Food shopping isn’t what it used to be. Across the US, consumers are increasingly prioritizing values like discovery, diversity and curiosity.

For brands seeking to edge their way into the grocery cart, here’s some food for thought:

1. They’re open-minded. More than half of consumers say that they’re more adventurous with their food choices than they used to be, and 50% say it’s important for them to try new flavors, dishes and cuisines frequently. Since 2009, $18 billion in market share has moved from mass food brands to smaller rivals. While this is good news for startup independent brands and ethnic food innovators, it presents a challenge that established legacy brands ignore at their own peril.

2. They want to share their food experiences. Millennials in particular tend to style themselves as the early-adopting “food connectors” of their friends and families. Once such a consumer discovers a new restaurant or a kind of cuisine, they want to share it with others. “I see a lot on social media — people posting fun themed food parties they did and thinking that’d be a fun idea to do with my friends,” one millennial from suburban Alaska responded to an Iconoculture survey.


3. They seek balance, not comfort. Brands that rely heavily on the phrase “comfort food” and its associations have a hard time breaking through the fray. Just 38% of consumers seek “comfort” while eating, as compared to 43% in the past. In contrast, “balance” is twice as popular. One brand getting it right is Sheila G’s, which produces thinner versions of traditionally decadent desserts that speak to consumers’ moderation goals, such as Brownie Brittle.

This is the second article in a new series introducing research from Iconoculture, which is now part of the Gartner for Marketers​ research and advisory offering.

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