Keynote speaker at the Supply Side East (SSE) trade show in Secaucus, New Jersey, Phil Lempert stressed that a better understanding of consumer trends is essential if the food world is to realize its opportunity and potential.
"What we need to do is see, isolate and understand trends. Then get in front of them and let them come to us," he said.
"The idea that we're going to have one product that everyone in America buys doesn't work anymore. We need to have 20 products, each one geared to different consumers so they think it's made just for them."
An expert analyst also known as the "Supermarket Guru" , Lempert claimed that one of the big mistakes made by the industry is basing product development and marketing plans on a perception of what consumers appear to be rather than on an understanding of how they actually feel.
"For the most part, people feel 5-10 years younger than they actually are. But we don't develop marketing plans with that in mind. If we want to communicate properly, if we want people to buy our products, we need to understand how they feel," he said.
He also stressed the need to cater for different ethnic populations, including Hispanics, Asians and American Indians.
"We're not a nation of white people anymore. We need to develop products that are suitable for people with different needs both nutritionally and taste wise. It's about getting on a plane and seeing what's going on in Latin America or Asia."
Time constraints and health are also important factors in influencing consumer choice. Products and their packaging must be smart and convenient, taking into consideration the variety of health problems people face, he said.
"As people get closer to death, life becomes more important. People read labels. With no ingredients list, they won't buy. With a long ingredients list, they won't buy," he said, adding that the average consumer equates processed food with disease, while 'pure', 'fresh' and 'natural' are equated with health.
"That's where the opportunity is."
And although what he terms the "nutritional correction" started at the beginning of 2004, Lempert stressed that it continues to be what drives consumer interest.
However, while people are increasingly interested eating well, Lempert claims there is more illiteracy and confusion than ever before when it comes to nutrition and health, which opens up new opportunities for firms that can educate their customers.
"Consumers say 'who can I turn to?' My answer to them and my challenge to you is that they should turn to you. You need to use great communication and science to build a relationship with shoppers based on giving them a better life," he said.
Other important issues the food industry is set to face include a strong comeback of the brand, advances in technology when it comes to shopping and a growing interest in environmentally friendly operations.
"Shoppers will change, the shopping experience is in flux. 2010 is about health, ethnic everything, convenience and technology," Lempert concluded, adding that food manufacturers must focus on their relationships with consumers.
"It's all about your brand and your relationship. That's what will decide if people continue to buy."
A full copy of the presentation is shortly due to be available on SupermarketGuru.com.