By Luca Morena, CEO, Nextatlas
The food industry is experiencing rapid changes as consumer demands are driving new products to the market. From plant-based burgers to drinks enriched with phytochemicals, there is a shift in consumer thinking when it comes to food and how the body is nourished.
Consumers are seeking out products with meaningful, functional benefits such as energy, cognitive support and stress relief, while products that assist with issues such as digestion and inflammation are in high demand. They want more than just hydration from their beverages and more than just nourishment from their food. They are more educated about health and wellness than ever before; as such, from the rediscovery of unprocessed traditional foods to the added value of food transparency, our everyday lives are undergoing a food evolution. But what are the main socio-economic changes that are informing our new found thirst for avocado ice cream, seaweed butter and dragon fruit?
Eating our own words
Interest in functional foods has skyrocketed due to the growing self-care movement and evidence highlighting the critical link between diet and health. As a result, consumers are craving food and drinks that can sustain their robust lifestyles and provide optimal health benefits. But to do this, they are becoming inquisitive about ingredients. Today, people care about what is in their food – and they are exercising their right to know. Consequently, we are seeing a very specific, almost technical, vocabulary for what we ingest. This is manifesting itself everywhere from processed industrial foods to restaurants. Menus are morphing into instruction manuals with each ingredient carefully noted, usually using a peculiar lexicon derived from the tradition of high cuisine. It is a progressive re-appropriation of foodstuff that goes hand in hand with the enrichment of the vocabulary connected to food. And it goes way beyond the plate.
Brutally candid presentations about where our food comes from and what it is made of are transforming advertising and marketing messages into common knowledge. The fast-food chain McDonalds has spent millions in an education drive to clearly showcase the efficacy of its menu – and this is just one example. Thanks to a combination of better packaging and a growing consumer awareness and interest, more people are learning to eat healthily just by reading and understanding the component parts of products.
There’s no doubt that there’s a shift in buying behavior to the plant-based category. A major factor driving this demand is the proliferation of research on gut-health and the benefits of a plant-heavy diet, which has led consumers to look at food in a “functional” capacity. Restaurants, groceries, and even the large food conglomerates are putting capital behind it and as more investment moves into the space, we’ll see more of these products on shelves.
This is connected to the aspiration of living an integral life. Namely, the transformation of habits, appearance and evolved consciousness that define how we feel and appear. The direction is that of a complete balance and immersion in a world where personal choices reflect the environment, both natural and social, that we strive for and desire the most. And, just as it happens with other trends, what is happening in food is inextricably linked to other, connected sectors, specifically beauty and the skin.
Aloe, green tea, bamboo, cucumber, tomato, watermelon and moringa are some of the foods we’re seeing incorporated into skincare products. This is intended to fulfill the demand of a more health-conscious approach to beauty. Green, natural, pure, organic and eco-friendly are some of the terms that certify that these beauty products are made with plant- derived, non-toxic, sometimes vegan, cruelty-free or ethically-sourced ingredients. Botanical oils are also one of the fastest growing categories in skincare due to their adaptability. They can be applied to the face, body and hair and have moisturising, vitaminic and antioxidant properties.
We’re likely to see this grow exponentially, based on a combination of educated and informed millennials taking action by innovating and developing products in this space, and retailers showing increasing appetite to have of plant-based products and sources on their shelves.
Fast Casual Evolution
Millennials are not just informing what we are eating, but when and how. Younger consumers have a desire to try new and different things, particularly food philosophies they see from celebrities on social media. But the focus on work-life balance in recent years is also translating into food, too.
Eating healthy on a tight working schedule can be hard; big brands have noticed by developing ad hoc solutions to tap into these specific and very contemporary needs. Fresher, readily available products seamlessly integrate into one’s daily struggles between private and work lives. Fast casual is the combination of two expressions: fast food and casual dining. This kind of dining experience offers the ease and convenience of fast- food chains, but in a more inviting and pleasant environment.
Fast-food companies are keeping an eye on these fast-growing eating establishments and are improving their ingredients to stay competitive. They are even opening new restaurants with a different approach. A generation more concerned about what they are eating and how it affects their health, combined with a widespread slower lifestyle, are the main reasons why this sector has become a big success and is expanding throughout the world.
Menu of tomorrow
The food & beverage industry is trying to quickly react to ever changing consumer needs by innovating and creating nutrient dense foods with the meaningful functional benefits that more and more consumers are looking for. It is easier to access global flavours now more than ever, and people want to experience new, innovative and healthy alternatives from other cultures and parts of the world. Concepts like cruelty free, natural, and vegan friendly gain traction and mix with the ever growing attention given to what ends up on our tables and then in our guts.
We can expect to see a virtuous reaction, on the one hand helping with the general social problem of eating better and, on the other, outlets and brands are likely to adopt new production strategies and develop environmentally friendlier distribution and manufacturing processes. If they don’t, they will alienate an increasingly influential consumer, who has shown time and time again it is prepared to vote with its wallet.