Food manufacturers, retailers and food service operators may connect with how Americans eat by tapping into five trends in 2017, according to The NPD Group.

“The search for white space, growth occasions and new product opportunity will be more important than ever for food companies and food service operators in 2017,” said David Portalatin, vice-president, food industry analyst at The NPD Group, Chicago, and author of “Eating Patterns in America. “Opportunities to grow and innovate are out there, but the key to finding them in the coming year will be staying in touch with the consumer. They’re the ones in charge.”

The first trend involves how the battle for share of stomach will intensify, and winning the battle may depend on how food reaches kitchen tables at home. Food manufacturers may capitalize on consumers’ desires for fresh, authentic foods while food service operators increasingly will leverage technology to get their food on tables at home, according to The NPD Group.

“At the intersection of this trend is the retailer, who will continue to blur the line between retail and food service,” The NPD Group said.

The “blended meal” makes up the second trend. People want fresh and authentic foods at home, but they still prize convenience. A blended meal could mean consumers seeking various components of meals sourced from items fully or partially prepared. Opportunity arises in such ways as meal kits and restaurant delivery.

The third trend is companies might find double-digit growth by getting personal with consumers. People seek foods with value-added attributes (fresh, natural and organic), positive benefits (energy and brain food) and social value (local, sustainable and transparent).

The evolving definition of meal occasions makes up the fourth trend. People want flexible foods, or those that allow them to compose eating occasions to meet specific needs as a given time.

“Consumers will make choices on price point, portion control and portability, whatever allows them to craft a snack or full meal, spend a little or a lot, take a break or eat on the run,” The NPD Group said.

The fifth trend involves making the eating occasion an experience. People like to explore street food vendors and ethnic flavors. They like hands-on experiences such as learning food preparation techniques.

“Connecting your product or brand to an experience people are eager to share with others can be an important differentiating factor in 2017,” The NPD Group said.