Yogurt Dominated Palates In The Aughts

There have been many fads in the American diet over the past decade: slow-food, low carb and locavorism. But what have Americans really been putting on their plates? Harry Balzer of the NPD, a consumer market research firm, says the aughts were the decade of yogurt.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Raw food and molecular gastronomy, low carb diets and celebrity chefs - just a few of the food fads that were on the menu over the last decade. But come on, what did we really eat in the past 10 years - not just read about but actually put on our plates and into our stomachs?

For real answers about America's real dietary trends, we turn to Harry Balzer. He's vice president with the NPD Group, that's a consumer marketing research firm, and he specializes in studying what Americans eat and that's why we're talking to him. Welcome to the program and Happy New Year.

Dr. HARRY BALZER (Vice President, The NPD Group): Well, Happy New Year to you too, Michele.

NORRIS: So was there one specific thing that defined the American diet over the last decade?

Dr. BALZER: Well, if there is one that defines this decade it would have to be yogurt.

NORRIS: Yogurt?

Dr. BALZER: Yogurt would be the category or the food that has increased in our dietary habits more than any other food during the past 10 years.

NORRIS: Color me surprised.

Dr. BALZER: And it probably, if you think about your own behavior, I'll bet you start your day off a lot with yogurt or have it during lunchtime, or maybe have it as a dessert or a side dish or as a snack, more than you did probably 10 years ago.

NORRIS: That's true.

Dr. BALZER: It's one of those things that kind of sneaks up on you, but yet I think defines what Americans are really looking for from its food supply.

NORRIS: Well, now, is it because yogurt is something that's healthy or because it's convenient or because it now comes in all kinds of forms?

Dr. BALZER: Yes.

NORRIS: It's not just in tubs. It's in tubes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: It's frozen. It's...

Dr. BALZER: Say yes to all of those. It's very convenient. It's very individualized. You don't get a bunch of yogurt like you get a pizza pie and celebrate with everybody else. This is just for you. It's your own flavor. It has a health halo certainly surrounding it. It really does define what I think America wants from its food supply.

NORRIS: So beyond yogurt, what other shifts have we seen? Are there foods that have surged and others that have disappeared or all but faded away from the menu?

Dr. BALZER: Well, the item that has faded away - and I won't say it's disappeared, it's just not as popular - would be toast. But on the flip side of that, we've been eating more breakfast sandwiches, particularly in our car. A matter of fact, that would probably be one of the other trends that have gone on in this country is the use of drive-thru to feed ourselves more and more.

NORRIS: In the morning?

Dr. BALZER: Well, throughout the day, be honest with you. At lunchtime and the pickup and bringing home from restaurants, that's been a moving trend throughout this decade. Although, the one trend that I would say is another one that defined the decade, that was unlike the previous five decades going back to World War II, was the stopping of us using restaurants more.

We went for nearly five decades of every decade we could count that Americans would buy more meals at a restaurant at the end of the decade than at the beginning of the decade. But this will be the first decade in my lifetime where this has not occurred.

NORRIS: We have been talking about food but what about beverages? Was there a drink of the decade?

Dr. BALZER: Oh, the drink of the decade, without a question, and probably follows - identifies what America is or was, is bottled water.

NORRIS: I thought you were going to say coffee.

Dr. BALZER: It's a funny thing. The peak year for coffee consumption in this country was 1946. It's really not been increasing since 1946. It's been declining, if anything. But what has happened is we've shifted where we get that coffee. The first shift was getting more of it away from home and less likely to have it in home. No, no, actually the very first shift was not to end up having coffee at lunch or dinner. There was a time during the '50s and '60s where this country ended its meals with coffee. It's today you just have it at breakfast time.

NORRIS: So, you say though, that the actual beverage of the decade was bottled water. Take me back to the beginning of this decade, the year 2000.

Dr. BALZER: And again, this is probably something that's been going on for more than that - than just this decade, but it is by far the fastest growing beverage. And it was a category that also kind of surprised us. It's certainly not new. We know water. You walk away saying the only advantage it must have had was it was convenient. It was convenient to have a beverage always near you that didn't require any other special handling. It didn't have to be hot. It didn't have to be ice cold. It just had to be a liquid.

As the decade would progress, we'd find that people found ways of flavoring this thing, making it healthier, adding things to it. So that it really became kind of like what carbonated beverages were to begin with, and that's really the beverage it replaced.

NORRIS: Mr. Balzer, it's New Year's Day, so this is a good opportunity for us to look ahead and perhaps look into your crystal ball and talk a little bit about the trends of the future. What's the next decade hold?

Dr. BALZER: Well, the next decade is much more - it's going to be very difficult to predict. But I will tell you if we talk 10 years from now, we will talk about those things that made our lives easier. That's going to be the driving force 'cause that is the long-term trend in eating is - who's going to find the new way of preparing the meal for us? Who's going to find the easier way to deliver the food to us? Who's going to find the easier way to clean up the food for us?

What won't change is what we eat. I will tell you the number one food that we will eat in the year 2020 will be a ham sandwich. And I know that because I've been doing this for 30 years and I was hard pressed in 1980 to be asked what we'll be eating in 1990. When I discovered that the ham sandwich was the number one thing we ate in 1980, and I made a prediction that we'd be eating it in 1990. And guess what we ate in 1990 - a ham sandwich. What do you think it was in 2000 - a ham sandwich. 2010? A ham sandwich.

So do I have to go out on a limb to tell you that the number one food we'll be eating in this country in the year 2020 will be a ham sandwich? What I don't know is what will be the bread. There will be something new about the ingredients or the condiments that go on this. But when I ask you, what did you have? You'll say, oh, I had a ham sandwich.

NORRIS: Harry Balzer, it's been pleasure to talk to you. I think there's a ham sandwich in my future, so I'm going to let you go. Harry Balzer is the vice president with the consumer marketing research firm the NPD Group. Thanks so much for talking to us and Happy New Year.

Dr. BALZER: Happy New Year to you, too.

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