80 percent of its needs from 200 products."

Some of the concerns of the American food shopper are obesity, wellness, safety and security. People are concerned about mad cow disease, food poisoning and the threat of bioterrorism impacting the food supply, he said.

With the rise of supercenters, club stores and mass merchandisers, the traditional supermarket has lost some of its market, Lord said.

"Dollar stores are putting in freezers and refrigerators," Lord said. "You can get milk at a dollar store. People want 'grab-and-go' convenience."

The influx of various ethnic groups to the country also has had a large impact on the food industry, he said.

"We've gone from the melting pot to the stir fry," he said. "In the 1950s, when I was growing up, everyone wanted to be part of the dominant American culture. Now, individual ethnic groups retain their heritage and character. There's an explosion in ethnic products and meals."

While convenience is critical and drives many food choices, "taste is first, and everything else is second. This is absolutely, positively true," Lord said.

People want food that is ready to eat or requires only heating, is portable and requires no utensils, he said. He cited chicken as an example - it used to sell as whole, raw chickens, then quarters, and now is sold marinated and precooked, ready to toss into a salad.

"Hamburger Helper used to be an excuse for cooking. Now it IS cooking," he added.

All of this has created a backlash, Lord said.

"There's a slow-foods movement," he said. "People are going back to natural ingredients and traditional ways of preparing food. It's city folk, and they're going to the downtown farmer's markets."

The low-carbohydrate craze has caused bread and pasta consumption to go down over the past year, while egg consumption has increased. Low-carbohydrate products will bring in $35 billion this year in an $800 billion food industry, Lord said.

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