It’s no secret that when it comes to chocolate trends, dark chocolate has grown increasingly popular with consumers who like their indulgences with a side of health benefits. Now that dark chocolate has become much more mainstream and in demand, a growing number of consumers have become accustomed to the stronger, less-sweet taste, chocolate makers say. And, as with most consumer food trends, familiarity breeds a craving for something new, from sea salt and nuts to fruit and black pepper.

In a study last year, Mintel found that while milk chocolate is still the top choice, more than a third of consumers now prefer dark chocolate to other varieties.

That percentage jumps in the over-55 age group, to 46% for men and 48% for women, and 73% of all respondents said they know dark chocolate is better for their health. The higher level of cocoa flavonoids in dark chocolate are reported to have beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels. (read more…)

There was a time, not so long ago, when the produce department was little more than the no-nonsense spot at the food retail store to stock up on life’s greener essentials. Stroll through a grocery store today, and you’ll quickly discover the produce section has become a whole new ballgame. From croutons to nuts, fruit juices to fruit fly solutions, the number of products vying for highly coveted space in the produce department is growing. We’re not just comparing apples to oranges anymore, folks.

A recent study found that 92% of shoppers report fresh produce was the single most important factor when choosing a grocery store. Having secured prime real estate near the front of stores, the produce department is a high-traffic hot spot where consumers make their first stop and purchasing decisions. Those initial minutes perusing the produce section set the tone for the rest of the shopping experience.

Location, location, location

Once banished to the back of the store with hopes of encouraging impulse purchases, many modern groceries are taking a hint from the produce section, and beginning to relocate dairy cases to the front of their stores. (read more…)

Promoting and retaining female leaders is important in any industry, and food retail is no different. SmartBrief talked with Food Marketing Institute President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin about the importance of engaging female leaders, and what food retailers are doing to promote and empower leaders within their organizations

Why do you think women are important to leadership in general?
As we seek leadership that is better equipped to meet the challenges of this age — one that is more collaboratively driven, oriented toward forming potent partnerships and strong on supportive networking — the nurturing, relationally-oriented strengths of women are critical now more than ever. In addition, as the younger generations include more working women than ever before, it is essential that they have role models available to them to assist with their leadership development. Those role models should be effective women leaders.

Why do you think female leadership is important to the food retail industry in particular? (read more…)

Datassential, The Hale Group release early results from the operator purchasing impact report

When Sysco and US Foods announced plans to merge late last year, the news sent shockwaves through the industry — they are, after all, the top two foodservice distributors in the U.S., respectively. If approved, the merger will create a combined company with an estimated $65 billion in annual sales.

But what does the proposed merger mean for players throughout the industry? And how will it affect operator purchasing decisions — Sysco alone reports approximately 425,000 customers. In order to understand the far-reaching effects of the proposed merger, Datassential worked with leading industry consulting firm The Hale Group to create a series of three reports focusing on who operators buy from, what they buy, and why they buy in order to understand which operators will be impacted most and how they will alter their behavior.

According to early data from the first report in the series, which focuses on current purchasing behavior and operator expectations, operators are generally optimistic about the proposed merger. (read more…)

Summertime brings a new surge of food-truck activity each year, from events like Truckeroo in the Washington, D.C., market and Food Truck Fridays in Charlotte, N.C., to cross-country tours by chains like TGI Fridays, which launched a food truck stocked with free samples in the hope of reintroducing young consumers to the casual chain.

Lee Campbell has been making customized trucks and RVs for 25 years, and he added mobile kitchens into the mix about 10 years ago, when the demand began to grow. His company, Manassas, Va.- based S&L Customs Food Trucks & Trailers, outfits and retrofits trucks, transforming them into mobile kitchens.

In recent years, he has seen a rise in food trucks doing ethnic cuisines, seasonal seafood concepts and higher-end fare. Made-to-order gourmet meals can be tough to pull off in a food truck, he said, because customers expect the whole transaction to take three or four minutes, but chefs are striving to create new fast flavors. (read more…)