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Outlook 2018: Insights on ... food and beverage

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The food and beverage industry in New Jersey is abuzz with optimism. The industry leaders we spoke with suggested a good economic climate fueled by strong employment conditions will increase consumer spending this year on food and beverage sales throughout the state and country in a way not seen in 2017.

 And while the president of the New Jersey Food Council said that plant-based, unprocessed “clean” diets are on the rise in 2018, Campbell Soup Co.’s latest TrendScape report suggested that meat still matters, specifically manifested in unique butcher cuts, exotic game and without antibiotics.

Perhaps they would agree on the growing popularity of herbs and spices such as ginger, hibiscus, lavender, mint, and cardamom, which Campbell notes bring plant-based flavor profiles to food across the board.

Here’s what a cross-section of executives in the food sector foresee for 2018:

Tom Cosentino, Garden State Wine Growers Association.
Tom Cosentino, Garden State Wine Growers Association.

TOM COSENTINO

Executive Director, Garden State Wine Growers Association

The Garden State Wine Growers Association looks ahead to 2018 with great anticipation as we believe this could be the biggest year yet for New Jersey’s wine industry. We have made great strides over the past few years and 2017 was quite successful with the launch of a branding campaign, our first ever statewide television commercial and launch of our online “At the Vineyard” television show, as well as the national recognition our wines continue to receive.

We think with a new administration taking office and the bipartisan support we have had in the Legislature, we can move some additional pieces of legislation that will allow our industry to grow and prosper. We also want to see New Jersey wines incorporated more into restaurant menus.

There are no direct threats to our industry other than funding. We rely on state grants to fund most of our marketing efforts. We’d like to see more funding available to allow us to market the New Jersey wine industry to as broad a base as possible. Our wineries play a major role in driving local tourismand we feel we can play an even larger statewide role in 2018 by working together with the administration and tourism.”

Bob Weinmann, RDD Associates.
Bob Weinmann, RDD Associates.

BOB WEINMANN

Vice President of Marketing & Strategy, RDD Associates (independent sales and marketing agency focused on merchandising)

“I'm expecting a strong, bounce-back year for food and consumer packaged goods retailing in the New Jersey suburban marketplace, after a sluggish, marginally eroded sales base in 2017. Why? Strong employment conditions with increasing confidence fueling increased spending; tax-cut withholding reductions pumping millions into consumers' bank accounts; and traditional supermarket operators honing their strategies and programs to more effectively compete with e-commerce retailers.

The opportunity is to grab more than your fair share of the increased liquidity in the consumer marketplace, while the threat is to miss this chance and cede growth to your more savvy competitor.

LOU SCADUTO JR.

President, Food Circus Super Markets

“The food industry is poised for some modest inflation, which is monumental in our business. From an industry perspective that’s what I say, but the landscape of the food business in New Jersey is extremely competitive and things will continue to evolve. With new Gov. Murphy coming in, we will have additional challenges because of his $15 minimum wage platform, which is a monumental issue. In a retail food environment and in the service industry, a lot of the part-time jobs are pass-through jobs rather than career jobs. As we all know in the food industry, we work on a very low margin and that alone is challenging enough.

As far as opportunities, it’s probably just going be a continued work in progress. For a company like mine, I’m an extremely small player in a pond of large fish. I’m not an international player with deep pockets. There’s a lot of hard work ahead for smaller New Jersey based companies like myself. We’ve got to do the hard work we need to do to keep small, family-based companies like mine, which has been around since 1956, moving in a forward direction.”

Linda Doherty, NJ Food Council.
Linda Doherty, NJ Food Council.

LINDA M. DOHERTY

President & CEO, New Jersey Food Council

The two most popular food trends in 2018 will be clean eating and plant-based diets.  Consumers continue to search for nutritional information and demand transparency to make healthy food choices. This leads to growth in categories like fermented foods (kimchi and yogurts), avocado, seeds, nuts, protein smoothies and water including flavored and coconut.

As shoppers seek more sources for product information and education, technology plays an expanding role as apps for consumers to track and plan food intake and activity are becoming more popular. Technology is helping shoppers make better food choices.

Other emerging trends in 2018 include home meal delivery, e-commerce and home shopping opportunities and new, more efficient payment methods for shoppers.

The growth of economic optimism by consumers in the coming year is expected to be a positive factor in growing food and beverage sales as consumers spend more of their disposable income.

Workforce issues remain a great concern as finding, recruiting and retaining talent in today’s labor pool is challenging.

With a new administration settling in Trenton, well-intended regulatory and legislative initiatives can sometimes cause unpredictability in the business community.  We are hopeful our government leaders will continue to support the expansion of food processing and retailers in New Jersey as the food and beverage business is an economic engine and barometer of the business climate.  Navigating new food trends and e-commerce disruptors will create its own set of industry challenges, so public/private partnerships are essential to the food industry’s success.”

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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