Innova Market Insights recently took its annual dive into the key trends driving consumer behavior in the food and beverage industry. Though some themes might repeat from year to year, there are several trends veering increasingly toward health, sustainability, and digital media.
In the climate we’ve been in lately, it’s not necessarily an easy market to figure out, notes Lu Ann Williams, co-founder and global insights director for the Netherlands-based market research firm. “We’re coming after two very difficult years,” she says. “This year may be even more difficult than previous years to figure out what’s coming.”
Nonetheless, Williams put her 30 years of insights into taking a stab at the trends for the coming year.
1. Redefining value
We’ve seen it plenty of times, and Innova has found it to be true in its examination of the food and beverage industry. “What consumers value is not necessarily what they’re paying more for,” Williams says.
So where are consumers willing to draw the line? In its survey of lifestyles and attitudes, Innova found that the top answers were fresh products, locally produced products, and functional ingredients that boost physical health.
Consumers are also seeking out brands that respond to their core values but do so at an economic price. They want to minimize food waste; recycle, upcycle, and repurpose products; and choose products with environmentally friendly/less packaging. “A lot of people feel like so many things are out of their control—climate change, war, housing,” Williams notes. “Consumers are looking for more things they can control.”
2. Affordable nutrition
Consumers are certainly seeing the effects of inflation when they visit their local grocery stores. It’s not easy to get the right kind of nourishment at the right price, making affordable nutrition an untapped opportunity, according to Williams.
It used to be only lower- or middle-income countries that received the focus of nourishment concerns. But now there are big opportunities in richer parts of the world, Williams points out. Data shows a big swing upwards in undernourishment over the past couple years.
“Consumers are looking for healthy food and things they associate with health,” Williams says. “It is possible to do things that are very innovative around affordable nutrition.”
3. Generational push
It’s been a common theme at conferences these days for presenters to talk about their Gen Z kids. Though there are regional differences in what consumers want, more significant differences show up generationally. And young consumers are defining what markets should be providing.
“It’s never been more important to know your consumer,” Williams says. “Younger consumers are saying, ‘Companies should be listening to us.’ The big takeaway is that there’s a new era of two-way conversation between consumers and branded manufacturers.”
4. Plant-based: Unlocking a new narrative
This is the sixth or seventh year that Innova has listed plant-based among its Top 10 trends, Williams notes. Though the growth has been slowing in this market of late, she is still very positive about its prospects.
Improved flavor and texture will go a long way to convincing consumers that this is the right direction to go, but Gen Z is already more on board than their elders. “People are saying this is a group of consumers that thinks plant-based milk bests the taste of milk,” Williams says.
5. Farming the future
New farming systems are improving quality and sustainability and are leading to a renewed consumer interest in their food sources. There’s been a lot more communication around things like regenerative agriculture, plant breeding, vertical farming, and other systems, Williams says.
Of those surveyed, 69% of consumers globally say they prefer products that mention the benefits of their sourcing/farming method on the package. They’ll undoubtedly have to pay more for it, though, Williams points out. “Maybe the industry doesn’t get enough credit for bringing the price per calorie down,” she says. “But we’ve probably reached the end of cheap food for the near future.”
6. Quick quality
“Convenience and finding products that fit into our busy lifestyle have been popular for a long time,” Williams says. “But now it has to bring health benefits as well.”
When asked about what they’re looking for in meal kits, cost, freshness, and health aspects all factored high—convenience, less so. The trend for a while was chilled meals that you could just heat and eat. “But now consumers seem more willing to participate in the cooking,” Williams says. “It’s definitely something that represents a great opportunity.”
7. Devouring digital
Brands are starting to embrace the full potential of consumer connections by enhancing real life with digital experiences, Williams notes. “You can’t ignore the impact of digital media for what’s happening in food,” she says. “Digital technologies are driving changes in personal nutrition.”
Merging food with digital experiences is key to reaching the younger consumers, in particular, Williams notes, pointing to the meaningful impact that Doritos is aiming for with its connection to digital mental health services.
8. Revenge spending
Consumers are facing very high prices for everything, and many of them have limited budgets, making food in some cases a luxury. The flip side of that is that consumers are showing a huge interest in limited edition items that feel like an indulgence. “It can be a really quick win,” Williams advises. “Little luxuries that bring you quick pleasure.”
9. Unpuzzle health
According to Innova’s research, on-pack claims are very important to consumers for making sense of how ingredients and nutrition will impact their health. Williams seems skeptical of that, pointing instead to the need for government involvement to address health challenges.
“Nothing drives a trend faster than a government,” she says, noting government involvement around the world to the obesity crisis, for example, that has begun to spread around the globe (not just the U.S.).
Nonetheless, there’s been a growing level of conversation around labeling on products, and there’s an opportunity for brands to educate and deliver on health. “Governments will try to encourage food companies to do better here,” Williams says.
10. Positively imperfect
Brands need to embrace the fact that they’re not perfect and be open about the challenges they’re facing as they try to address sustainability, health, and other hot topics addressed above. “Consumers feel more involved when a brand is honest about it,” Williams says, adding that it makes it feel less corporate if you can be a bit cheeky about it.