Trend Spotting – Choose Rice

Millennial mantra: Eat real food
Couple-eating-rice
CARLSBAD, CA – Who doesn’t love to be first with The Next Big Thing, especially if you’re in business and being at the front end of a trend translates into profit?  The key is knowing what’s going to appeal to consumers even before they do and that means being attuned to trends in their behavior.

At the recent Rice Millers’ Association Convention here, a couple of market data experts shared their analysis of recent consumption patterns and those who attended the session got a glimpse into the future of foodservice and what it means for rice.

Darren Siefer, with The NPD Group, drilled down on the shift in in-home consumption patterns where new consumers are likely to be single people looking to purchase an ‘experience’ rather than a product.  This new generation of consumers, known as millennials, is already in debt from spending on health care and education, and this has changed the way they view value.  It’s about quality not just price.  Their eating patterns reflect this – they’re snacking more on better food that’s ‘cleaner’ and healthier, and sourced from home.  How that food gets to their homes is changing.

Meal-kit boxes and online grocery shopping deliver fresh, convenient food in smaller portions that can be customized to unique tastes.  Today’s consumer equates fresh with healthy.  Millennials are looking for purity and authenticity everywhere, and Siefer said food marketers need to harness the fresh, local aspect of their products to appeal to this demographic.  

Rice usage is growing with this group, from 16 percent in 2014 to 20 percent in 2017, because it’s versatile, pairs well with protein, and can move from ‘beside’ the meal as a side dish to ‘inside’ the meal as the basis for the increasingly popular one-dish offerings.  Inside the meal also means inside the meal-kit box and Siefer strongly encouraged the industry to promote easy to prepare, healthy options, and consider partnering with meal-kit companies to deliver U.S. rice directly to home cooks.  

When millennials do dine out, you’ll find them at limited service operations, like Chipotle and Panera, rather than full service restaurants.  Limited service is the fastest growing segment in the restaurant business because it appeals to the new grazing culture that wants personalized food whenever they want it, not always at traditional mealtimes.  According to Technomic’s Wade Hanson, this is good news for rice because it fits well in the ‘build your own’ meal model.

Foodservice operators love rice because it is a consistent, high value product that is easily sourced and included in the healthy portfolio consumers want.  And where analysts see the biggest uptick for restaurant rice usage is with ethnic dishes made with aromatics, like basmati, jasmine, and arborio.  Recent restaurant food sales show the top six leading rice dishes are either Mexican or seafood, and an emerging trend leader of rice paired with beef.

Consumer data indicates the restaurant industry is primed for a shake-out as casual dining chains like Applebee’s are suffering.  Hanson said the next industry winners will be whoever can best capitalize on the current ‘wherever, whenever’ foodservice mentality that emphasizes a unique wellness experience coupled with one great sustainability story.  

“If, like our convention speakers suggest, telling the story of a food that is simple, clean, local, and sustainable, is the basis for success in today’s market place, rice is definitely on-trend,” said outgoing RMA Chairman Robbie Trahan.  “The selling points are there, we’ve just got to spread the word.”