Shoppers don't want processed, pre-packaged food anymore

supermarket aisle
CC BY 2.0 Christian S

A drastic change in the way people shop and eat is having a huge impact on Big Food, which is scrambling to catch up.

Big Food is having a panic attack. Sales are plummeting steadily because shoppers are simply not interested in what big food companies have to offer. McDonalds’ sales per outlet have been dropping for the past three years. Frozen dinner sales are down 12 percent between 2007 and 2013. Per capita soda sales are down 25 percent since 1997. Orange juice consumption has dropped 45 percent, and sugary breakfast cereals are down 25 percent since 2000.

Shoppers don’t want to buy these kinds of processed foods anymore. We have learned about what goes on in factories; what is added to these foods to make them look, taste, and stay the way they do; and what sugar, fat, and salt do to our bodies, not to mention countless other additives. We are tired of the constant recalls and contamination scares.

"The outlook for the center of the store is so glum that industry insiders have begun to refer to that space as the morgue."

We have grown skeptical over years of misleading advertising and baseless claims, to the point where the companies have created brands for themselves that are more liabilities than assets. (Seriously, who wants to be seen chowing down on Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine?)

At the same time, many people have realized that cooking isn’t such a big deal. There are many resources out there providing instruction for quick, easy, healthy, and delicious food that can be pulled together in almost the same amount of time it takes to bake a frozen Delissio pizza (also owned by Nestlé).

As a result, the food companies are scrambling to regain lost market share. They have resorted to small, superficial solutions such as reducing sugar, cutting artificial flavor, and offer wholegrain versions. And yet, as Hans Taparia and Pamela Koch point out in their New York Times Opinion piece called “A Seismic Shift in How People Eat,” it won’t be enough to save them.

“To survive, the food industry will need more than its current bag of tricks. There is a consumer shift at play that calls into question the reason packaged foods exist. There was a time when consumers used to walk through every aisle of the grocery store, but today much of their time is being spent in the perimeter of the store with its vast collection of fresh products… The outlook for the center of the store is so glum that industry insiders have begun to refer to that space as the morgue.”

Taparia and Koch offer suggestions for how Big Food can try to save itself, and it looks an awful lot like an expansion of the current deli counter at the supermarket. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d go so far as to suggest that Big Food’s time has come. The end is near, and that’s something to celebrate.

Big Food has done us few favors, other than help get dinner on the table a bit more quickly than usual, but society has collectively paid the price for that convenience in other ways for far too long, with expanding waistlines, rates of diabetes and heart disease skyrocketing, overflowing landfills from all the excess packaging, cruel factory farm production, and so on.

The faster Big Food can get out of the way, the sooner we can get on with revamping our food system, teaching our children about good nutrition, establishing better daily cooking skills, and nourishing our bodies with fresh, seasonal ingredients that profit local farmers.

Shoppers don't want processed, pre-packaged food anymore
Industry insiders now refer to the inner aisles of the supermarket as "the morgue." No wonder Big Food is in a panic.

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