SHOPPER REPORT JANUARY 2001

2001 A Spice Odyssey

Flavor-Tropic Consumers

The Ghost of Christmas Past

The Current Brand Challenge

2001 A Spice Odyssey
From teas and martinis to breads and muffins, spices are everywhere this year. Those of us who didn't have great cooks for parents first learned about spices in second grade geography classes starring Marco Polo and the ancient Spice Routes through what used to be Persia to the heart of today's Middle East conflicts. This year spice fever and thoughts of the new year lead to thoughts of a favorite-spice poll and a 2001Spice Odyssey. Right after sending out the spice poll, we received two gifts including mulling spices and learned of P&G's new venture in spice and flavor marketing. Our conclusions:

  • Spices this year are hot as well as cold, in as well as out.
  • The next millenium's cosmonaughts could discover spice instead of life on Mars.
  • Spices and flavoring are as important to food as money is to the market or love to our survival.

Our holiday season poll results that showed nostalgia to be a primary factor in peoples favorite spice citations at this time of year. We strongly suspect that spice poll results would be different at a different time of year -- that the nostalgia factor was holiday-induced. Aren't the holiday's prime times for nostalgia as well as spices? Haven't we all believed in the nostalgia power of cookies since we learned about Proust's Remembrance of Things Past - four whole books worth of life memories triggered by a single cookie? Proust's life memories were French, but MANY of our American panelists told us that cinnamon evokes memories of grandma's, grandpa's, moms, aunts, uncles and cousins and childhood cozies in general. It's amazing and market noteworthy that all of the spice-triggered memories we heard about were good memories.

So what were the favorite spice and flavoring winners? Make this an ode to Garlic and Cinnamon. We can't see any way to put them together, but they are the big and clear-cut chad-free winner and runner up in our national spice poll - and people who love them say they use them in just about everything.

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Flavor-Tropic Consumers
Light loving plants turn toward and open in the light. Such plants are called helio-tropic. We suggest flavor-tropic as a new 2001 designation for consumers who seek out specific spices and flavors. Just calling them foodies or flavor-seekers or gourmets is to gloss over their flavor drivers and behaviors.
Some consumers are much more flavor-tropic and flavor-fickle than others. They get cravings for cinnamon that won't be satisfied with ginger, for Chunky Monkey, not just for ice cream; for dill when only dill and neither tarragon nor basil will do, for Triscuits, not just for crackers, for Garlic and Onion Pizza, not just for pizza, for the flavor of Campbell Chicken Noodle when Progresso Chicken just won't do, and for garlic, garlic, garlic - the flavor craving that can be satisfied in an almost infinite variety of forms. Some change favorites slowly as they age: "Lemon is my favorite now. I used to like chocolate more but now find it heavy and overwhelming."

What Spices Do For Food

  • Give "it" some zing
  • Bring out the flavor
  • Make it unique
  • Make it yours
  • Make it special
  • Create enticing appearance, aroma, and taste,
  • Improve the taste
  • Make dishes refreshing
  • Smooth over rough edges

What Spices Do For Users

  • Warm the heart
  • Refresh
  • Bring good memories
  • Touch the center or the soul
  • Relieve stress
  • Create excitement
  • Surprise guests
  • Make cooking fun
  • Add to creativity
  • Encourage thankfulness

The Homey Power of Cinnamon
In 1st Place:
The best money making ideas are often based on simple truths that a bright entrepreneur recognizes and responds to. So may be the origin of Cinnebonn - which offers cinnamon and sugar liberally sprinkled and melted on hot dough at a high price. It works because so many people love cinnamon in and out. It's homey and comfy and aromatic and cross-cultural. It makes home feel and taste and smell more like home. Consumers love the flavor in and out, and in all the places that Sam I Am enjoyed his Green Ham and Eggs.

  • I like cinnamon. It does so much for foods. I always like to have a shaker of cinnamon and sugar to use here and there. It gives desserts, plain ones even, a homey touch. Makes me feel comfortable in my home.
  • Cinnamon - enhances appearance, aroma and taste Gives desserts, plain ones even a homey touch. Makes me feel comfortable in my home. Use it in cookies, cakes, and hot cider, in my Potpurri burner, in a sachet bag. It seems to warm up the food or beverage and to warm me and bring good memories.
  • Cinnamon was my first thought. It makes pies, puddings soooo good and it smells delicious coming from the oven or in the kitchen.
  • Cinnamon in meats and vegetables (brisket tzimmis), in desserts (rice pudding), in sweet baked goods (coffeecake, sticky cinnamon buns), in beverages (coffee, hot chocolate) AND for my husband's orchids (after making a cutting, "seal" the leaf/stem with cinnamon!) It flavors the food and makes me feel warm and fuzzy", I think!
  • Cinnamon & hazelnut flavoring go together for me. Cinnamon makes fruit special & hazelnut does that for coffee & cocoa. I like the flavoring at home, although I order hazelnut coffee at Starbucks. These spices make my fruits un-mundane & coffee and hot chocolate delectable with hazelnut favor. They relieve stress and create a satisfying break.
  • Cinnamon -- In anything I can think of - baked goods (the traditional way), in chicken cacciatore, mid eastern dishes, etc. in meats it adds a mystery taste - it is like vanilla - a comfortable spice but can be used in a variety of ways.
  • Cinnamon is my favorite spice. It gives a special flavor to fruit and baked goods and the house smells so good after.

