The numbers are stark. Almost $15 trillion dollars in household wealth was lost during the recession. And while a recent Federal Reserve report on household wealth shows that we’ve gained about a third of that back, it seems that people really have changed their spending habits. At least for now, it’s chic to be stingy with a dollar.

This is really important, says Mike Walden, North Carolina State University economist, who adds that this is the most important facet of the economy — the fact that all this wealth was lost. It is really what is driving households to be very frugal and very modest in their spending.

So why should you care about how Jane and Joe Consumer spend their cash? Because these financial values have carried over into food and food purchase trends, and may have significant impacts on your business today and tomorrow.

“Simplicity” and “local” are in. Quality has never been “out,” but it carries a higher priority now more than ever. And “apps” are all the rage.

Case in point, check out the top 10 food trends for 2011 by The Food Channel, along with CultureWaves, the International Food Futurists and Mintel International.

“The new food simplicity is about putting value on the independent grower, on the person who is striving to make a difference — one farm, one person, one business at a time,” say editors at The Food Channel. “In 2011, the consumer is all about buying from a business that is dedicated to creating a quality product, dedicated to doing the right thing, regardless of the size of the business or the number of products they produce.”

Without further ado, here are the top 10 food trends they identified for 2011:
1. Canning is cool. Canning, pickling and preserving are in.
2. Men in aprons. More men will hit the kitchen to cook meals for their families.
3. Local support. Consumers will continue to emphasize support for local growers and farms.
4. Don’t ask, don’t tell regarding nutrition facts. There will be a bit of a backlash regarding nutrition labels on everything.
5. Food apps are in. Food has become the dominant attraction of smart phones. Look for a myriad of apps for everything from restaurants to coupons.
6. Small is the new big business. Take lessons from small businesses to stay close to customers.
7. Fresh every day. There is a move toward a return to local bakeries, butcher shops and farmers’ markets.
8. Chefs in schools. Reportedly, thousands of chefs will consult with school lunch programs this year.
9. Discomfort food. People will be more willing to try new things and step out of their food comfort zones.
10. Eating for sex and other things. Consumers will be searching out foods that will help them look and feel younger and healthier.

And since I’ve confessed my fondness for lists a time or two, here’s another top 10 2011 food trends list from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

It shouldn’t be surprising that there’s some interesting overlap between these two lists, even though one is regional and the other national. The items offer a critical glimpse into the current consumer psyche. Use this information to position your business to take advantage of these trends.

By Shannon Linderoth, associate editor, Dairy Herd Management