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Resonating with consumers: why storytelling is top trend for 2020

Having an attractive and resonant story behind your food and beverage product will be a decisive factor in achieving success in 2020.

This key trend is one that manufacturers must get on board with if they are to stand out from the crowd, according to Innova Market Insights.

Stories influencing purchasing decisions

“Storytelling is about winning with words and will be absolutely crucial to success,” says Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova. “Manufacturers should create resonance with consumers over the origins of the company or the product itself; how the product is produced; or what benefits the product offers. And the number one thing that consumers want to know about is the ingredients. In the world of digitalisation, we have the tools to tell stories and the ability to connect with consumers.”

In fact, some 56% of global consumers say that stories influence their purchasing decisions. Choices can be based on what consumers hear from friends, often on social media.

“This is also an opportunity for manufacturers to explain to consumer how or why things are done,” adds Williams. “Consumers are smart; what they want is transparency and authenticity.”

An example of good storytelling is a tea product made with super herbs sourced from the Andes; the product provides a clear explanation of both the provenance and benefits of its ingredients. Williams notes that smaller companies have been the ones driving this trend.

“A few years ago, we told the industry to look out for the small guy,” she says. “And sure enough, the disruptors have come from the outside. So, if you are not telling stories, you really should start to tell stories about your products.”

Plant-based revolution

A second key trend for 2020 is the plant-based revolution. This is being driven in part by consumer interest in health, sustainability and ethics, which ties into the broader consumer lifestyle trend towards cleaner living. Williams believes that there is still a lot of market left to penetrate.

“There are huge opportunities for making plant-based claims,” she says. “We found that consumers prefer the sound of ‘plant-based’ to ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ and there has been a 68 % growth in plant-based product claims globally over the past five years.”

Furthermore, this plant-based revolution is only just getting started.

“The industry is still figuring out the terminology,” says Williams. “When we talk about plant-based ingredients, what exactly are we talking about? Are we just talking about plant protein? There are also botanicals, green tea, extracts etc.”

Demand for plant-based ingredients ties into a third key trend – sustainability. Innova Market Insights research indicates that 87% of consumers want companies to invest in sustainability in 2019, up from 65% in 2018.

Winning with words

“Consumers expect that companies will do the best they can,” says Williams. “There has been a massive shift here.”

Sustainable actions can include the use of renewable energy sources, fighting plastic waste, or reducing food waste.

“Most companies have figured out what their metric is,” she says. “The key now is understanding who your target market is, and how to communicate your actions to them.”

This again ties in with the number one trend – winning with words. 

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The mindful consumer

A fourth trend, which Innova calls ‘The Right Bite’, is about targeting products that help people manage whatever lifestyle they happen to be following. Generation Z consumers, for example, are often looking for products – such as protein drinks – that fit with their on-the-go lifestyles. Stressful modern living has also increased demand for nutritious foods that are easy to prepare, as well as indulgent treats that provide relaxation and enjoyment.

“Mental health is on the agenda and is no longer taboo,” says Williams.

This trend also builds on the growing influence of the mindful consumer; someone who is looking for products that are good for them but also wants to feel good about what they eat. A good example of this is a French drink called Bee Zen, which targets the wellbeing of consumers but also supports the sustainability of bees.

Texture creating opportunities

The fifth top trend is tapping into texture.

“Consumers are really recognising more than ever the influence of texture,” says Williams.

According to Innova, 45% of US and UK consumers are influenced by texture when buying food and drinks, while 68% share the opinion that textures contribute to more interesting food and beverage experience.

This growing awareness of the role texture plays creates opportunities for food manufacturers to differentiate their products from their competitors. Williams shares the example of fluffy pancakes, which are perceived by Brazilian consumers to be tastier, more indulgent, more exciting and of higher quality than normal pancakes. Williams says that this should provide some inspiration for other types of products.

“Macronutrient takeover”

Another key trend is what Innova calls ‘macronutrient takeover’. Williams notes that sugar is now public enemy number one in consumer perceptions and underlines the influence that the media and science can have on what is perceived to be good, and what is not. Some sectors like ice-cream have diversified, to include plant-based products that target consumers looking out for calories and fat content.

Opportunities for hybrid products is the seventh trend, identified by Innova as a means for brands to market and extend themselves. Mixing a niche ingredient with a more mainstream ingredient, for example, can help to attract more widespread consumer attention.

“Consumers expect to find the perfect product for themselves, and hybrid products are one way of giving consumers a choice that they feel is perfect for them,” adds Williams.

Even Coca Cola has launched hybrid products including coke mixed with coffee; energy coke; and coke with fruit flavours.

The final three trends include the fact ingredients are often the ‘stars’, though this requires familiarity and consumer acceptance to work. Probiotics are an example of ingredients that have rapidly gained public recognition. Eat pretty – the fact that many new product launches border on nutraceuticals – and brand unlimited – the fact that brands are engaging consumers like never before – complete the list.

A very exciting time to be in food

While storytelling tops Innova Market Insights’ top ten trends for 2020, other key themes from previous years, such as ‘Discovery: the adventurous consumers,’ will continue to feature strongly.

“All trends essentially go together and build from previous years,” says Williams. “For example, we’re all global travellers. There is more variation in food, which is why this idea of discovery was one of our top trends for last year. This fits into story telling; people want to connect with something.”

“The need to talk about discovery and storytelling is something that touches every category; there is a need to look at opportunities holistically. This is a very exciting time to be in food, as there is so much happening.”

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