The food and beverage industry was dramatically influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as restrictions and lockdowns caused some consumers to pivot toward sweets and snacks, while others sought comfort from immunity-boosting ingredients and functional foods.
How will these changes influence consumer preferences in 2021? Our experts across the US, UK and Europe have identified five trends with staying power, as well as opportunities for brands to tap into diverse and evolving consumer food preferences:
1. Clean label innovation accelerates:
The clean label movement continues to be one of the most influential trends shaping new food and beverage product development. Consumers are increasingly wary of preservatives and artificial additives meant to enhance a product’s flavor, appearance or shelf life, and prefer products that contain simple, recognizable ingredients.
To meet demand for cleaner formulations, food manufacturers are increasingly seeking out natural ingredients that not only reduce the need for artificial preservatives, but also add distinctive flavors, texture, or nutritional benefits to enhance consumer appeal, says Angela Lofthouse, Global Sales and R&D Director for Chaucer Foods.
Plant-based ingredients – such as fruits and vegetables – are increasingly at the center of clean-label innovation, due to the high level of traceability and versatility they offer, she says.
“Ethical and environmental considerations are playing a greater role in consumers’ food purchase decisions. Consumers increasingly want to know if their foods are from sustainable sources, and show a growing preference for plant-based ingredients that they recognize as clean and natural.”
2. Functional options focus on body and mind:
The global pandemic caused many consumers to shift their eating patterns and habits, with many snacking more frequently and becoming less active than usual. A recent YouGov UK government survey showed that 40% of UK consumers reported eating more during lockdown, and 25% said their diet was less healthy. Looking forward, 80% say they will make greater attempts to stay healthier as a result of COVID-19.1
“This year has taken its toll on consumers in many ways. Many are striving to be more mindful of what they put in their bodies, and learning more about the ways that a healthy diet can support their long-term health and wellness,” says Lizi Rickett, Chaucer Sales Manager for the UK and Ireland.
The established trend toward better-for-you options and functional nutrition is likely to continue as consumers reprioritize their health in 2021. Trending functional ingredients include immunity boosters, such as fruits packed with vitamin C and D, as well as fruits and vegetables that support good immune function. Even indulgent snacking is getting an overhaul, with more consumers looking for better-for-you benefits, all-natural ingredients, and mental health benefits.
“Now we’re all working from home, mental health is a priority for many and we can boost mental wellbeing through our food. Diets rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, fiber and bioactive compounds like probiotics have all been linked to mental wellbeing,” Rickett adds.
3. Foods with a backstory draw consumer interest:
Consumers are increasingly looking for more transparency and authenticity from the brands they buy. Brands who can weave a story around their products, from a purpose-driven mission to the quality of ingredients selected, have a better chance at connecting with consumers and establishing trust. Most recently, all-natural, traceable and sustainable ingredients have come into the spotlight because they align with issues and causes that consumers care about.
“We are seeing a growing interest in ingredients and products with a personal backstory, many of which end up the back of the package. Area-specific ingredients are also trending as consumers long for a sense of adventure to other parts of the world, or perhaps a nostalgic flavor that reminds them of home,” says Rickett. “People buy from people, and they want to feel good about what they purchase.”
4. Textures and flavors get more creative:
While health and nutrition are of growing importance, indulgent and treat-based snacks are still in demand. According to a recent study from IRI, 72% of consumers say their snack decisions are made on impulse, and the majority still view snacks as a type of indulgence.2
There is also a desire for new experiences and flavors in snacking. Innovative, fun and indulgent products leveraging new ingredients continue to capture consumer attention. Consumers want and expect an ‘experience’ when they pay more for a product, including surprising textures, new flavor profiles and a visual appealing presentation.
Cecile Gauriau, Global Confectionary EUM Manager at Chaucer, notes that inclusions are often a much welcomed bonus in sweet goods like ice cream or candy. For consumers who prefer healthier snack options, they add a small dose of indulgence and a guilt-free way to satisfy cravings.
“Today’s consumers have an appetite for novelty, and are increasingly expecting more from their confectionery and dessert products. Texture and taste remain as important as always, and brands are experimenting with new flavor and ingredient pairings to create interest,” she says.
5. Meal solutions get healthier:
With more consumers cooking meals at home, meal kits are gaining market share. The industry is projected to be worth $20 billion by 2027, according to an analysis by Grand View Research.3 Natural, recognizable ingredients are also becoming more important for the meal solutions sector, as consumers prioritize healthy eating habits.
“Today, we see a growing number of options that feature recognizable, plant-based ingredients and natural or “free-from” claims,” says Kathy De La Bastide, Group R&D Manager at Chaucer. “With artificial preservatives and additives in the spotlight, we have also seen increased demand for natural ingredients with a long ambient shelf-life that offer great taste, high quality and nutritional benefits, such as freeze-dried fruit and vegetables.”
The ready meals market also has an opportunity to capitalize on consumers’ quest for convenience. Many consumers are still developing their skills in the kitchen, and this could mean that they value the convenience of a ready meal solution even more, especially one that offers a unique flavor experience or an easy way to elevate traditional dishes. Dry mixes for pastas, soups and marinades are all time savers, used by even avid at-home cooks.
Innovative ingredient solutions
In response to these trends, NPD teams are innovating with a focus on natural ingredients that can deliver on taste and nutrition while supporting a simpler label. Freeze-dried fruits, vegetables and pulses are ideal as crunchy stand-alone snacks, and are seeing even greater demand as better-for-you inclusions for snacks, bakery, dairy, confections, savory meals, and more. The freeze drying process retains an ingredient’s natural flavor, color and nutritional value – qualities which are diminished by any other drying process.
Leading brands also continue to experiment with innovative inclusions to add texture and enhance visual appeal for new snack, bakery, dairy and beverage products. Chaucer’s sweet baked ingredients are shaped, dried versions of authentic bakery recipes, offering more versatility in innovating new flavor combinations or adding an extra layer of indulgence to existing product lines. The sweet baked selections are made with authentic ingredients and no additives or artificial preservatives, supporting a simpler label.
Whether you’re working on something new or reformulating to meet new trends, our R&D team can work with you to develop a high-quality, innovative product. Learn more about all of our freeze-dried and baked ingredient offerings, or contact us today at email@example.com.
- “Changing Consumer Landscape: fast moving consumer goods,” YouGov. April 30, 2020.
- “How America Eats: Snacking Lifestyles Are Here to Stay,” Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), April 2020.
- “Meal kit industry expected to hit $20B by 2027,” Grocery Dive. June 5, 2020.