Industry press, blogs and social media are always full of predictions about what consumers will be looking for in their food and drink products each year. It is common for the industry to obsess over a particular flavor or to bet everthing on a new best-seller vegetable. However, there are generally bigger, longer-term societal changes that drive these trends. This is the time to be looking further ahead, beyond the current or next year, in order to define successful product launches based on longlasting consumer trends.
The right question
The F&B global market is both technology and consumer driven. New, either innovative or long-thought-lost traditional, products are made available through state-of-the-art methods and/or equipment, while the needs and wants of paying customers shift the direction of the whole sector.
Staying ahead of the curve is the only way to thrive in this brutally antagonistic economic field.
Thus, food trends are a central element to success and the reason why everyone in the market is proeoccupied with them. It is only through analysis of emerging eating habits that it is possible to identify positive pathways to a sustainable future. That is why we will not list a few foods or lifestyle choises that are expected to grab headlines for a few months or even a year and then fade into nothingness. Instead, we aim to reach the core of the conundrum. The issue is not about “what” consumers want at any given time, but “why” and “how”.
It always was and always will be the top criterion by which food is measured. The culinary experience is a search for pleasure, a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. Naturally, sensory needs, especially flavor, must be the first to get fulfilled. Furthermore, the search for satisfaction around the table creates a feeling of conviviality and intimacy, not only for sharing food, but also to enjoy the pleasure of socialization. Food, therefore, also assumes cultural value, beyond that of a means of sustenance. By adopting a different concept of flavor, which prefers wholesome food and which views meals as a time for socialization, the search for pleasure can also be seen as a way to repress boredom and modern era wave of depression or even as a hobby.
There is no slowing down the trend towards natural and organic food; on the contrary, its popularity is increasing, and each year sets a new high. Historically, people -regardless of their socioeconomic status- have always paid attention to nutritional benefits. For example, the use of herbs with medicinal properties in the preparation of meals.
It has now been widely recognized that the risk of many diseases can be decreased and health can be preserved by adopting a correct diet and lifestyle; the concept of diet is more broadly linked to the improvement in people’s overall well-being. In fact, consumers increasingly pay attention to a healthy lifestyle, made up of healthy dietary choices, which also explains why in recent years Mediterranean diet has become the norm on healthy eating across the globe.
Well-being as a means to preserve physical health can be traced back to “functional” foods that, aside from nutritional effects, have a beneficial effect on one or more bodily functions. Across the Western World, consumers will also continue to reject products that contain too many additives, and instead embrace local natural ingredients, either fresh or traditionally processed.
Consequently, healthy eating is linked with healthy ageing and therefore a longer life. Healthy ageing products aren’t just targeted at consumers past their 60s: people of all generations are becoming more aware of how what they consume affects their lifespan, overall health and appearance. For example, more and more producers are looking to tap into the anti-ageing power of antioxidants in various products, from berries to olive oil and honey.
Traditional products evoke a past filled with memories and involves recalling and preserving habits and lifestyle choises rooted in a specific sociogeographic context. Thanks to personal experience, the culinary traditions of a certain place can be preserved over time and appreciated. Indeed, food allows room for a group memory made of knowledge and flavors, refined dishes and farming rituals.
This leads to food at times being identified as one of the ways to go back in time and in certain cases, food provides comfort, hence “comfort food”: authentic, simple, fulfilling, linked to traditions, childhood and the family table. Therefore, comfort food is of an intrinsically local nature, as it is linked to specific cultural backgrounds and to diverse culinary habits and origins. Memory also presupposes a feeling of nostalgia for a past that is considered simple, secure and relaxing, compared to the faster and more frantic lifestyle of modern times.
The issue is not about “what” consumers want at any given time, but “why” and “how”
The interest of consumers reaches much further than the end product nowadays: they’re looking for sustainability in the food industry as a whole. This is what we refer to as a “responsible” consumer; he takes food products’ environmental impacts into account, and specifically elements, such as pollution deriving from production plants, the quantity of energy used in production, a preference for recycled materials or those which use renewable resources, etc.
Additionally, a key concern is food waste, and with more than 50 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables discarded each year across Europe alone, for reasons no more than aesthetic, growers and producers need to ensure that any crop unsuitable for retail is pumped into industrial ingredient supply chain, thus avoiding unnecessary transport, packaging and storage costs, as well as waste.
Sustainability cannot be implemented in the F&B market without transparancy, which has become the biggest trend driving change in the industry. Consumers want to know and understand what ingredients are going into their food, which is why we are seeing so many innovative products with shorter ingredient lists. Before now, rarely would someone flip to the back of a product and read it before putting it in the cart.
Consumers are looking for brands that keep no secrets about their product, as well as reflect their own personal values. The brands that consumers eat and drink, have become an expression of themselves, which is why they seek out a company’s origin story, sustainability efforts, social contribution, and overall corporate transparency.
Clean labels are more important than ever, particularly to a growing segment of consumers with special dietary needs, which in turn means lab-created artificial and “natural” flavors are not in demand; consumers want real ingredients from nature. Essentially, purchasing decisions have become a form of environmental activism; people are voting with their dollars/euros/pounds/etc. These educated consumers are a change-maker for the industry ranging from the field to the shelf.
7. Convenience and speed
Eat-on-the-go food is by no means a new trend, yet it is expected to surge in coming years. Starting in the 1970s, and in line with the spread of eating patterns that mirror an average lifestyle which is increasingly fast-paced and hectic, speed is the element which, more than any other, has marked a substantial difference in how people structure their lives; not surprising then that these years coincided with the spread of fast food restaurants.
For decades now, individuals have been leading lives which leave less and less time available to them and their families; this also involves a reduction in the time dedicated to cooking and meals and, at the same time, a change in methods and types of purchases. These convenience foods, ready-to-eat, either tossed in a microwave or just heated up, are a manifestation of the technological innovations that have occurred in the food industry.
The F&B market will need to tap even further into an audience which is increasingly time-strapped with busy schedules, yet doesn’t want to sacrifice health goals, or end its curiosity for new ingredients, flavours and formats.
8. Plant-based diet
Statistics state that almost one out five consumers in the West consider themselves “plant-forward”, meaning that they follow a diet not necessarily vegan or vegetarian, yet they prefer approximately 70% of their meals to contain plant-based, 100% clean ingredients. As consumer needs rapidly evolve, food companies must re-imagine the way fresh, plant-based foods are grown, prepared, delivered and ultimately brought to the table. Plant-based, non-dairy alternatives are driving big change in the sector. Plant-based is a long-term format shift that dramatically changes the choices that consumers make.
9. From local to global
Growing mobility, improved logistics and new technologies have it possible the globalization of tastes rapidly changing the culinary landscape. Specifically, the exchange between food cultures is the characteristic feature of the trend identified as the globalization of flavors, which nurtures a feeling of curiosity for other peoples’ food and lifestyle customs.
At the same time, there is a trend towards local and regional eating, seen more as a relationship between food and territory. In this case, this relationship refers to the proximity of the place of production to the place a food is eaten, which is considered a guarantee of authenticity and freshness. This contributes to turning these types of foods into exclusive products: local and regional food is often a niche market, characterized by poor accessibility.
Indeed, that last part is what gave birth to the idea of Global Food World in the first place. We aim to globalize local production and make traditional products of limited quantity and unlimited quality available to every consumer across the globe.