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New kids on the block: How sustainability and nutrition have shaken up the food industry

Trend-watcher Peter Heshof considers how new customer habits and expectations will likely impact the three traditional drivers for food consumption
How are new trends and expectations changing the traditional drivers for food consumption?

When buying food, consumers are generally driven by three key needs: taste, price and convenience. But as we enter a new zeitgeist period with a new dominant mentality focusing on wellbeing, these three food drivers are no longer sufficient when considering how and why people shop and eat the way they do.

Food and beverage innovation has conventionally been led by trends within these three key needs, creating the best proposition based on taste, price and convenience. Within taste we have seen trends like authenticity, origin, naturalness and more recently sensorial pleasure, flavour excitement and indulgence come to the fore. Taste is the most important food driver for consumers, because after all, if a product doesn’t taste great, it won’t establish a loyal customer base.

Convenience trends have been rife in recent time. Two seismic movements have been snackification (food that can be purchased anywhere at any time, grab and go if you will) and direct-to-consumer (with new propositions like dark kitchens and 10-minute grocery deliveries). The latter has turned the food industry on its head and ignited a shift towards a more tech and software-savvy sector.

The times they are a-changin’

Due to consumers’ concerns over their health and the health of the planet, wellbeing is currently top of the list. This new trend could be called the era of smart wellbeing as food companies leverage science and technology as well as natural health ingredients and solutions to enhance consumers’ overall wellbeing.

Recent surveys suggest that novel food sciences are also accepted by consumers. A 2020 ‘Innova markets insights’ consumer survey reported that four out of five respondents believed in science progressing food and beverage development.

However, I believe there are two new food drivers for consumers beyond taste, price and convenience, in the shape of nutrition and sustainability. Consider that every new food category, including plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, should also be competing with the three main drivers in mind, otherwise the new business will not survive for long.

Nutrition is number one

Nutrition and health will be the biggest food driver for the next few years. Even now, many of the new concepts in food are seeking to reduce ‘negative’ food ingredients like sugar, salt, gluten, alcohol and caffeine.

What you eat, drink and snack on should enhance your wellbeing. There are many opportunities for innovation in this space. The initial route for food companies to take is to promote the nutritional benefits of their ingredients and products to the consumer. One example is Arla UK and other milk producers marketing the high calcium content of dairy milk to benefit bone and teeth health.

The second route for food companies should be increasing the macro nutrients (protein, good fats and carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) of their products.

A great example is Unilever-owned Dutch soup brand Unox which has increased the vegetable and fibre content in its soups.

We are also seeing the first market examples of 100% nutritionally complete foods, like Future Noodles. The company has worked with nutritionists to determine the perfect balance of essential nutrients like protein, fibre, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals for a healthy lifestyle.

The third innovation opportunity is functional nutrition accelerated by Covid-19, especially, around increasing immunity. Consumers are also looking for functional benefits in gut health, brain health, energy and mood. This is evidenced by PepsiCo introducing functional water brand Soulboost to support mental stamina and relaxation.

Personalised nutrition also represents an area of growth possibilities, where food intake is adjusted based on biomarkers such as DNA, gut microbiome, blood and lifestyle. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those surveyed in the Innova consumer survey said they had found more ways to tailor their lifestyle and food choices to their individual beliefs and needs.

Two new companies are emphasising personalised nutrition to support better lifestyle and food habits. InsideTracker and Tumchi analyse bloodwork, stool samples, DNA and lifestyle habits to provide nutrition and health advice. Once they become more mainstream, food companies can collaborate with personalised nutrition firms to provide specific recipes or food options.

Sustainability

Sustainability is not only a complex domain for the agriculture and foodtech industries – it it is also difficult for most consumers to understand. Based on my experience working with leading food companies in Europe, the following three strategies can be implemented to help establish a viable sustainability goal.

First, a company should make its strategy consumer-relevant by linking its plans/targets to one of the aforementioned food drivers (taste, price, convenience or nutrition). One such example is mayonnaise giant Hellmanns using cage-free eggs and linking the initiative to better taste and nutrition. Elsewhere, the 100% biodegradable coffee pods of Maxwell House are linked to convenience as they can be disposed of guilt-free in the garden or waste bin.

Another piece of advice is for companies to report statistics to their consumers as they respond best to those making proven impacts. On top of nutritional info, consumers are keen to understand the carbon footprint of specific products so they can adapt their lifestyle to reduce waste, and this is where an eco-score is becoming popular.

One step beyond the eco-score is becoming a B-Corp certified force-for-good. Alpro, Ben & Jerry’s, Clipper, Danone, Evian, Innocent, Olvarit, Pukka, Tony’s Chocolonely and Zonnatura are all B-Corp food companies.

Expect sustainability and nutrition to be the most important food drivers for consumers in the coming years, on top of taste, price and convenience,

Peter Heshof is a trend-watcher and consultant for food businesses

[Bio]

Peter Heshof is a trend-watcher, speaker and consultant for consumer and future-proof food trends based in the Netherlands. He is the founder of trend and marketing agency Bloom.

For 20 years he helped to build future-proof brands based on his Zeitgeist trend model. He guides, inspires and consults leading food companies on brand positioning, innovation and strategy. His previous clients include Compass Group, Dr. Oetker, Ebro Foods, Euroma, JDE Peet’s, Maxxium, Suntory Schweppes, Unilever, Upfield and Wessanen.

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