Retail Foodservice in French? There’s a Word for That

Plus flavor and innovation trends from SIAL Canada

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

MONTREAL -- SIAL Canada, the kid sister of the behemoth 140,000-attendee SIAL Paris, was a refreshing closure to NRA week. The show’s hybrid of foodservice and retail items from across the globe provides a look at growing flavor and CPG trends, all with a French-Canadian accent.

One major trend identified by the show’s organizers really hit home--the global growth of foodservice at retail.

“All forms of food sales look to conquer the largest ‘stomach share’ possible,” reads a recent report from SIAL. “It is with this in mind that the mass retailers have come up with new hybrid formats combining convenience store and foodservice outlets.”

Sound familiar?

“Likewise, existing restaurants are increasingly proposing a dual service: eating in and to-go. In every case, the idea remains the same: providing the most comprehensive possible response to the same customer requirement: the ‘meal solution.’

“These strategies have even given rise to a new concept:  ‘distriration,’ a contraction of the French terms for ‘retail’ and ‘foodservice.’ ”

Reading this the same week Emeril Lagasse announced he would be opening a carryout concept, I was struck by just how much consumers are demanding a quality, convenient meal any time of the day. The convenience has always been there; it’s the quality that’s being elevated.

I interviewed Olivia Grosbois, director of SIAL Paris, who explained that the trend stems from an overall growth in dining out in Europe and other countries outside of the United States. In other words, they’re catching up to our massive away-from-home meal consumption.

In turn, operators are trying to deliver more high quality “convenience products,” said Grosbois: “Consumers want to find quality and a better price ratio for every mood.” She points to Pret A Manger, the British grab-and-go chain that shied away from France and its traditional eating habits while growing elsewhere around the globe. Pret recently opened its first Parisian store with great success, said Grosbois, in part because of its emphasis on its natural, quality ingredients.

On the show floor, an R&D chef would have a field day with the cacophony of flavors, ingredients and cuisines. Following are my own stream-of-consciousness discoveries during three days at the show:

  • Banana syrup. All natural and made from sun-dried bananas, this Thailand staple would be amazing in desserts or in place of honey, maple syrup or jellies.
  • Curry ketchup. A classic German street-food staple, why has this not caught on in the U.S.?
  • Pickled hearts of palm. Canned hearts of palm have been getting more play here in recent years, but pickling them opens up countless flavor ideas, such as sweet and sour for an Asian profile, or with citrus and hot peppers for a vegetarian ceviche.
  • Gluten free. Every aisle had a gluten-free product or two, and they were genuinely good. There was even gluten-free poutine sauce for the classic Canadian dish of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.
  • Baked cheese chips. Grok is little disk of Grana Padano cheese (similar to Parmesan), baked down for a concentrated, savory bite.
  • Dark chocolate milk. A low-hanging fruit, but nonetheless one I’d never seen before.
  • Yogurt candy. Yogenfruz, from the frozen-yogurt chain of the same name, are creamy little pellets flavored like fruit—an innovation hitting the yogurt trend at a very good time.
  • Frozen foods. Sophisticated packaging, unique ingredients and better processing techniques are elevating the freezer aisle. I even saw a handful of frozen meals that included foie gras.
  • Aloe vera juice. The next coconut water? I’d argue it tastes better.

Finally, an education session from global innovations firm XTC explored the two key themes driving innovation in the packaged-food world: pleasure and health.

On the pleasure side of the spectrum, consumers continue to want an experience with every meal--eating is no longer a means to an end.

The health theme is driven by two subsets: more straightforward medical needs (dietary restrictions, health claims) and the desire for natural foods.

In 2012, XTC expects to see a continuation of the growth of the gluten-free market, an ongoing rise in protein consumption (fueled in part by Greek yogurt), and again, evolved frozen foods.

Next year, SIAL Canada will be held April 30 to May 2 in Toronto (it rotates between Toronto and Montreal each year), where it draws a healthy number of Midwest companies. Many of the companies that exhibit at SIAL Canada are looking for U.S. distribution, so a hungry distributor could hit the jackpot there. Visit www.sialcanada.com for more information.

By Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products
View More Articles By Abbie Westra