In a panel titled ‘2030 Visions: Digging into the future of food’ held at Future Food Tech Summit in March 2023, a group of industry experts set out their predictions for the industry in the years to come. Sustainability and health and wellness will continue to be popular consumer trends and will drive further change in the industry, they said.
Consumers are demanding a more sustainable food system
The past decade has seen a sharp rise in interest in sustainability from stakeholders across the food system. Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of the food industry and are demanding sustainable practices from food producers. In 2020, more than nine in 10 Europeans claimed that protecting the environment was important to them, while 74% of consumers globally choose brands according to their social and environmental impact, according to the European Commission.
The use of sustainable packaging and renewable energy sources, as well as the reduction of food waste through upcycling are just some of the key developments this demand has brought about, the panellists said.
“Consumers’ awareness of their own health and [the health of the] planet has grown drastically. For today’s consumer, it is a requirement to add more value to the food that they’re eating. [It needs to be] more than just food,” said Sonia Huppert, global innovation marketing leader at international ingredient producer IFF.
Carbon footprint labelling has potential but requires improvement
Allowing consumers to make informed food purchasing decisions, the use of carbon credits on front-of-pack labelling indicating a product’s carbon footprint has gained popularity amongst manufacturers recently. However, concerns regarding the effectiveness of carbon footprint labelling exist with some industry stakeholders arguing that large corporations need to do more to avoid greenwashing.
“Sustainability isn’t solved via carbon credits but by a combination of many solutions - it is not an easy fix. Buying carbon credits can’t be a get out of jail free card,” said Uwe Voss, CEO USA at multinational meal kit provider HelloFresh.
For others, carbon labels are a step in the right direction but require uniformity and widescale adoption to incite actual change.
“It is important that the industry aligns on a common language surrounding sustainability. It is important to speak to the same facts and datapoints, not just for progress into the system but also for stakeholders across it,” said Paola De Almeida, global director of corporate innovation at Mars.
Adobe / nenetus
Consumer awareness of the health-diet link is growing
The health and wellness trend has also significantly transformed the food system. Post pandemic particularly, consumers are better informed about the link between diet and wellbeing and are demanding healthier food options.
“Healthy eating and plant-based have had a huge push recently […] People first go for taste, cost, and convenience, then health and sustainability. This has been a big shift since Covid,” said Voss.
This trend has facilitated the growth of plant-based alternatives, functional foods, and supplements that target specific health concerns. Technological and scientific innovations have enabled the development of new ingredients, such as chickpea protein isolate, and have allowed for the creation of new products that cater to specific dietary needs, such as vegan, gluten-free, or high cholesterol.
The health and wellness trend is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. In Europe, the segment for plant-based alternatives is predicted to reach a value of €7.5 billion by 2025, compared to €4.4bn in 2019, according to the bank, ING. The sector will benefit from rising consumer awareness of the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the health benefits of plant-based diets.
Health and sustainability are strongly connected in consumers’ minds
There is an interplay between sustainability and health, yet it remains to be seen which will have the most success amongst consumers in future.
“Health and sustainability have historically been treated as distinct swim lanes, but we are now seeing convergence in this space. For example, health is no longer just health but [has transformed into] wellbeing [including] mental, physical, social, environmental health,” said De Almeida.
“You can’t have wellness without a sustainable system behind it, so we will have to build solutions with that point in mind.”
As health, wellness, and sustainability continue to gain importance amongst consumers, we can expect that their consumption and spending habits will increase demand for healthier and more sustainable products, driving further industry change.
“If we think about Covid, inflation, the Ukraine war, and all the other externalities that are happening right now, we see a lot of revaluation from a consumer standpoint on how they want to reallocate their expenditure. We see some very clear trends in terms of what’s important to people, and there is a convergence of worry for wellbeing and sustainability,” said De Almeida.
“People have learnt that some historical norms don’t necessarily have to be in terms of how we work and live, and that means we should expect to see some reallocation in spending that will change consumption patterns and drive change in the industry, especially as we collect more data [on consumers].”