The food and beverage industry in 2017 saw natural disasters disrupt key ingredient supplies, stormy politics rewrite regulations, mind-blowing technological advances (like cellular agriculture) and Amazon's soaring success, and it's likely such disruptors will continue to pop up in 2018.
But in the workaday world of food and beverage product development, health and wellness, which has long been an overriding goal, is being challenged by transparency, as it drives trust and loyalty.
"Consumers primarily hold food companies responsible for providing information across all food transparency topics," says Deborah Arcoleo, director of product transparency at Hershey Co. (www.hersheys.com). "Yet food companies are at the bottom of trusted sources of information." To align more with consumer needs, Hershey helped launch the Consumer Information Transparency Initiative, she says, and is now leveraging informational videos about key ingredients to tell its sourcing stories. It also continues to research what additional information consumers want.
"When it comes to transparency, we're seeing the tip of the iceberg," adds Cynthia Tice, co-founder of stevia-sweetened confectioner Lily's Sweets (lilyssweets.com). "Consumers are still learning about what ingredients to look for, and the FDA has yet to weigh in on a definition of 'natural.'"
Product developers will continue to clean up labels, reduce added sugars, eliminate genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs) and replace "bad" fats, sodium and synthetic colors and flavors. More online and mobile shopping, sophisticated meal delivery methods and research and development of tailored products are all parts of the huge wave of personalized nutrition surfacing.
"GMOs continue to be a hot debate topic," Tice adds. "At Lily’s Sweets, we support the belief that consumers have the right to know and choose what is in the foods that they are eating. Transitioning a product to a clean label is a hefty undertaking for companies' customer loyalty and their pocketbooks. And they still must maintain the flavor profile consumers come to love and expect."
"We’re in a period of significant disruption, not only from technology, but also exponentially because of the political climate," remarks Stuart Sproule, North American president of trend spotter and strategic branding and design firm Landor (landor.com). "Brands have entered a new frontier. Consumers want to know their brands share their ideologies. To foster strong brand communities, companies should ensure they have authentic values and a well-articulated identity."
Mindful choices and holistic wellbeing top Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends list for 2018. Four in 10 U.S. and U.K. consumers increased healthy food consumption in 2017, and better-for-you claims surged from 42 percent in 2012 to 49 percent in 2017.
Innova also sees imbibers gravitating toward lower-alcohol drinks and mocktails. Beer purchases are being based on interest in novel products. The compound annual growth of flavored alcoholic beverage sales in the U.S. jumped 6 percent.