Food trends are constantly evolving, led by changes in consumer mindset and behaviour, economic fluctuations, and major events affecting individual countries and even populations worldwide.
The food and drink landscape has changed considerably in recent months and years to make room for significant developments that were largely prompted by the cost-of-living crisis, supply chain issues and environmental concerns.
Many of these trends have been developing slowly yet steadily for years, while others may perhaps seem more unexpected, quickly emerging in response to recent developments.
Here, Ian Hart, business development director at adi Projects, a division of multi-disciplined UK engineering firm adi Group, discusses the most important trends predicted for the food and drinks market in 2023, and the best ways for manufacturers to successfully cater to them.
The rise in value options
Driven by the rising energy prices and cost of living, value options are quickly becoming one of the most appealing options for consumers.
2022 Christmas shopping trends are one of the biggest indicators of this trend’s growing likelihood to dominate the market in 2023, with a recent study – amongst many others of its kind – showing that nearly 60% of Christmas shoppers prioritised price over quality, availability, sustainability, and uniqueness.
Consumers are now reconsidering the amount of money they spend on groceries, and despite the challenges introduced by raw material shortages and increasing cost of production, 2023 will see an increase in circulation and demand for food and drink products that are less expensive to both produce and buy.
The ongoing drive towards health and wellness
Though by no means a new trend, the health and wellness drive is nonetheless one that will continue to dominate the food industry, and likely for years to come.
ADM’s recent report on food and beverage consumer behaviour shifts highlights increased concerns over gut health, immune function, metabolic health, and overall self-care, with 77% of consumers vowing to make a commitment to healthier habits.
And with more research being available on the positive effects of eating well, consumers are gaining an even keener awareness of the food options that can effectively improve mental or physical health – and conversely, those that negatively affect it, and are more dedicated than ever to choosing foods that are able to provide health benefits.
Gluten-free, organic, low-fat, low-sugar and plant-based choices as well as foods that do not contain what are considered to be potentially harmful ingredients are all amongst the options preferred by shoppers.
Continuous growth in meat-free and plant-based products
A focus on health and wellness translates to an increase in the demand for plant-based and meat-free options, with supermarkets offering more variety within these products than ever amidst popular ‘Veganuary’ and other related campaigns.
Though meat-based products continue to be a staple of the British diet, more and more individuals are interested in limiting the amount of meat they buy (around 29% in December 2022, according to a recent survey), both for environmental reasons and to reap the health benefits of plant-based foods, as well as to cut back on costs.
While many may not be ready to give up meat altogether, around 40% of consumers now identify as flexitarians, meaning that regardless of fluctuations in the plant-based and meat-free market, manufacturers should strive to make adjustments to cater to this demand.
Should sustainability labelling be a priority?
With the rise in plant-based food being mainly driven by an increased focus on planet-friendly choices, and many consumers prioritising sustainability right after value, brands that are demonstrably showing a commitment to the cause are likely to take the lead against competitors who have yet to do so.
A recently published clinical trial conducted by JAMA Network Open has shown that consumers respond positively to eco-labelling – compared to those in the control group, 23.5% more participants chose sustainable food items over those displaying high-climate impact labels.
Similar studies show that when given the choice, consumers are likely to select eco-friendly products and practices, and this trend is only likely to grow further in years to come.
Accordingly, manufacturers should seek to take a holistic approach to establishing environmentally friendly practices across production and the whole of their supply chain, investing in carbon reduction strategies and localising production wherever possible.
Product consolidation is becoming more and more prominent within the UK food and drinks sector, driven by a range of factors including supermarkets cutting product lines and food production moving back into the UK post-Brexit.
While it was previously more convenient for businesses to offer a range of choices at different price points, there are now significant manufacturing and production challenges stemming from the increased cost of production and transportation and less availability of raw materials.
This means more and more manufacturers are considering product portfolio rationalisation to lower costs and increase efficiency, prioritising the manufacturing of products that best meet the needs of consumers.
Catering to new food trends with the right approach
Continuously adapting to accommodate new trends that may or may not be long-lasting may seem like a substantial challenge for food and drink manufacturers, and a proactive strategy that leans on automation and innovation, while prioritising consumers’ needs, may just be the right solution.
To adapt and thrive in the food market amidst fast-changing trends and burgeoning competitors, food and drink manufacturers should look to operate with a future-oriented approach, building an in-depth awareness of what consumers really want.
Though predicting the ways in which new trends are bound to evolve may be difficult, being prepared to cater to them can make a significant difference in whether food manufacturing businesses are able to stay ahead of the curve.