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Changing nutrition trends: the future face of food
In a rapidly changing consumer environment, Callum Tyndall takes a look at the nutrition trends shaking up the food industry and those likely to gain prominence in the coming year.
Food is in a near-constant state of flux. Whether it’s new ingredients, technology or dietary trends, consumers are seeking an expansion of their food horizons. That search is only accelerating as digitalisation and globalisation present shoppers with flavours from new regions and increasing knowledge pushes them towards new diets. Meanwhile, key trends such as health and sustainability are likely to become even more prominent in the near future.
The year ahead is obviously impossible to truly predict, but below we have gathered some of the trends that we see continuing to grow and influence the food consumers seek out. It remains to be seen whether they solidify as industry staples or suffer the fate of food fads before them.
The driving topic across all consumer industries is sustainability: how can companies reckon with, and reduce, their environmental impact? This will continue to be driven in large part by consumers growing increasingly conscious of their own impact and looking to mitigate it as best they can. Companies will continue to move towards sustainable production methods and compete with more environmentally beneficial alternatives than they may currently have on offer.
Beyond changes in diet and manufacturing, sustainability will stretch to the large, and relatively uncontested, problem of food waste. We live in a rather wasteful society (according to waste charity WRAP’s 2015 estimates, ten million tonnes a year of food waste is produced in the UK) and while innovations such as Apeel are helping to combat high levels of wastage, we still have some way to go. Expect companies and consumers alike to challenge this space further in the future as sustainable living’s prioritisation continues to grow.
Decreasing meat consumption
According to a 2018 study by comparethemarket.com, 7% of those surveyed in the UK identified as vegan and 14% said they were vegetarian. A Gallup poll, meanwhile, found that 3% of Americans say they are vegan and 5% identified as vegetarian. These numbers suggest that while consumers are more concerned with their environmental impact these days, they are not rushing to change their diet wholesale.
Said numbers don’t quite paint the full picture however, as 2018’s annual food and drink report from Waitrose found that 21% of UK shoppers claim to be flexitarian. Even assuming the number of full vegans or vegetarians to be on the lower end, that’s a significant number of consumers looking to decrease their meat intake. As sustainability continues to dominate the conversation, it is likely that consumers will continue to shift away from traditional omnivorous diets, particularly as plant-based alternatives continue to garner support from meat industry players such as Tyson Foods.
Coinciding with consumer’s desire to explore changes in diet, is the now well-established trend towards healthier diets and a greater concern with wellness. Although some health and food fads can be short-lived (consider the fluctuating popularity of various diets or the shifting judgement on certain foods being carcinogenic or not), the general trend is definitely shifting in favour of food promoting a higher level of wellness.
In part, this can be seen to stem from the premiumisation trend which, while perhaps not as prominent as it was, persists as consumers express a greater willingness to pay more for products that promise a higher quality. This has been partially attributed to social media’s increase of lifestyle visibility and while social media usage is under greater scrutiny, the desire for elevated products is unlikely to disappear in the coming year. And with wellness’ fit into a holistic approach to betterment in regards to food, we are likely to continue to see health foods proliferate.
As consumers increasingly seek more from their food, the popularity of functional foods and their promise of food with additional qualities is only likely to grow. According to Grand View Research, the functional food market was estimated to be worth $161.49bn in 2018 and eventually reach a forecasted value of $275.7bn by 2025. With health on the agenda, and a willingness to pay out for foods offering more, functional foods are set for a banner year.
Protein will continue to be a point of interest, particularly given its place in the growing broader category of sports nutrition, but the general notion of health-enhancing foods, beyond simple nutrition, will likely continue to experience a surge in consumer interest. The differentiating factor will come in navigating those products that are simply a fad and those that fit into longer-term patterns.
One of the benefits of globalisation and digitalisation providing a greater connection between consumers has been an expansion of palettes and a shift in interest towards more global flavours. What would have once been exotic is now becoming commonplace and this shift is likely to continue as the window for novelty shifts ever further. As food cultures within cosmopolitan centres continue to evolve and diversify, more and more cuisines will become staple to consumers and they will expect access to those cuisines to become ever more standard.
The task for retailers will be identifying how these cuisines fit into larger trends such as sustainability, and how to combine those factors into a retail-ready product. Further challenges will be presented by the race to identify emerging cuisines of interest and single out those which have long-term commercial futures, as opposed to those which may be more of a flash in the pan novelty.
On-the-go, convenience-driven food has received a lot of attention in the last year or two as busy consumers increasingly turn to food that is quick, easy, and can be eaten on the move. According to Mintel, 95% of US adults snack daily and 70% do so at least twice a day. The sector has become so ingrained into consumers’ daily diets that it is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon, but it does face several challenges.
Snacking has historically sat more on the unhealthy end of the spectrum, to the point England’s former Chief Medical Officer advised banning snacks on public transport to help combat obesity, and with the move now towards healthier diets, this is likely to find snacks in the firing line. Additionally, as consumers’ flavour palettes expand and they seek premium products, they are likely to look for food that, although designed for convenience, does not scrimp on quality. Convenience food is contending with a rapidly changing consideration of the sector. Its success depends on its adaptation.
Digital technologies have changed almost every possible facet of modern life, at every level of production, manufacture and consumption. Going forward this is only likely to accelerate as the dream of Industry 4.0 - a holistic reimagining of industry built around automation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and the Internet of Things - steadily becomes a widespread reality. These technologies are in various stages of development but core notions of this industrial transformation, such as smart factories, are beginning to see the light of day.
There are, of course, concerns: what does automation mean for jobs? Can a computer be trusted to do the work without human oversight? How secure is all of this technology? If recent years have proven anything though, it is that such concerns mean little in the face of technology’s juggernaut-like advance. They will have to be contended with, and responsible companies will have an advantage over those who wait for regulation to catch up, but the coming years will see digital technologies only continue to proliferate further throughout the supply chain.
Blockchain has been a major topic of conversation, to varying levels of understanding, in the last year as companies look to both improve upon the efficiency of their supply chain and establish greater trust with the technology. While it is still early days, with mainly pilot programmes in place, and we are yet to see a mass uptake, the further these programmes develop the more likely they will be to achieve this.
Perhaps the main benefit to increased traceability, beyond the potentially improved efficiency throughout the supply chain and the possibility of greater reactivity to any problems in said chain, is the increase in trust between company and consumer. Once blockchain technologies become more incorporated in the retail environment, companies will be able to sell on the basis of consumers being able to, for example, scan a product QR code and see the full manufacturing journey of that product. Such transparency will go a long way towards selling the trustworthiness of a brand.