How do you describe mealtime during the pandemic? On the one hand, it’s about consumers at home stepping up like never before to embrace cooking and meal preparation. On the other hand, this routine can seem old after a while.
“Mealtime fatigue has set in,” said Krystal Register, MS, RDN, LDN, who leads health and well-being initiatives for FMI — The Food Industry Association. “People are tired of pulling together three meals a day, especially with kids of all ages in the house. So we have the opportunity in retail and baking to help shoppers who are looking for inspiration. Specifically, they want convenient, pleasurable, and healthy ideas.”
Register made her comments on the American Bakers Association podcast Bake to the Future. She was interviewed by Katie Juhl, ABA’s Director of Marketing and Communications, and Hailey Blumenreich, Marketing and Communications Manager.
Exploring the Retail Dietitian’s World
Register says it was a “dream come true” to become a retail dietitian, because in the supermarket “there’s an opportunity to connect food to improving health and well-being.”
She served as nutritionist at Wegmans Food Markets for 12 years before joining FMI in June. The Wegmans position enabled her to influence how health and well-being plays out across the retail enterprise, from merchandising to operations.
The Pandemic Shook Up Everything
Register was still working at Wegmans during the early months of the COVID-19 crisis. She recalls the rising anxiety levels of shoppers and the “all-hands-on-deck” mentality of retail associates, who showed extreme adaptability in serving customers.
Now at FMI, Register says the association’s extensive research reveals just how much consumer behaviors have changed during the crisis.
- By mid-March, consumers were already reporting shifts in how they shop, including with fewer trips to stores.
- During that same period, e-commerce was already accelerating, with many consumers purchasing fresh bakery items online for the first time.
- More than 40% of shoppers have reported cooking more, and about 40% also say they intend to eat out less after the pandemic period is over.
Opportunities to Inspire Consumers
Register — who considers herself an “eternal optimist” — sees big opportunities for the baking and retail industries to serve changing consumer needs. Here are a few ideas she offered:
- Nutrition and Health: “I like to suggest including more whole grains in eating, because so many people don’t. One idea is making a sandwich that includes a piece of enriched flour bread, and a piece of whole grain bread. That’s a fun way to get there.”
- Private Brands “During the pandemic, 59% of shoppers have turned to private brands, sometimes when these were the only options available. Shoppers have indicated they are more open to private brands. Bakery wholesalers and suppliers may have an opportunity to help revamp some of the retailers’ private brand options to offer new and enhanced product lines.”
- Convenience: “I really think convenience is key right now. When meal fatigue sets in, food needs to be easy. We’re seeing more shoppers take advantage of value-added options that can reduce baking and cooking time.”
- Fun and Creativity: “It’s important to be fun and creative. One example is creating a glorified happy hour tray that might include small pieces of great tasting bread. Or maybe crackers with nuts, fruit, cheese and olives — which can create a wholesome, healthy entertaining kind of meal.”
New Strategies for Family Meals
About five years ago The FMI Foundation launched the National Family Meals Month™ campaign to promote the benefits — including social, emotional, and health — of eating more family meals at home. The program has grown into a Family Meals Movement that encompasses a wide range of industry stakeholders. During the pandemic, of course, home-based meals have become prevalent.
Looking ahead, retailers and bakers have opportunities to further enhance home-based meals, including through new health and inspiration strategies, Register said.
“Maybe it’s about complimenting our made-at-home meal with a fresh baked item and a nice loaf of bread,” she said. “Or perhaps it’s a small dessert selection that really would help compliment that meal and make it more fun, bringing it to life. There are some great opportunities for the future.”