Last year, I wrote an editorial titled “Cliff Notes” summarizing the year's trends in 350 words. Although written partly tongue-in-cheek, I received more calls on that column than any other I had written in some time. Why? I suspect it was analogous to food itself. People want convenience in most everything they do, including reading articles. Saying “convenience” is the key trend in new products flies in the face of the great emphasis on “health.” However, here is my case.

Trend 1--Convenience and Health. Few would argue that the ideal situation is to always consume great-tasting, well-balanced meals prepared from scratch and customized to one's own health conditions, along with a regimented healthful lifestyle. However, I don't do this. Do you? It is more convenient to purchase healthful, great-tasting prepared foods. Supplements provide a convenient way to customize ingredient intake for one's specific health issues.

Trend 2--Convenience and Taste. Mintel International's GNPD tallied 19,459 food product launches in 2005 in North America. When totaling products with any type of health positioning (e.g., all natural, no preservatives, whole wheat, organic; or low or no fat, trans fat, sugar or cholesterol; or added fiber, vitamins, calcium and so on), some 7,265 new food products were found. That leaves 12,194 (or 63%) of food products marketed without a health positioning. If a product is not positioned for health, one can argue it does not mean its marketers pin their hopes on taste as the driver of repeat purchases, but then what is supposed to prompt repeat consumption?

Trend 3--Convenience and Value. The Food Institute reports the nation's grocery stores saw "real" sales (deflated by the Food Institute's Grocery Store Price Index) increase some 1.78% last year, outpacing an increase of roughly 1% in U.S. population. Real growth was 0.9% in 2004. One cannot say growth (if any) in grocery store revenue is the same as growth in cost of packaged foods. Still, it does reflect the fact that consumers obtain prepared foods at stable, low prices. Value is crucial.

A few years ago, my teenage sons first ate half a batch of a cake mix that I had poured into cupcakes. When gone, they then ate the half made in a small pan. They explained (with little embarrassment) that the cupcakes were easier to eat since they did not have to cut and remove cake pieces from a pan. Cupcakes were more convenient.