Five Trends that Will Shape Food Products in 2018
Leslie Wu | Forbes
As we head into the change of seasons and the inevitable return of autumnal, pumpkin spice takeovers of flavors, so, too, do we see the return of trend lists for the following year. One of the first out of the gate amongst the major players is Mintel, who just released its global food and drink trend report for 2018, detailing what will influence products and manufacturing in food service next year.
1. See Clearly Now
The report cites a general mistrust of food safety throughout manufacturing and supply chains, with only one in five Canadian adults saying that they trusted manufacturer labels on product packaging. As a result, food service retailers, manufacturers and distributors at all levels should see an increased call for accountability. “In addition to disclosing more specific transparency details, the next wave of clean label challenges manufacturers and retailers to democratize transparency and traceability so that products are accessible to all consumers regardless of household income,” writes the author of the report, Jenny Zegler, Mintel global food and drink analyst.
Will this transparency be enough to sway a consumer wary of an increased awareness of food recalls, restaurant sanitation and other previously hidden elements that have been brought to the forefront by apps, websites and media coverage? The move to bring this level of accountability to all levels of the food supply chain (such as Whole Food’s strategy in “affordable” groceries earlier this year, first with the 365 stores and then the much ballyhooed deal with Amazon) will be an interesting trend to watch.
2. Comfort Food
Although Mintel is far too genteel to suggest we all indulge in sheetcaking, a la Tina Fey, the company does point to “political bombshells” and ingredient scares as triggering a consumer selection of food that soothes or falls within the health halo. “The challenge of determining the elements of a healthy diet can contribute to negativity and stress because consumers are bombarded with potentially conflicting reports as to which ingredients are recommended and which ones should be avoided,” writes Zegler. Whether through tailor-made seed diets, soothing botanicals, such as chamomile, lavender and lemon balm, or splurge indulgences in dessert or comfort food form, manufacturers will be targeting customers through mood-based offerings.
The return to comfort food and emotionally targeted products seems to be an ongoing trend in foodservice, although forays into vegan or gluten-free versions can also be attributed to a growing awareness into dietary restrictions on the manufacturing level.
3. More than a Feeling
Unexpected tactile experiences in food and beverage will be a new realm for manufacturers to explore in 2018. “As with color, more companies have the opportunity to add texture via natural ingredients, such as the pulp of fruit or vegetables, the tingle of spicy peppers, or carbonation resulting from fermentation, as with kombucha,” writes Zegler. This trend can manifest through chewy or crunchy elements in beverages or popping candy, or other surprises in baked goods, aiming for a novel experience for the consumer to share.
Chewy elements in beverages will be unsurprising to consumers with any familiarity with the tapioca in bubble tea, for example, but the push to create a memorable and shareable tactility in food is perhaps a response to the virtual nature of today’s food experience. Virtual reality and Google glass, restaurants that hand out Instagram aids so that diners can better document their experiences, and other non-tactile sharing of dining is leading food products to new and unforeseen areas.
4. It’s All About Me
Love it or loathe it, increased personalization in advertising and promotions is here to stay, but there’s an unexpected challenge for companies, says Zegler. “The rapid expansion in the variety of food and drink retail channels will fuel the opportunity for recommendations, promotions and product innovations based on actual consumer behavior patterns,” she writes. “While this offers opportunity, it also could compromise brand discovery and endanger brand loyalty because custom offers might prioritize benefit, such as convenience, value or time, over brand.”
Privacy seekers may find the tracking of their personal information distasteful, but the use of online habits to build targeted experiences may spur interesting innovations not only in how products are sold, but also elements of packaging (consider Coke’s experiments in personalizing its bottles, now with first and last names, for better or worse.)
5. Tech Talks
Although GMOs and test tube meat are still controversial topics, the drive towards technological improvement continues in food manufacturing. In order to make these developments palatable to the consumer, companies are looking towards the environmental elements of these advances, according to the report. “In time, the target audience for scientifically engineered ingredients could go beyond environmentally conscious consumers and appeal to consumers who are concerned about ingredient consistency, efficacy and purity,” writes Zegler.
The irony of using increased human and technological manipulation to promote perceived “natural” or organic elements must be noted, but it remains to be seen how these messages will be received by the consumer.
One thing that’s clear from Mintel’s predictions is that manufacturers are increasingly beholden to consumer demand, not just in terms of packaging or flavors, but also of ideologies, such as sustainability and transparency. It will be interesting to observe how these strategies unfold over the coming year, and how they will shape what consumers see on shelves.
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