Search online for ‘food trends’ and you’ll be inundated with information – not all of it accurate, a lot of it contradictory, and little backed up by statistically-reliable evidence other than anecdote. So how on earth does an organisation like Innova Market Insights come up with authoritative lists in this area, year after year?
Global insights director Lu Ann Williams explains how her team bases the trends it identifies on robust data from multiple sources. “We track products, ingredients, flavours, packaging, and we do a lot of consumer research,” she says. “We analyse data all day, we attend the big trade shows, and we are talking to companies every day.”
With such a wide network of specialists analysing markets, the risk is not so much missing a trend as identifying it too early. “We put personalised nutrition on our trends for 2005, for instance, and that was way too early for the market to digest,” Williams recalls.
Trends persist but evolve with time
By and large, the same themes persist, but evolve over time, says Innova. “Plant-based was a Global North trend in the beginning, and now we see it growing across a wider range of countries,” she points out. “Clean label is another good example. It’s still a huge topic, but it adapts and changes over time, and consumer understanding changes.”
Capturing and communicating those nuances within a single theme can be challenging. “It’s difficult, but we know how to do it,” Williams states.
Other challenges include the need to distinguish a genuine trend from a fad. “There are a lot of fads driven by social media, but they very often peak and fizzle out quickly,” she says.
Covid-19 has been a “gamechanger” in multiple ways, Williams confirms: “A ‘before and after’, and now a ‘because of’ and ‘amplified by’.” Like recessions, the pandemic has increased volatility, ushering in extreme differences in consumer attitudes to spending (and ‘revenge spending’), above all.
Regional differences can be striking
“This week, I read an article about Americans spending like there’s no tomorrow, despite inflation and interest rates and uncertainty about a recession,” she says. “It said they have just decided that you can’t know what will happen tomorrow, so they’re just enjoying themselves. On the other side, Chinese savings rates stand at about 35%.”
While healthy eating and concern for the environment have both remained a constant in consumer thinking and behaviour, they too have evolved over time. “We do a macro trends lifestyle survey every year,” says Williams. “For years, the number one global concern was ‘health of the population’ Two years ago, ‘health of the planet’ surpassed human health for the first time.”
Sustainability can be the tiebreaker
In terms of buying behaviour, she says: “Overall, sustainability is not a primary purchase driver for most consumers, but it can be the tiebreaker.”
Meanwhile, concerns around the impacts of climate are also looming ever larger. In terms of food availability, reports of crops not growing where they used to grow are only increasing, according to Innova.
“Canada is the major producer of plant proteins, but there have been issues with too much heat and too little water in recent years,” Williams says. “We can expect all of this to have an impact on costs. I was told by someone that we are at the end of the cheap food era. The climate will impact that, but so too will changing demographics.”
Williams will present these and other top 10 trends at the free-to-attend Innovation Hub at the Fi Europe in November.