WASHINGTON -- Food industry leaders and innovators gathered last week to discuss consumer trends, public health, and technological developments in agriculture and farming at the Food Forward summit. The event was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and presented a range of speakers who discussed the future of the food industry and how it can adapt to changing consumer needs.
Panelists and attendees discussed how consumer demands have diversified in the last 25 years. Once upon a time, it was enough for a food product to simply be tasty, affordable, and convenient, whereas today the modern consumer is concerned about a variety of other factors, like sustainability, health, safety, and ethical practices. “This value equation has exploded into a whole litany of different kinds of questions that we’re asking ourselves,” said Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute. “This empowerment and engagement from consumers is leading to what we call ‘radical personalization.’”
But this increased and diversified consumer demand for accountability and transparency from food sources isn’t necessarily a bad thing for food producers or retailers, according to Sarasin. Rather, it is a challenge that the industry can rise to. “Meeting that need requires information, a close connection, and for the retailer to have that understanding of what’s going on in their customer’s minds. That’s how the retailer is able to meet those needs as we move forward in this industry.”
In a market that increasingly values sustainability, local farm-to-table practices, and health and safety, U.S. rice is in a prime position to tell our story and adapt to shifting consumer tastes. “One thing younger generations tell us they want when it comes to food is to understand where their food comes from, and we in the U.S. rice industry welcome the opportunity to tell them that when it comes to rice, the answer is: right here,” said USA Rice Domestic Promotions Committee Chair Paul Galvani. “You don’t have to travel very far to eat rice when it’s grown in your backyard.”
Nicole Davis, senior innovation manager for Kroger’s Our Brands, added that millennial consumers are also prioritizing international foods more than ever before. “Our younger generations are traveling internationally at more than twice the rate of their predecessors. This gives them insight into new flavors and new foods, and they want to be able to cook those things at home.”
As a staple of much of the world’s diverse culinary traditions, U.S.-grown rice could benefit from this millennial hunger for international dishes. “40 percent of millennials are preparing a dish from another culture at least once a week,” Davis pointed out. From biryani to paella to curry, there seems to be a big opportunity for rice to take advantage of this trend among young people. Their tastes may be global, but their conscience is local, and that’s a niche that U.S. rice is uniquely qualified to occupy.