Perimeter Trends: ‘Quick and Easy, But Healthy’  10/25/2016

Having just moved into a new apartment with ample kitchen space, I’ve taken to preparing most of my meals at home vs. eating at restaurants or bringing home prepared meals. With limited culinary skills, and even more limited time, the bulk of my cooking takes place either on my George Foreman grill or on one frying pan. So when I shop the grocery store, most of my selections are from the perimeter, and not only am I looking for healthier options, but also options that are convenient and quick to prepare.

And based on the responses from interviews with buyers and sellers attending ECRM’s recent Frozen, Refrigerated and In-Store Bakery EPPS, I’m not alone. It turns out that many consumers are doing just that. “They want quick-and-easy but healthy,” said one of several dozen attendees interviewed by ECRM staff during the EPPS meetings. “They are interested in grab-and-go items that are natural or organic, or that have cleaner ingredients.”

Indeed, shoppers are seeking transparency and clean labels throughout all perimeter categories, and are also increasingly turning to the perimeter for healthier snacking options between regular meals. While gluten-free sales are beginning to flatten -- though they are still very strong -- according to one attendee, other “free-from” categories are still going strong, such as antibiotic-free, non-GMO, and preservative-free, as shoppers look for simpler ingredient lists, sustainable sourcing, and clean labels. Protein remains popular, particularly grass-fed meat and dairy, as are ingredients like coconut oil and seeds like flax and chia. And when it comes to beverages, functional is a favorite – especially kombucha beverages. Eggs, too, are increasing in popularity, particularly organic eggs from cage-free chickens (I start every morning with a two-egg omelet, hence the frying pan). “Buyers are looking for higher-quality products, and are willing to pay for that quality,” said one supplier.

When it comes to meats, three key trends were noted by attendees: locally-sourced, convenience, and all-natural. The convenience factor has a lot to do with the fact that consumers are snacking more throughout the day, yet are doing so with healthier products, so any packaging or innovations that make perimeter items more portable – even if they are traditionally not snacks – will be embraced by these consumers. These include breakfast bowls and sandwiches (or wraps), and items that come in portable and re-useable packaging. One attendee specifically called out a sliced pepperoni snack with packaging that fits into the cup holder of a car – part of the paleo grab-and-go trend.

New and Different Flavors
In addition to healthy ingredients and convenience offerings, flavor and product innovations are also trending around the perimeter, according to EPPS attendees, particularly premium items like artisanal cheese and products with unique and exotic/ethnic ingredients and spices. Among items cited by attendees were premium frozen waffles, spicy cheese, Asian food and noodles, frozen vegetable tots and mashed cauliflower, and they are being seasoned with Himalayan salt and accompanied by ancient grains. “People are looking for something different,” said one buyer attendee. “These are profitable items that may generate less volume but better sales.”

As a consumer, I can definitely vouch for this – in my recent foray into making jalapeno poppers, I opted for the hand-formed mozzarella, and gladly paid extra for it!


Joseph Tarnowski

VP Content

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