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After Covid-19 shook up the food and drink industry in 2020, what’s on the menu for 2021? We spoke to food and drink wholesalers, distributors and retailers to find out.
Recessionary food trends will be kicking in over 2021 as the UK enters “the second dip of a double dip recession,” explains Paul Hargreaves, chief executive of Cotswold Fayre, and that means consumers will be seeking out little ways to treat themselves.
“When times are tough, confectionery and chocolate products perform incredibly well, acting as comforting treats at home. Patisserie and small luxuries will also be at the top of everyone’s shopping list for the foreseeable,” he says.
A survey of members of the Craft Bakers Association backs this trend, with more than two in five bakers predicting that consumers will be seeking out indulgent, premium products in 2021.
Henry Amar and Rob Amar, chair and MD of RH Amar, agree that the speciality food scene will thrive even as tough economic times continue. “There is no doubt that 2021 will be a tough year, with household incomes squeezed and high levels of unemployment. As consumers give up the expensive purchases (the new car for example), they console themselves by spending money on food treats.
“This is already happening, as we see from sales of our extensive COOKS&CO selection of around 100 fine foods, where sales to the speciality sector so far this year are up by 84% with Christmas still to come,” they said. Whole Foods Market’s Trends Council also predicts that consumers will be looking to move beyond the basics. “With more time in the kitchen, home chefs are looking for hot, new takes on pantry staples. Pasta, sauces, spices - the basics will never be boring again.”
The pandemic has shone a light on health, and 2021 will build on 2020’s healthy buying trends - but Al Overton, buying director at Planet Organic, says that this will go hand-in-hand with purchases made for the health of the planet and community.
Sustainability will be a key food trend, with demand for plant-based products spiking. “Covid, along with the growing awareness over plastics, has somehow brought home the message that our health is fundamentally tied up with that of our planet. Meanwhile, 2020 was also a year of both connection and disconnection with people. We have realised the importance of community, we have more respect for the key workers who keep our food supply going as well as those who provide other essential community services,” Al said.
At the same time, clean label food with natural ingredients and functional food products with health benefits will be at the forefront during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. “2021 is sure to see that demand for healthy food and supplements continue, an obvious result of a global health crisis,” Al added. Plant-based and superfood options were predicted to be popular by nearly one in three of the CBA’s baker members, while over half thought that low-sugar options would be key.
Whole Foods’ experts agreed that consumers will be focused on personal health. “The lines are blurring between the supplement and grocery aisles, and that trend will accelerate in 2021. That means superfoods, probiotics, broths and sauerkrauts. Suppliers are incorporating functional ingredients like vitamin C, mushrooms and adaptogens to foster a calm headspace and support the immune system.” Immune health naturally took centre stage in the pandemic, but gut health and mental health are also areas of focus for consumers.
RH Amar’s Henry and Rob say the boost that the speciality sector saw in 2020, where convenience stores, independent delis, farm shops and the like gained increased market share, will continue into 2021 as changes in consumer behaviour become permanent.
“Smaller shops, independents and butchers, for example, are doing phenomenally well and this is a trend I can only see continuing,” agrees Paul. This, tied with the expected continued growth in online sales, presents an opportunity for the fine food industry.
“With the benefit of convenience and better-quality produce available on your doorstep, without queuing and large crowds, there’s a real opportunity to build sales and loyalty,” Paul says. “I expect to see more independents getting involved with click and collect, e-commerce and moving online. There’s a real opportunity here and I’m surprised some haven’t been faster to act already.”
Al said that Planet Organic’s own experience in 2020 shows that the valuable opportunity for retailers to increase their digital footprint. “That e-commerce boom saw us introduce nationwide delivery for all products, including fresh and chilled items, in effect the same service as larger supermarkets, but with our focus on nutrition.”
There’s no end in sight to the home cooking trend, and with people continuing to work from home in 2021, consumers are looking to replicate restaurant meals, reproduce their favourite comfort foods, and liven up their breakfasts and lunches.
“I wouldn’t expect typical out of home, restaurant dining to be back to ‘normal’ until the end of 2021,” Paul says. “The pandemic really has been habit changing, with consumers recognising that they can buy good-quality, tasty food for less, and enjoy it in the comfort of their own home.”
Oils are one area where innovation is occurring, according to Whole Foods. “There’s a different crop of oils coming for that place in the skillet or salad dressing. At-home chefs are branching out with oils that each add their own unique flavour and properties. Walnut and pumpkin seed oils lend a delicious nutty flavour, while sunflower seed oil is hitting the shelves in a bunch of new products and is versatile enough to use at high temps or in salad dressing,” they say.
But beyond dinner and weekend meals, consumer demand for lunches and breakfasts are also expected to see an upgrade. “2021 may become the year we say goodbye to the traditional meal deal style lunch of sandwiches, crisps and a drink, replacing this with more prevalence of soups, hot food to go and snacking platters,” says Paul. “We’re all looking for something a bit different to brighten and break up the day, and with a whole host of kitchen appliances available at home, I think we’ll see some new and inventive products breakthrough.”
Whole Foods’ experts agree. “There’s a whole new line-up of innovative products tailored to people paying more attention to what they eat in the morning. Think pancakes on weekdays, sous vide egg bites and even ‘eggs’ made from mung beans,” they say.
The vegan diet took centre stage in 2020, and that’s likely to continue as more consumers adopt a plant-based lifestyle or a flexitarian approach to eating.
Paul says veggie and plant based food options are likely to continue to replicate popular meat products next year. “Jerky is a big hit in the UK, and in the next year I think we’ll see more vegetable snacking options enter the market. More recently we’ve seen mushroom jerky,” he said.
Whole Foods also pointed to jerky as a prime area for innovation in alternative protein. “Now all kinds of produce from mushrooms to jackfruit are being served jerky-style, providing a new, shelf-stable way to enjoy fruits and veggies.”
As the demand for vegan products grows, Paul says that it may be the end for dressing up vegetable products as ‘meat’ alternatives. “Perhaps 2021 will be the year we celebrate the great taste of vegetables without disguising them as other products - and enjoy them as they are meant to be.”
6. Canned cocktails
Paul says the “biggest” category approaching the beverage industry with new products is the hard seltzer drink micro category. “A new trend originating in the US, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these brands and variants enter the market over the coming months.
“These alcoholic carbonated waters, packaged in slimline cans, are fairly low in calories, with a similar strength to beer, at around 4% - and very much aimed at the young female market.”
According to Whole Foods, however, the most exciting area for beverage trends globally is boozy kombucha. “Hard kombucha checks all the boxes: it’s gluten-free, it’s super bubbly and can be filled with live probiotic cultures.” But Paul says that this drink is still yet to really gain traction in the UK as it has in the US.
Paul believes high-quality, non-alcoholic drinks will also continue to rise in popularity in 2021. “With the introduction and success of speciality brands like Seedlip, posh alcoholic drinks for adults are now starting to come through as serious contenders,” he says.
After the panic buying seen during the early days of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that ambient goods performed well in 2020, but Henry and Rob say the consumer trend for canned fruits and vegetables will continue into the year ahead - partly due to Brexit.
“In the first 10 months of 2020, our sales of Del Monte canned fruits have tripled compared to the same period in 2019. Our sales of D’aucy canned vegetables have doubled, and our sales of Mutti tomato products are up by 250%. We see this trend continuing in 2021, not least because there are likely to be shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables following changes in immigration policy meaning that fewer seasonal workers will be available to farmers and growers in Britain,” they say.
This article was originally published in December 2020
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