Late last week the Toronto daily newspaper The Globe and Mail ran a fascinating article on the influence of foodies on the things that we eat. The piece includes a look in inside the Loblaws test kitchens, product development, innovation and premium Private Brand PC Black Label.
How foodies influence the things we eat
It is a rare chef who invites her guests to spit out her food.
But in the test kitchen of Loblaws headquarters in Brampton, Ont., before presenting a meticulously assembled 12-course tasting menu, executive chef Dana Speers gestures to a stack of paper cups on the steel counter.
“These are the spit cups,” she says cheerily. “We use them all the time, so don’t feel like you’re offending us.”
Like sommeliers who could never get through a tasting upright if they swallowed every drop, the product developers standing around this counter are used to discreetly using their cups when sampling items such as caramel Greek yogurt or cake pops. At Loblaws, this is known as “group” – a daily meeting at 10:30 a.m., when the palate is fresher (fatigue sets in by 2 p.m., I’m told). It’s where developers judge whether products are ready for market.
This exercise has become more complicated, both for the grocery giant and for marketers trying to win over consumers increasingly influenced by foodie culture. There’s an effort to hunt down cutting-edge trends so that, by the time they become big, companies already have something ready to sell to aspiring gourmands.
Foodies’ impact on the industry has never been greater. “Particularly over the last five years, we’ve seen a real, dramatic shift in consumer behavior as it relates to food,” says Robert Carter, executive director of food service at NPD, a market research company, citing a panel that NPD regularly conducts tracking the eating behaviors of roughly 100,000 Canadians. Those behaviors are changing, he adds. “We are in an environment where consumers are so much more educated about the food they’re consuming. That’s having a real impact on the types of products being launched in the market.”