HOUSTON — The instore deli and bakery departments of 2024 need to cater to consumer needs for convenience, experimentation and physical and mental health — just to name a few. Oh, and they need to keep one eye firmly fixed on cost at all times. A tall task, indeed.

A panel of industry experts kicked off IDDBA 2024 on June 9 with a discussion of these and other trends in deli, bakery and dairy that bear close watching.

Heather Prach, IDDBA’s vice president of education and industry relations, began the discussion by outlining the six trends the association is focusing on this year:

• Food’s influence on not only the body, but also mind and spirit, representing a switch to a more holistic view of health.

• Sourcing, sustainability and salary — how to make sure your company or store is environmentally responsible without breaking the bank.

• The technology of today and for tomorrow.

• Young, youngish and young at heart.

• Community, convenience and cash flow.

• Culture, cuisine and culinary explosions.

Following Prach’s introduction, Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics kicked off the panel discussion by looking at the differences in shopping behavior between younger and older Americans.

“There are massive differences based on low versus high income, different regions people live in, different ethnicities, but more than everything, the biggest differences are generational,” she said.

Fifty-two percent of baby boomers, for instance, cook mostly from scratch. That number falls to 37% for younger Millennials and Gen Z.

Younger Americans go to the store far less and they’re much more likely to get their recipe inspiration from TikTok, YouTube and Instagram than from cookbooks.

“We’ve gone from a written world to a world of pictures and videos,” Roerink said.

Young people are also far more likely to experiment with Korean, Cuban, Japanese and other international foods and flavors. Thirty-five percent are up for trying new foods they’ve never had before, compared to 15% of older consumers.

That said, even older consumers are starting to piggy-back on the younger generations when it comes to tapping into the power of social media, said another panelist, Jody Barrick, senior vice president of fresh for UNFI.

Boomers, too, want to discover “the next feta pasta” craze taking over social, Barrick said.

Another panelist, Josh Bickford, president of Clyde’s Donuts, said that after companies had to reign in their experimentation and focus on just staying afloat during the pandemic, innovation is back on the table.

“People are desperate for new flavors,” he said.

For Clyde’s, that’s meant new flavors like spiced chai, as well as upscale variations on nostalgic favorites, such as strawberry pink lemonade.

To thrive in today’s environment, it’s also crucial to introduce not just innovative products but innovative promotions, panelists said.

Look beyond the traditional holidays, Bickford recommended. Clyde’s got the idea, for instance, to build a promotion around the Masters golf tournament. The company rolled out a brioche pimento cheese donut, in honor of the Masters’ famous pimento cheese sandwiches.

Barrick agreed. A popular recent outside-the-box promotion for UNFI was a “halfway to St. Patrick’s” promotion on corned beef — a new and very successful spin on Christmas in July promotions.

Even with innovation in full creative swing following the pandemic, there are still many challenges facing the industry, and they don’t all have to do with price.

There’s a huge education battle that producers and retailers have to fight with consumers over perceptions of products’ healthfulness, which continues to become more and more important.

An alarmingly large number of Americans, for instance, think that cheddar cheese qualified as an “ultra-processed” food, said David Stearle, vice president of sales, US dairy, for Land O’ Lakes, and president of Vermont Creamery.

“I’m glad I’m in sales, because our marketing people have a hard job educating consumers about what’s healthy,” Stearle said. “It’s a challenge to communicate where food comes from. I think we wish it would all go away, but it’s not.”