We’ve just entered the official summer season, with barbecue goods aplenty to tempt consumers. Across the pond, Kroger – the company that just gave Ocado a massive boost after signing a deal to incorporate its automated online delivery tech – has released its rundown of the top sun-inflected trends and how its products are attempting to deliver what the modern consumer wants. Here, we've dissected the six areas the US retailer is targeting this season.
1. Alcohol-infused foods and flavours
This is something Food Spark explored last year, when we talked to companies Jam & Tipple and Just A Splash about the rise in alcohol-infused accompaniments – and we couldn’t help but notice the trend for flavouring everything with gin or Prosecco (and more recently rum). Kroger’s (slightly) upmarket Private Selection range boasts interesting craft barbecue and steak sauces made from beer (red lager and roasted tomato; dark ale and chipotle pepper; pale ale and mustard) as well as wine (cabernet and roasted garlic) and spirits (bourbon and balsamic).
2. Global tastes
It seems like every day brings a new Middle Eastern restaurant to London, let alone to the UK. While Kroger dabbles with condiments like harissa, more attention is being paid to Korean-inspired NPD, including a jerky designed to taste like kalbi (Korean grilled short ribs) and honey garlic gojuchang (sweet chilli paste) for wings. It’s far from being the only big brand exploring international options: Kraft-Heinz’s incubator recently championed South African biltong, German sauerkraut and Venezuelan avocado sauce.
3. Get nostalgic
This is one that many of the people we’ve interviewed for our Interview with an Innovator section have spoken about, from fine-dining chefs like Richard Bainbridge and Manish Mehrotra, to food developers Jonny Bingham and Mike Faers, to the Co-op’s Director of Delicious Food Breige Donaghy, to experimental chocolatier Paul Young – we could go on. Kroger are approaching the issue with a smattering of low-fat birthday cake ice cream, a dash of completely not low-fat cookie-meets-brownie ice cream and all kinds of mac and cheese: truffle and aged cheddar; roasted onion, thyme and gruyere; roasted Poblano chilli and aged cheddar.
4. No waste meals
Food waste has become one of the public’s biggest concerns. As part of its CSR, Kroger announced the launch of its Zero Hunger Zero Waste campaign last September, working with a two-pronged approach to donate 3bn meals while achieving zero food waste across all stores – both by 2025. It has also promised to establish a $10m innovation fund to tackle the wastage. In the UK, retailers like Tesco and Morrisons have taken the bold step to reveal their food waste while setting ambitious goals in hopes of tackling the UK’s 1.9m tonnes of waste (the US, by comparison, throws away about 40m tonnes).
5. Flex that flexitarian lifestyle
Meatless patties, mince, cutlets and tenders all form part of Kroger’s flexitarian options, which also include chia oatmeal and frozen almond ice cream. This is one that British supermarkets are all over, from Tesco’s stocking of Vivera plant-based steak, Beyond Meat and Oumph, to the enormous spectrum of own-brand vegan options across the retailers.
6. Better-for-you snacking
Food Spark has talked before about the mania for popped snacks as healthier alternatives to crisps, but this is an area Kroger doesn’t seem to have much innovation going on. The best the chain can manage is some nutrition bars from its organic, free-from brand Simple Truth. Flavours include peanut butter, sea salt and the slightly surprising cashew cherry, but that doesn’t match up to anything as daring as fat balls, new-age fruit leathers or salted egg yolk flavouring.