The Healthy Power of Garlic
In 2nd Place:

From meatloaf to mimosa, no other flavoring agent makes people feel healthy and hungry at the same time. It's the main zing for people who don't get turned on by the hot and peppery spices.

  • Garlic smells up my fingers and gives me and all with whom I dine bad breath but it makes the food more interesting.
  • My favorite flavoring is garlic. I like it in, on, over, under, or beside any food except deserts. It gives everything a wonderful taste. And it is good for you, too.
  • Garlic and Herbs by Mrs. Dash - I like spices added in the cooking process, gives it zing and brings out flavor. Hot Sauce added after.
  • GARLIC without question. I can use it in almost everything. I like it powdered, crushed cloves, whole cloves like putting them in a roast. I also understand that it is good for the heart and that is great but not the reason I eat it. I also simply LOVE the flavor.
  • Garlic is my very favorite flavoring. My hubby says I like to put it in everything but ice cream! Garlic especially works well with fats: e.g.: garlic toast, sausages, oil & vinegar-based salad dressings, etc.
  • Garlic and crushed red pepper. Usually I put them in just about anything.... eggs, meatloaf, hamburgers, spaghetti or anything in the noodle family. They even heat up soup and chili not to mention sour cream and mayonnaise dips. Wine goes with garlic and red pepper. If not wine, then a morning mimosa. Lunch could be sparkling grape juice. What does it do for me. Brings back memories of my dad cooking in the kitchen when I was just four or five. He is still with us it is just the best memory I have of my dad.
  • Garlic is my favorite spice. I use it on all meats, stews and casseroles. I also like Basil.

Vanilla for the love of white food:
In 3rd Place:

Vanilla makes whatever it's in more fun to eat/drink.
Vanilla for ice cream, cakes and desert. Enhances the flavor. Makes the food taste better.
Vanilla-I especially appreciate what vanilla does for soymilk, which I consume a lot of these days.
Vanilla ... in just about everything. French Toast, Coffee ... ice cream. It's a comfort food, smell taste. I even like vanilla candles.

Honorable Mentions:
Curry is delicious and compelling. I crave curries and don't get them often enough. Feel sure they will become more popular in this country.

Dill - see verse below.

Ginger. In soups, sauces, cookies, tea, more. Soothing to the stomach. Makes me want to eat more.

Lemon. It touches me

Mace partnered with chocolate: in cakes, puddings, etc. subtly enhances all other flavors and excites my taste buds

Mint makes dishes refreshing and often surprises people if not used too heavily. Makes me feel good because the food tastes good or the tea more refreshing.

Oregano. I just love it in soups, salads, and sauces.

Rosemary makes chicken less like chicken again.

Soy sauce is my favorite flavoring. It has some salt, but definitely a taste.... anywhere, anytime, with any food.

Spices And Verses
Two respondents answered our Sesasonal-Seussical spice question in verse. The question we asked was: "Do you eat it (your favorite spice) in or out? In a car? In a bar?"

Our garlic poet shall be anonymous with:
Garlic in the kitchen, Silly, Where I use it willy-nilly.
In the dip and in the salad, Marinade, and all that has it...

Panelist Wendi Winters, wins our poet laureate award for Spice Whirl, her (here abridged) dilly of an ode to dill:

I like dill in smashed potatoes,
Or, as part of a dressing on tomatoes.
We also like to watch it when the wind blows.
Sprinkled on grilled fish, it makes a great dish.
My kids and I like to smell it with our noses,
Kids 1,3 & 4 say it smells better than roses,
Kid #2 likes to water it with the hoses.

Sure, we like it in a car, we like it near and far.
We can shake it from a jar, we can pick it fresh and green,
then it's so tasty we could scream!

You can grow it in your yard but please take heed,
It spreads like a weed. Better to buy it in a store
Where you find spices galore, Rosemary, Parsley and s'more - including dearest dill, we're in a whirl.
Among spices, it's our pearl.

