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.
Positively processed items with ethical claims (animal, human, environmental) soared across all food & beverage categories. More "raw" and "old-fashioned" processes are hitting store shelves, especially cold brewing, cold processing (which preserves flavor and nutrients), cold extrusion and controlled sprouting techniques.
Lu Ann Williams, Innova's director of innovation, points out that key themes from previous years -- such as clean-label, free-from, high protein, sugar reduction, gut health and plant-based options -- will continue to fare well. Gluten-free is being embraced by millions, including many who don't have a negative reaction to gluten. Retail sales have surged to $1.7 billion, rising 6 percent in 2016, reports Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com).
Reducing sugar, modifying sweeteners
It's no surprise that American are consuming less sugar, especially in beverages, as product development teams work to reduce added sugars. The new Nutrition Facts panel, originally set to become the rule this July 26, will call out added sugars for the first time. Despite the panel's indefinite implementation delay, the new panel almost surely will be required some time, so most processors already are minimizing added sugars.
"As the need for sugar reduction only increases every year, there were several new developments in 2017 that allow for changes to the sugar molecule itself," explains Mark Eisenacher, vice president of sales & marketing at Pyure Brands LLC (pyureorganic.com). "In our segment, organic and non-GMO are imperative. Most brands pushing better-for-you products are at a minimum non-GMO. For that reason, we remain focused on organic sugar solutions at the forefront of the market."
Rapidly changing consumer tastes and buying habits are prompting many soda companies to ramp up creation of new beverages in categories they might never have been in before. A recent study published in Obesity indicates consumption of sweetened carbonated soft drinks is down sharply. On any given day in 2003, 79.7 percent of kids and 61.5 percent of adults consumed a sugar-containing drink. In 2014, those numbers were down to 61 percent of children and 50 percent of adults. Plant-based dairy alternatives, coffee drinks and water are the main replacements.
Scrambling to adapt to fast-changing consumer tastes, Coca-Cola Co. is innovating its existing beverage brands and offering better-for-you teas, waters and coffees to appease consumer preferences. Of it 21 billion-dollar brands, 19 are available in reduced-, low- or no-calorie options. The soda giant also reportedly is testing a 100 percent stevia-sweetened cola with no sugar, zero calories and, it claims, none of the aftertaste consumers dislike about stevia. PepsiCo a year ago promised to make at least two-thirds of its beverages 100 calories or less per 12-oz. serving by 2025. Like Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo makes many unsweetened iced teas, waters and flavored sparkling waters, juices and the Gatorade sports drink brand. Soda represents less than 25 percent of the company's global revenue.
Power of plants
Most adults aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports just 12.2 percent ate enough fruit in 2015, and only 9.3 percent ate the suggested amount of vegetables. However, interest in all plant ingredients and plant foods is growing.
Demand for fresh produce is increasing, perhaps sparked by the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advice that adults eat the equivalent of 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily. "Since [those] under age 40 are consuming more fresh foods than their cohorts did in the last decade, this isn’t just a fad – it’s a generational shift," notes Darren Seifer, food & beverage industry analyst at NPD Group (www.npd.com). "Packaged goods obviously can’t become fresh, but they can win in this environment. It requires a new look at ingredients to see if reformulation is possible to remove preservatives and other artificial ingredients."
Natural, organic and especially plant-based products are showing up in conventional supermarkets. Food researchers are testing ingredients such as lentein powder, from the world’s smallest flowering plant, Lemnaceae or duckweed, as well as algae, seaweed and pulses for their healthy proteins and other health attributes to use in functional foods.
Gone are the days of a single vegetarian entree offering on restaurant menus, as even die-hard meat lovers enjoy meatless fare occasionally. The plant-based market is valued at $3.1 billion in annual sales, says Nielsen.
Even baked goods can contain vegetables, a successful niche for Kay Allison and Michael Senackerib, food industry veterans who founded Farm&Oven Snacks (farmandoven.com). The company's Bakery Bites cookies incorporate 40 percent of the recommended daily vegetable intake per serving, plus fiber and probiotics for digestive health. Ingredients include beets, carrots, pumpkin and zucchini, as well as dark chocolate, lemon and nuts.
Oh Yes! Foods produces frozen pizzas with 12 fruits and vegetables, and Oprah's "O, That's Good!" made by Kraft Heinz Co., adds cauliflower and butternut squash to soups, mashed potatoes and pasta dishes.
There are multiple reasons why per-capita U.S. consumption of dairy milk overall dropped by 22 percent since 2000, and vegetable-based alternatives are one. Almond and soy milks are holding their own, and milks made from barley, quinoa and hemp are gaining ground, notes Packaged Facts. Innova Market Insights expects the global market for dairy-alternative drinks to reach $16.3 billion in the U.S. this year, up dramatically from $7.4 billion in 2010.
As younger demographics drive experimentation and innovation with more dimensional flavors and textures, influences from the West Indies, Japan and Tanzania are taking center stage in fused flavor creations, according to McCormick & Co.'s Flavor Forecast for 2018 (flavorforecast.com).
The casual, adventurous and interactive nature of how people are eating across the globe is pervading McCormick's latest culinary inspirations, says Kevan Vetter, executive chef. Spicy Tanzanian barbecue flavors are emerging, as are Ethiopia’s spice blends of paprika, allspice, coriander, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and red pepper, he says.
Comax Flavors (www.comaxflavors.com) Comax divided its own 2018 trends into four unique flavor collections:
- Indulgent, plant-based dairy alternatives such as salted caramel s'mores cashew milk, sweet potato maple cinnamon almond milk and turmeric golden coconut milk.
- Soothing, relaxing flavors that encourage sleep are showing up in coffee, tea, juice and sparkling beverages, ice cream, candy, baked goods and nutrition bars.
- "Instagramable," colorful, pink foods like rosé cocktails, Starbuck's Unicorn Frappuccino, pink pineapple fruit from Del Monte and ruby chocolate from Barry Callebaut are examples of photo-friendly foods.
- Familiar/unfamiliar flavor mash-ups, surprise pairings like deep-fried cookie dough, raspberry chipotle and whiskey pickle flavors for beverages, dairy, candy, baked goods and nutrition/performance products.
Restaurant/hospitality consultant Andrew Freeman & Co.'s (www.afandco.com) 10th annual Hospitality Trend Report says comfort food's popularity will soar as Americans are disturbed by natural disasters, unpredictable politicians and the shaky economy. "Change is the new black, and reflects the food industry’s acceptance of this state of flux," Andrew Freeman says. "Successful food formulators will get their creative juices moving to innovate faster than ever to keep up with national economic, political and social shifts as well as significant cultural changes in the way people dine, socialize and travel."
Next year, Canada is expected to legalize marijuana, and the entire U.S. may follow suit as more states approve its medical and recreational use. Freeman is one of several trend trackers claming cannabis is an ingredient to watch. The company also predicts vegan dishes will go mainstream, coffee will go on draft and the breakfast sandwich could be the dish of the year.
Above all else, taste transcends the trends. "We want great-tasting, healthy, clean food and beverages [but] taste is central to our expectations about food," says Lauren Williams, director of marketing, global sweet & beverage flavors, at Sensient Flavors (www.sensientflavorsandfragrances.com).