BY NIKKI AUSTEN
HEAD OF INSIGHT AND STRATEGY, WEBB DEVLAM
There is no doubt that food plays a huge part in our daily lives. As a nation we spent £198bn on food, drink and catering in 2014 and the TV schedules are full of programmes about food, shopping, cooking and eating. Where we shop, how much we spend, the brands we choose and what we refuse to buy all come together to paint a picture of who we are and how we choose to live our lives.
As consumers, we are becoming more discerning, knowledgeable, and socially conscious when it comes to food. We are also changing how we choose and shop for food, thanks to the advent of new technology and innovative schemes to allow us to personalise and speed up the shopping experience. As a result, brands and retailers are being challenged to design and market products that reflect these changing habits, and grab our attention in a market crammed full with new ideas and emerging competition.
So what are the key trends shaping how we choose and consume food and how can brands react to these trends in order to build and retain a loyal customer base?
According to research by Sainsbury’s, British families throw away more than 4.2m tonnes of food every year. As an issue, food waste has come to the forefront of consumers’ attention in recent years and has been highlighted by supermarkets, restaurants and celebrity chefs in an attempt to raise awareness and shift habits. There is clearly a long way to go until the problem is resolved, but there is an industry-wide drive to tackle food waste. There are a number of “zero waste” restaurants emerging, such as Silo in Brighton, and chefs and campaigners including Jamie Oliver are launching cookbooks and shopping guides which advise on how to considerably reduce our food wastage at home.
Finding an alternative
As an extension of the food waste debate, we are also as a community more aware than ever of the strain on resources facing our planet and our food chain. Vegetarianism, veganism and “flexitarianism”, where meat and fish are only eaten on certain days, are growing in popularity and being increasingly catered for in terms of restaurants, cookbooks and product ranges. We are also starting to look outside of our comfort zone in terms of the products and staple foods we consume. Although not at all mainstream yet, we are beginning to discuss the idea of alternative ingredients such as insect proteins and flour and sea vegetables.
Restaurants, chefs and shops are starting to include these items on their menus and shelves and, slowly, consumers are starting to change their viewpoint on these items and ideas which were once greeted with incredulous horror. This is also filtering down into how we obtain and source the foods we eat. Foraging for and growing our own ingredients, and hobbies such as beekeeping, are all becoming more popular, and as such, our knowledge and appreciation of where food comes from is growing.
A sense of responsibility
There has been a huge drive in recent years to educate consumers about the processes, politics and often, the injustices involved in the worldwide food chain and how the food we buy and consume is obtained. From the huge focus on Fairtrade in the ’90s and ’00s and more recent debates about the way British farmers are treated by supermarkets, consumers are now much more aware of the need to cut out the middle man and the importance of buying direct from producers wherever possible.
There is also an increased emphasis on organic, natural farming and the way crops and animals are treated. Messages from farmers and producers or chatty information on packaging about where the product came from were once seen as quirky, but we now expect to see this information or at least an indication of how we can find out about it.
Today’s consumers are bombarded with messages about the benefits, risks and health implications associated with products and food groups. According to analysts Canadean, 16% of consumers said they were planning on increasing their protein intake this year. As a result, the market has seen a rise not only in the consumption of traditional proteins such as meat and fish but also vegetable proteins and products fortified with protein powders.
Low-fat diets are being phased out, with consumers now realising the benefits they can glean from certain “good fats”. A recent Mintel study showed that there was a 64% rise in the consumption of coconut-based food and drink across Europe in 2014 compared to the previous year. In stark contrast, sugar has now been declared the enemy by many leading influencers in the food industry. This has led not only to a shift in consumer attitudes towards sugar based foods, but also a glut of new product launches revolving around natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives such as agave syrup and stevia. Coca Cola’s Coke Life is one example of a big brand responding to consumer concerns in this area.
As people become more aware of the harm certain products can have on their health, they are becoming more forthright in their purchasing decisions and the time is ripe for brands to launch alternative products or ranges that take these concerns and decisions into account.
Similarly, as more of us are being diagnosed with food intolerances or allergies, there has been a big increase in free-from products in recent years. Interestingly however, this trend is also being driven by consumers without intolerances who are simply choosing to avoid gluten and other compounds they perceive to be unhealthy or unnatural. This is a vital insight for brands and retailers marketing free-from or similar products. Rather than positioning them as a solution for those who cannot eat certain foods or ingredients, there is now an opportunity to market these goods as a first choice product to a wider group of health-conscious consumers, competing against mainstream brand lines.
There is growing interest in free-from and healthy foods, such as those made from coconut.
It’s not just these ethical and health-led trends that are changing the way we choose and buy food. Technology has played a significant role in the evolution of food retail, from the increasing popularity of online retail, click-and-collect and ordering groceries for home delivery, to the emergence of subscription services such as Graze boxes and Abel & Cole.
Brands have a huge opportunity here to use this technology to their advantage, making the most of online’s massive scope to reach new audiences and garner positive reviews that, thanks to comparison sites and social media, can spread like wildfire. The challenge of course is to avoid the opposite, as a negative online footprint can be hard to erase.
So with all of these trends and market shifts in mind, what can brands do to respond and make sure that the decisions they make and the products they create are resonating with audiences and translating into hard sales?
The answer is to evolve and adapt as quickly as the market is shifting. Keeping a close eye on what consumers want and what is important to them is vital, and needs to be directly translated into brand strategy. So many of these trends are being driven by social and ethical values, and it’s now the responsibility of brands and retailers to develop brand and marketing strategies that make it clear that they understand and respect these values, and build them into the products and services they create.
Brands must remember that design and new product development should not be an afterthought but a crucial part of building a brand strategy. When tackling issues such as provenance, Fairtrade and sustainability, clarity and communication are key, and everything from the name of the brand to the messages on the website and the wording used on the box can help to tell a consumer everything you stand for as a brand. Similarly, simply the creation and launch of a new line or a product refresh to reflect a change in ingredients or where they are sourced from can be a powerful way of delivering that message to audiences: we know what you care about, we care about it too, and our products reflect this.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2017