At A Store Near You

It has become commonplace to note the changes in consumer attitudes toward food. More people care about where their food comes from and what is in it than has ever been the case. Food has become hip. While mainstream chains such as McDonald’s struggle, restaurants that try to be more natural and authentic – say, Five Guys and Shake Shack – are booming.

The idea that food is more than fuel … that even in eating a burrito at Chipotle a consumer should be happy at the thought … that he or she is eating something with integrity … that it is good for the body and good for the world … has caught on.

There are a lot of currents that play into this. The fact that the recovery has seen disposable income grow much faster for the more affluent means there is a substantial group of people with the money to pay extra to get meat from animals treated better or food that is local, organic or hormone-free. There is a tie-in with environmentalism. Animal cruelty concerns are part of it. In general a shift to consciousness about food – what one is eating and why — has become influential.

Not as widely recognized is the transformation in retailing. A generation ago a supermarket was designed to serve the whole community — and many still are. There has, however, been a fragmentation in the market. There are deep discount stores such as Aldi or dollar stores, epicurean concepts such as Trader Joe’s, stores that emphasize natural and healthy such as Whole Foods, and those selling high-quality goods in bulk at value prices such as Costco. There are luxury chains such as Fresh Market, and those that offer groceries — along with what is often the best restaurant in town — such as Wegmans.

Yet, what is really interesting is that all these concepts feel the need to be seen as purveyors of high-quality food. Wal-Mart made a splash when it announced an initiative to sell organics under the Wild Oats label at discount prices. Aldi can’t begin to offer the assortment of a big upscale store, yet it introduced a “specially selected” line of private label specialty cheese.

What this means is that buying quality specialty cheese is no longer an elitist event. Sure there are some items you can only get at upscale chains or cheese shops or the Internet. But one can also find delicious cheeses at many shopping venues.

The assortment of food has expanded and so have the places you can buy it. What person you want to be, what you want to stand for, what you want to eat — can vary based on your life phase, the events going on and your personal whim. So shop broadly and eat well-knowing specialty cheese can be a part of your meals and entertaining, wherever you shop.