The appeal of plant-based and succumbing to peer pressure

The appeal of plant-based and succumbing to peer pressure

Last week’s ProFood Tech trade show (organized by PMMI [The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies], Koelnmesse and Anuga) in Chicago, Illinois, had a wide variety of education sessions, and while many of them, of course, focused on the supply chain – “How Does FSMA Affect Your Supply Chain;” “Enabling Supply Chain Transparency;” “Food Safety, Blockchain and GS1 Traceability Standard—Who Wins?” – there were also trends sessions focusing on food and beverages, as well as packaging.

Innova Market Insights presented the “Top Ten Trends 2019,” as they relate to food and beverages. Many of the trends are familiar as they’ve been “trending” for a while. Others, however, are new to me at least, as I would not have labelled them trends so to speak. And while some trends apply to only food, most include beverages as well (I’m highlighting those relevant to the tea and coffee industries).

Virginia Lee, insights and innovation manager at Innova, said the number one trend this year is “Discovery: The Adventurous Consumer.” She noted that globalization has sparked the consumer’s curiosity to discover new food and drinks, thus, consumers are “on a big and broad journey, moving out of their comfort zones to explore bolder flavours and multisensory food experiences.” According to Lee, 67% of consumers in China, 66% in the United States and 61% in the United Kingdom were interested in trying new, unusual, exotic and unexpected flavours. Our April cover story, “Flavour Craze: Consumers Crave Complex, Exotic & Functional Flavours,” examines this trend.

Another interesting trend Lee highlighted, is what she calls “The Plant Kingdom,” in which brands ‘green-up’ their portfolio to attract mainstream consumers who want to add more plant-based options to their diet. (Amusingly, Lee said the term “plant-based” is a more socially acceptable term as many consumers were turned off by “vegan” or even “vegetarian” labels.) She added that trends and counter trends drive developments of hybrids, which led to the next trend, “Alternatives to All.”

The plant-based/vegan market shows no signs of slowing down and continues to drive innovation. Lee pointed out that the average annual growth of food and beverage launches tracked with a vegan claim (Global, CAGR between 2014 and 2018) was 33%. Furthermore, there was a 16% growth in products that have “dairy-free” claims. This is evident in ready-to-drink coffees as we continue to see blended rollouts featuring dairy alternatives such as soy milk, almond milk, and of late, oat milk.

Another key trend, to no surprise, is “The Green Appeal.” Consumers, said Lee, expect companies to be committing to sustainability (per Innova, two in three US, UK and Chinese consumers expect companies to invest in sustainability). She added that whether it’s in response to consumer demand or “peer pressure,” more and more companies are investing in sustainable product and packaging innovations. Thus, we are seeing developments in alternatives to single-use plastics (such as edible straws and edible packaging) and an increase in ethical packaging (such as bio- and photodegradable).

“Eating for Me,” the sixth trend (“Snacking” is the fifth which excludes both coffee and tea), is one in which technological advances and the ever-expanding options in foodservice and retail are enabling consumers to adapt a more individual approach to eating. This goes beyond offerings such as plant-based/vegan and keto, to e-commerce as an avenue for personalized packaging. “Personalized nutrition apps enhance packaging,” said Lee.

Lee referred to the eighth trend as “I Feel Good” (the seventh is “A Fresh Look at Fiber,” which did not impact coffee or tea beverages), where consumers have a rising interest in the role that nutrition can play in supporting emotional mental well-being. “We’re seeing increasing relationships between the mind and body, with consumers looking for guilt-free, emotional comfort from food and beverages.” This is evidenced by the rise in functional coffee and tea products in the marketplace. And once again, CBD comes into play as Lee noted, “this is where CBD is becoming popular.”

“Small Player Mindset” is the ninth trend. “The power of local hooks consumers as they feel smaller companies are more dedicated to quality products, are more socially conscious and are better storytellers,” Lee explained. Inspired by this, she said food and beverage ‘giants,’ are “going small in their strategies”. That is, multinationals are investing in start-up innovation by launching or integrating start ups in their portfolios. (Think Nestlé’s acquisition of Chameleon Cold Brew, Coca-Cola’s purchase of Honest Tea, and Keurig Dr Pepper’s partnership with FORTO Coffee Shots, to name just a few.)

Noting that younger consumers like to share food and beverage images on social media (Chinese consumers lead the way with more than 55% doing so), “Connected to the Plate,” is the tenth trend, according to Lee. “Advances in digital technology enable consumers to get closer to their food/beverages through greater levels of transparency and involvement,” she said. QR codes, for example, allow consumers to verify product origin quickly and easily, and brands can also use QR codes to connect with consumers, as by simply scanning the label, they can read about the brand’s history, farming practices or goals online. (See “Building Brand Loyalty with Labelling” in our April issue.) Strategies such as blockchain are further enabling transparency, although it’s not the only one — there are numerous other track and trace systems. (See “Blockchain Explained and What it Means for Coffee,” also in our April issue.)

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