2012 Food Industry Outlook: A Taste of Things To Come

Healthier foods, more nutraceuticals, greener everything and other challenges and consumer trends for the new year.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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It has never been tougher to build and sustain a successful food & beverage business than it is today.

Even with a (hopefully) recovering economy, doing business is challenged on the home front by regulatory changes, raw material pricing, corporate sustainability goals and changing consumer demands, among others. And on the global front by the difficulty (but seeming necessity) to set up foreign operations, safety and reliability of offshore suppliers, impact of currency fluctuations and competition for talent.

For consumers, convenience is by far the most important dynamic, and will continue to be so over the next five to 10 years, according to any number of prognosticators. Consumers are willing to pay more for convenience as their work habits and lifestyles change. The same can be said even for shoppers in developing nations. It's a tradeoff many are willing to make, especially as disposable income rises in many countries. It's all about time, and the consumer would rather buy time than prepare food.

Healthy eating is another critically important consumer driver, a trend that has considerable influence over company strategies. But while consumers want "healthy," they often don't buy healthy … or aren't willing to pay for healthy … or don't even know what healthy means and are easily confused.

Healthy means different things to different people. Two important demographics that likely will have a 2012 impact on food production and shopping are baby boomers and those of all ages who suspect food allergies.

Health for an aging/younger population
Living longer, fitter and still working, an aging population means grocery store shelves will contain foods that come with added health claims, predicts UK-based market research group Leatherhead Food Research (www.leatherheadfood.com). Expect to see more products with glucosamine for joint health and foods with added omega-3 for brain and heart health. Artery-cleaning products are also poised to make a breakthrough in the functional food market and seduce older consumers with promises of cardiovascular benefits.

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