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An appetite for change: Where the food industry is going

Ashley Pollock, Senior Innovation Consultant at Ayming, looks at the trend for a more health-conscious approach to what we eat.

Consumer preferences are fickle and manufacturers are forever finding new formulas to indulge them. But a fresh wave of innovation is breaking – and with it, old habits and consumption patterns. Serving this demanding industry is no longer just a matter of satisfying consumer tastes, but attuning your offering to customers’ attitudes, beliefs and aspirations.

2019 is set to be a stimulating year and a defining one for many food and beverage companies.

Over the last decade, the food and beverage industry has doubled in size, outpacing many other industrial sectors. In 2015 the value of the global food, beverage and grocery sector was $7.8 (£6.0) trillion. Packaged food was worth almost a third – $2.5 (£1.9) trillion.

Consumers are becoming more conscious of what they are consuming, which is changing every segment of the food industry.

The trend toward more health-conscious consumerism may be well-established, but it continues to gather momentum. According to Mareya Ibrahim, natural products industry veteran and chef: “The reason that health in general is getting so prominent is people are finally starting to connect the importance of what you consume in your body to longevity and to your health overall. There’s almost nothing off limits now.”

This trend has two main strands – removing the ‘nasties’ in our food, and adding more of ‘what’s good for’ our health and well-being. Less of the chemicals, processing, additives, trans-fats, sugar, salt and alcohol, and/or allergens like gluten. More healthy and functional foods and drinks in our diets – like whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, good fats, added nutrients, fibre, probiotics, fermented food products and functional additives like CBD oil and collagen.

These smarter food choices go hand-in-glove with more active lifestyles, flexitarianism and other trends.  Policymakers are playing a part, through taxes on sugar sweetened beverages, as well as alcohol, and tighter regulations on food labelling.

Better-informed consumers read these food labels more closely, understand what actually goes into products on the supermarket shelf, and are more aware of what it may mean for their bodies, whether through medical advice or their own research.

Concerns about the effects of processed foods on health not only spur demand for ‘clean-label’ products with natural ingredients; they also feed disbelief and suspicion of big brands.

People are curious about smaller start-ups, drawn in by their stories and buy into their purpose and brands that speak to their values and yearnings. This could be for a healthier, more wholesome diet, a more sustainable supply chain or a more friendly manufacturing process. New products are being created via ‘smart food hacks’ – replacing unhealthy components with beneficial ingredients that are more fibrous, richer in protein or lower in calories. Examples include cauliflower pizza crust, zucchini-spaghetti, broccoli-rice, chickpea crisps and ‘nicecream’ – a vegan ice cream alternative based on avocado, banana or other fruit.

Non-alcoholic beverages are becoming more popular with young consumers.

This trend is affecting every segment of the food industry – from snacks, baking and ‘better for you’ desserts to meat alternatives, sprouted breads, sea vegetables and energy drinks. This shift to healthier consumption reaches even to beer and wine, as low/no-alcohol versions enjoy newfound popularity – helped perhaps by the growing number of younger people turning off drinking: over a decade in the 16-24 age group, the proportion of teetotallers has risen from a fifth to a quarter.

We see this trend gathering force as more food and drinks get a healthy makeover and new ‘super’ ingredients are discovered or synthesised for a market with more educated consumers, intent on ‘cleaner’ eating.

It’s not the end of indulgence and excess – more a widening realisation, extending to new demographics and market segments, that treating yourself is about health and well-being as well as tastes.

About the author

Ashley Pollock is a Senior Innovation Consultant at Ayming, specialising in the food industry. She has a degree in Food Science from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. With six years’ experience of food product development and innovation in both the UK and South Africa, Ashley has worked in innovation for household names, including Woolworths in South Africa and Lily’s Kitchen and Belazu Ingredient Company in the UK.

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