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Our favorite foods: Sweet, simple, and branded!

In the last half of 2001, comfort foods like meat loaf and mashed potatoes gained almost as much stature as police and firemen. We were amused to read one food reporter's description of crossing the "meat loaf' line that divides the caviar coastal states from the meat and potatoes interior. Blurring that line, a 50-state cross section of almost 1000 consumers shared their best-loved foods with us last month, and meatloaf fell into the single mention column along with liver and onions, fruitcake, and persimmon pudding.

Americans' love affair with stocks cooled a lot last year. Its love affair with deep discounting left many holiday shoppers disappointed at prices that were cut but still higher than they hoped. In spite of these slumps, our love affair with brands simply grew to accommodate store brands alongside regional and national brands. Combining the foods consumers' love best into groups of foods showed that sweets topped meats and potatoes of all kinds and that in brand-loving, brand-washed America, branded items as a group topped them all.

> 39.3% of the best-loved food citations were branded items such as Milano Cookies, Freshetta Pizza, Chunky Soup and Orville's popcorn. Some consumers gave brands blanket brand endorsements as the source of their best loved foods, e.g., Stouffer anything or any Ben & Jerry's. And branded items collectively, topped sweets 39% to 25%.

More than 95% of brand mentions were supermarket rather than restaurant brands, suggesting that brands sold in supermarkets have a palate appeal that supermarkets don't use for their own positioning and consumer relationships. Walgreen's is about to start selling prepared foods and restaurants are moving beyond Heinz Ketchup and Kellogg's Frosted Flakes to putting branded foods like Swanson frozen dinners on their menus. Supermarkets need to secure their role as food stores before they get lost in the accelerating everyonesells-everything blur.

Some of the branded favorites were clarified in interesting ways:

* Pillsbury biscuits in a bag are ready to bake, taste like homemade and you-use just what you need.

* Reese's peanut butter cups-best Christmas gift I ever got was a case of these.

* "Imagine Natural" brand soups and broths are absolutely delicious and taste homemade They are organic non GMO, vegetarian, non-dairy and wonderful.

* Store brands that taste better than name brands.

* Kashi cereal-lets me fill up, not out.

* Oreo's, the original kind only.

* 10.5% of all the favorite citations were sweets other than chocolate and ice cream (Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls, Costco Pumpkin Pies, store bakery muffins, butter cookies)

* 9.7% were chocolate, dark chocolate, or specific chocolates such as Wilbur Buds

* 9.3% were meat (mostly steak)

* 8.1% were pizza. (Only 15% of those citing pizza included a brand.)

* 7.7% were fish or seafood (including salmon and lots of shrimp and lobster)

* 6.0% were poultry (including KFC)

* 5.7% said cheese (includes cheesecake and macaroni and cheese)

* 4.8% were ice cream or ice cream novelties. (This researcher was crushed at the absence of mentions of banana splits and hot fudge or wet-nut sundaes.)

* 4.0% used the word fresh, most with vegetables and/or fruits

* 3.3% named national cuisines such as Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai or Greek

* 3.0% mentioned potatoes, including mashed, fries, cheese fries, home fries, baked and just plain potatoes

* 2.8% mentioned organic or health-oriented foods such as Tofutti or Edamame or soy milk. An additional 1% mentioned tofu or veggie meals or dishes.

* 2.7% named snacks such as popcorn, Wavy Lays or s'mores

* 2.4% included peanut butter

* 2.1% cited junk foods, greasies or "anything with lots of salt and fat"

* 2.0% named relatively new versions of prepared foods such as Star-Kist Tuna lunch kits or Hormel cooked roasts

* 1.5% included the name of a restaurant such as Marie Callender, KFC or White Castle

* 1.2% named a store such as "friend chicken breasts from HEB"

* 1.1 % named cereals including Kashi, Cheerios, and Cream of Wheat
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Publication:The Shopper Report
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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