Dried Versus Fresh
Fresh and whole spices are musts for most foodies that we know, but many of our respondents defended dried alternatives - some actually preferring dried to fresh and others saying that they use whichever is handier.

"Spice favorite is dried oregano. I use it IN sauces and salad dressings, stuffing, etc., and ON things like meats and pizza, of course. It may sound odd to prefer the dried to the fresh, but it is right THERE - I don't have to go out and pick it and wash it and strip it off the stems (we do have some trying to grow in pots on our deck). It adds a lot to whatever it is put in or on, but it is hard to describe exactly what that is!"

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The Ghost of Christmas Past
Consumers who felt betrayed by the vote count and court rejections felt and behaved like betrayed spouses in breaking marriages. They experienced anxiety and depression about the democracy that some had previously experienced as the core of their being American. What was shaken went beyond concern about politicized courts to an intangible they understood as their birthright - even to what some psychologists call the schema - the armature on which people build personalities. The feelings of betrayal were just widespread and profound enough to negatively impact Christmas shopping during late November and early December. The analysts and economists looked at consumers' falling confidence in the economy and the stock market. But during this holiday season, aches in many peoples' feeling centers were overshadowing the stock market and the sales in shopping centers. Betrayal is a miserable feeling that isn't alleviated by Prozac or Christmas shopping.

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The Current Brand Challenge
After reporting on the No-Name movement in last month's edition, we heard from young adults who want to stop being billboards for brands. One told us that her brand preferences are her own business.

Their parents are telling us that buying brands means expressing performance, taste, appearance preferences but doesn't mean buying safe. They have heard about safety problem headlines associated with gold standard brands (Coke, Cargill and Sara Lee as well as Ford, Firestone, Concord and Johnson and Johnson) are among the shining stars that have been hit and wounded during the last year. With safety problems happening to the world's best and brightest, buying brand is no longer a safety guarantee.

And with the mergers happening everywhere, and the merged companies getting still bigger by merging with other companies, consumers are feeling more distanced from everyone but their local stores who are beginning to seem like they may be safer than the giants that until recently were perceived as super-sanitary, super-safe, and super-reliable. That's happening here as well as in Europe. A visit to Paris during the height of the mad-cow scare confirmed that many supermarket shoppers felt safer about returning to their local butcher to buy meat because they felt that the independent butchers knew the sources of their supply on a individual, first name basis.

Many consumers have been learning more than they ever wanted to know about legislatures and courts. Some of what they have been learning and feeling spilled over to this year's holiday shopping season. Even the Wall Street Journal described this year's election as the first political election staged like a Coke versus Pepsi war for market share.

Like the candidates, the winning brands may be the ones from organizations or companies who best know how to work the system. But at one important point, that is where the match-up of the brand marketplace and the candidate marketplace stops.

Most branded products and services have to perform in use before consumers buy them again. For most purchase, consumers don't have to wait years for an election in which to affirm or change their choice. Most branded products and services have to live up to their positioning or lose consumers' business. Brand positioning is different from political spin, because if a brand's promise or position is better quality or higher fashion, it almost always has to deliver on its promise or pretty quickly fade and die.

What a trust-building opportunity this offers to brands and stores that consumers can rely on. When courts lose their credibility and technology giants lose their market power, reliable consumer brands could be one of the few institutions that consumers can count on.

Skepticism is at an all time high. Many feel burned by political shenanigans while believing that some brands can be counted on to perform as expected, day after day.

  • Politicians and courts are always corrupt, while brands are sometimes trustworthy.
  • I trust brands and companies and I don't trust politicians or courts (courts especially after the Monica and OJ fiascos). If I trust a store or a brand and I get burned, I can complain to the store or bring the product back. I may even get a coupon! If I trust a politician or a court and I get burned, then what? I can't bring anything back and as far as I know, no coupons!
  • I think consumers trust the companies they buy from more than they trust the politicians who take such a large portion of their income.
  • Right now I have the most trust in the local merchants who we know, there are few of them left, but we know them and can complain to them in person. As H. L. Menkin once said, the only difference between local politicians and the national ones is that with the locals you recognize the face of the person who has their foot on your neck.

Others have projected their increasing skepticism to business as well as politics:

  • This (election) is going to leave the consumer much more conscious of big business' efforts to fool the public.
  • We distrust brands, stores, and companies because they will do anything and say anything to get the consumer to buy the product. But this distrust is no way near as strong as the distrust of politicians because we don't have to buy a second time, if we are unhappy.
  • I think the consumer was rather naive years ago into thinking big corporations were sincerely concerned about getting our trust, which we gave them.

To all our readers, our best wishes for a happy and profitable new year filled with opportunities to earn and reward your customers' trust.

 

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