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Food companies are always looking for ways to drive innovation. As we discussed in a previous blog post, the global food industry is experiencing a large transformation as people's consumption habits have dramatically changed in recent decades.

The evolution of the food and dining industry is far from over. As the following articles show, significant trends change how Americans eat, requiring companies to adapt. As people's lifestyles change, it becomes crucial for companies to get closer to their customers and separate fads from long-lasting changes.

Here are 4 trends that the food industry has recently grappled with:

1. More restaurant customers dine alone.

To make them feel at ease, restaurants are shifting their typical service for people eating alone... At New York City-based Union Square Hospitality Group, servers learn how to interact with diners who swing by the group's fine-dining restaurants while on business alone. These customers get a couple of table location choices along with reading materials if they want. Sabato Sagaria, the group's chief restaurant officer, sees an increase in these solitary patrons.

"I think it's a growing trend in general," said Sagaria in a phone interview. "I think people are more comfortable dining by themselves. We always try to set up our restaurants so they can be campfires of conversation."

At casual dining chain Texas Roadhouse, locations near hotels and natural gas centers also see a sizable proportion of guests flying solo. The company's bar area, like in many restaurants, is designed with these people in mind and includes televisions, seating and music. - Katie Little, CNBC

More Americans are dining alone. Here's how restaurants are catering to the lone diner: (CLICK TO TWEET)

2. People choose fresher food.

Long at the center of the supermarket and the heart of kitchen convenience, freezer-aisle items are struggling today as Americans shift their tastes to fresh food that they see as healthier.

Frozen-food sales, by dollars, have lagged behind the rate of inflation the past four years, and sales by number of units have fallen. Dollar sales of frozen juice, chicken and pizza all are down since 2009, according to market-research company Nielsen. And sales of frozen meals fell 3% to $8.92 billion from 2009 through 2013, according to Euromonitor InternationalÛ_

The struggles of a category that for decades drove innovation show how fast consumer perceptions of health and convenience can turn - forcing companies to catch up. Consumers in their 20s and 30s, in particular, are driving the changes in frozen food, executives say, as they grew up in an era of heightened awareness about nutrition, intense scrutiny of the food industry and the advent of the Internet and social media to fuel that fire. - Annie Gasparro, The Wall Street Journal

More people are ditching frozen food in favor of fresh food. More in this @VisionCritical roundup: (CLICK TO TWEET)

3. America renews its love affair with butter.

Per capita U.S. butter consumption has hit highs not seen in about 40 years. The once demonized fat is downright de rigueur in cooking circles, a star on celebrity chef shows. It has become a natural food darling.

Butter owes much of its comeback to its simplicity. Consumers have become increasingly picky about processed foods with lists of indecipherable ingredients.

"There has been a complete resurgence of butter since at least 2008, and it really has everything to do with 'real food,' " said Melissa Abbott, culinary insights director at the Hartman Group, a market researcher. "There's been a backlash against margarine and other processed spreads." - Mike Hughlett, StarTribune

"Real food" movement drives the resurgence of butter in the American diet. Find out how brands respond to food trends: (CLICK TO TWEET)

4. Millennials drive the store brand trend.

The traditional stereotype of the millennial generation leads us to believe they are obsessed with brands, particularly premium brands. Yet research shows that few millennials are willing to part with the large amounts of cash that aspirational brands command. By contrast, millennials are now driving the growth of one the most humble of all "brands" - the private label, or store brand.

Private label brands in food, retail and CPG are taking over a significant market share - a growing trend that's largely driven by millennials. In fact, some of the most successful private label brands have become, dare I say, coolÛ_

What can we learn from private label madness? The simple answer is that many old marketing models are dead. Millennials are the savviest generation of consumers ever - they will crowd-source information on even the most benign of purchases. In this new economic world, strong brands will win even bigger and weaker brands may be replaced by private label. - Jeff Fromm, FORBES

Why are store brands becoming more popular with millennials? A roundup of food trends and how brands are responding: (CLICK TO TWEET)

How do you foresee these trends changing the face of food business? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @VisionCritical.

The Everything Guide to Millennials

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