According to a recent report from the global professional services company Accenture, the food industry is expected to change more over the next decade than it has in the past 50 years. Many different factors, from global population growth to the rapid pace of technological development, are contributing to this significant transformation, but perhaps the most influential factor is the ultimate destination of all the food industry’s efforts: the consumer.
Consumer beliefs and attitudes comprise one of the most important forces shaping the food industry today. Consumers aren’t drawn to particular foods and beverages because they are on trend; rather, it’s the trends themselves that develop in response to prevailing consumer sentiments and the purchasing habits these sentiments lead to.
As outlined in a recent article from the taste and nutrition company Kerry, these are the three key consumer attitudes that are driving change in today’s food industry:
1. A desire to make food choices without compromise
Contemporary consumers are increasingly interested in choosing food products that are in harmony with their values and principles. They know that the foods they buy have an impact that goes beyond their own experience of eating and drinking, and so they are more determined than ever to ensure that this impact is a positive one.
Sustainability is one particular value that is currently having a major influence on the food industry. Consumers today are very concerned about the health of the planet, and they want to be sure that their food and beverage choices are environmentally friendly. This has led to significant growth in certified food production methods that make sustainability a priority. For example, products that are organic, GMO-free, or fair trade are attracting more consumers than ever. When it comes to animal products, organic-fed and humanely raised poultry and livestock are increasingly sought after.
Another value that consumers don’t want to compromise on when choosing foods and beverages is their own health. In today’s market, “healthy” has come to mean foods and beverages that are free of a wide variety of undesirable ingredients, such as artificial preservatives, unnecessary additives, and specific ingredients that are linked to food sensitivities or intolerances or that are otherwise deemed to be unhealthy. Gluten is a prominent example of such an ingredient. The explosive popularity of gluten-free products in grocery stores and food retail establishments in the last few years is a direct reflection of this strong consumer preference.
2. A craving for new experiences
For today’s consumers, experience is the new must-have product. According to the Irish state food agency Bord Bia, an astonishing 90 percent of global consumers say that they believe experiences should be prioritized over material possessions. From a food and beverage perspective, this means that consumers want their food to provide them with more than basic nourishment. They are curious and courageous, and they want foods that satisfy their sense of adventure.
One of the most obvious ways in which this consumer preference is driving change in the food industry can be seen in the wide variety of world cuisines now available at all kinds of food establishments. Ethnic dishes, exotic spices, and unusual preparation methods are no longer unfamiliar sights; rather, they are found in use everywhere, from chain restaurants to meal kits. This trend crosses many different food categories, but somewhat surprisingly, one of the foods that has seen the most adventurous expansion in flavor profile is ice cream. Producers of this frozen treat have infused their product development process with an unprecedented spirit of exploration, experimenting with a huge variety of non-traditional flavors, as well as inclusions and texture innovations, that look beyond the dairy category for inspiration.
3. A dedication to living a fulfilling life
Like the desire for new, adventurous experiences, the dedication to living a fulfilling life sees food taking on a meaning that goes beyond nutrition. To many contemporary consumers, food has become aspirational, inclusive, and an essential ingredient of overall well-being. For example, a growing number of consumers are making the connection between the foods they eat and their sense of identity. These consumers are looking to food to help them build community and connections, gain a sense of belonging and purpose, and create a better world. This can be seen in the degree to which shoppers are increasingly interested in supporting food establishments that participate in food redistribution programs, which help address issues such as hunger and food insecurity while ensuring that surplus food doesn’t go to waste.
Another important aspect of a fulfilling life is work-life balance, and once again, food choices play a critical role here. Now that so many consumers are working longer hours, experiencing greater stress, and finding that the lines between work and the rest of life are becoming ever more blurred, they want foods and sustenance that fit into these changing parameters. This means that the market is seeing more options for portable packaging as well as more convenient, ready-to-eat foods that are healthy and nourishing.