We are still experiencing the same trend in food that has been going on since 1870.  One word describes it: efficiency.  It applies to every stage of food production.  Why did I pick 1870? That is the year when the percentage of farmers went from 58% to 47% in this country, which illustrates agricultural efficiency as a population statistic.  A middling purifier was invented to produce superior flour (more food processing). The first weather report was transmitted by telegraph.  Later in 1872, many fruits and vegetables were improved through better agricultural methods.  And in 1874 margarine was produced.  And also in this year the pressure cooker was invented to cook faster. 



Everyone wants more for less effort, which is how we become more efficient and progress as a society. This still applies to our modern food chain: 


  • Farmers want higher yields with less effort and lower cost.
  • Food manufacturers want higher sales and profits – they are always looking for the holy grail for consumer demand and they have done this through decadent calorie-dense foods and many fads: the fat-free fad, the carbs-are-bad fad, the huge-portions-for-better-value fad, more-calcium foods, lower-trans-fat foods and now with the “restaurant is in your kitchen” trend among others. Fast food companies know that we love to drive through and have dinner in the car in 5 minutes when we are pressed for time and hungry now.
  • Grocers and other food retailers want to increase sales and optimize their operations.
  • Consumers want better meals in less time and many need to stretch their food dollars.  They want to think they have more nutritious food or something special. They also view food as a source of entertainment as seen on cooking channels, in many written articles and the creativity of chefs. Of course some are simply too busy to do anything but eat on the go. Some poor populations live in food deserts where access to anything but convenience stores and fast food restaurants is the only choice.


Our economy and society has steadily become “more efficient” since the dawn of agriculture and this has kept constant through the industrial revolution and now the digital revolution. The adaptation of the digital era has eaten up a lot of free time and income as everyone spends more time and money on their gadgets and becoming “digitized”; furthermore as the book Googled points out, life as we know it has been disrupted because of the internet and there is a general scramble to do more with less.


Here are market “efficiency” trends for food that we feel will continue:


  • All retail food stores seek to bring the restaurant into the house – we feel that is the largest trend that is here to stay:


Consumers get the comfort of home and fancier foods for less effort and lower cost than a restaurant meal. TV and food blogs have educated them to demand these foods but budgets have driven them into the stores and grocers have obliged.

Salad mixes, prepared produce, roasted meats, fancy prepared seafood, fruit platters, party platters, spice mixes, gourmet soups, prepared sauces, exotic bakery items and much more are now common. Just like what you find in your favorite restaurant!

The produce aisle has quite a few more “already prepared items”; “steam in the bag” produce has become more popular with more choices.

Frozen foods, ethnic foods and private labels foods are more numerous.


  • Wal-Mart is the largest seller of groceries (WSJ Nov 2010). The superstores offer value, good selection and the opportunity to one stop shop. There is a new initiative in place to offer Wal-Mart produce and other healthy food choices at lower prices. They also put pressure on other grocery stores to keep prices lower. Regular grocery stores posted an increase in sales (3Q 2010: Associated Press December 2, 2010) as more consumers want to save money. They have kept prices down and eradicated items that do not sell in an effort to be competitive. Many store brand items come in smaller containers to help lower costs.
  • Raw ingredients are scarcer. Try to find a box of barley, whole oats or fresh yeast. Ricotta cheese was nowhere to be found in one store we shopped. Whole heads of lettuce are now way outnumbered by bags of lettuce. Less popular vegetables like endive, kale, beets and leeks are missing or very low in number in common stores.
  • In-season and local is not as evident in the produce aisle of a grocery store. (Although farmer’s markets are more numerous for these items.) You can get fresh apples and winter squash in the middle of the summer and asparagus, corn, tomatoes and peaches in the middle of winter.  “Go Local” might be a favorite topic among food editors but it is not apparent in grocery stores where items are available year round for good prices. We just bought berries for a lower price than what we paid in summer and they are every bit as fresh and delicious.
  • Food allergy items are more prevalent. Gluten-free options are on almost every aisle. The labeling of the 7 most common allergens is on almost every package.
  • Only items that sell and sell profitably are kept on the shelves. Did you notice that the cake mix selection is smaller? Ditto with salad dressings, mayonnaise, cuts of meat, low-fat ice cream and fresh fish.
  • Food manufacturers want to sell and sell at a profit so they are still wooing consumers with the lures of “extra nutrition” and “extra convenience” with package claims and offerings. Flavor and seasonings will continue to be creative and emphasized.
  • “Nutrition” has become a convoluted claim with bits of this and bits of that to sell a food, not help someone manage a whole diet.
  • There are more low-sodium or no-added-salt foods available now. But that doesn’t mean you can stop reading labels – there are probably 500 down and 50,000 to go! (Just a playful guess!)