27 January 2021, 08:28 AM
  • Lloyd’s Register’s Kimberly Carey Coffin outlines what retailers and food producers can expect to see in 2021
Food industry trends to look out for in 2021

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the global supply chain and in food consumption patterns. National and localised lockdowns have impacted restaurant dining, led to a rise in food deliveries and resulted in periods of panic bulk buying. After an unpredictable year, these are the key food trends set to shake up the food industry in 2021.

1. Normalisation of plant-based products

The growth of the plant-based market is booming globally. According to analysts Research & Markets, the sector is expected to grow by 17% and reach $4.2bn in 2021.
Growing consumer appetite for these products means they are no longer solely for vegans and are becoming another mainstream protein option. In 2021, food manufacturers and restaurant chains are expected to extend their ranges with a variety of plant-based options as a mainstream option. No better example of this is McDonald’s, who has announced plans to offer the McPlant range, including plant-based burgers, chicken substitutes and sandwich breakfasts in 2021.

2. Building back better with sustainability commitments

Due to changes in consumer behaviour – such as an increase in takeaways and home deliveries which means more plastic is in use – the food industry’s response to the plastic waste crisis has taken a back seat in 2020. We can expect 2021 to be the year the food industry will recommit to reducing plastic waste. Innovations in packaging reduction, coupled with increased use of recycled materials and biodegradable alternatives in food packaging will be something we see as the cornerstone of food industry commitments to sustainability going forward.

3. Increasing focus on new risks in the ‘last mile’

The growth of the online grocery market has accelerated as a result of the pandemic and has redefined the ‘last mile to the consumer’. As a result, we’ve seen retailers and eateries make essential pivots to established distribution networks, including set up of dark stores and partnerships with brands such as Just Eat, Uber Eats and Deliveroo.

The ecommerce share of the grocery market across China, France, Spain and the UK, was 12.4% at the end of April 2020, compared to 8.8% at the end of 2019 according to figures from Kantar. As brands explore food-to-go options and delivery ventures, considerations will be required regarding supply chain realignment, food safety and product integrity risk.

4. Rise of meal solutions

We’ve seen a number of supermarkets trial recipe boxes and food subscription services to provide consumers with ‘meal-kits’ – a package comprising all the ingredients required to cook a specific dish. While these solutions have had marginal market impact to date, we can expect this to change in 2021.

As consumers spend more time at home, they are finding opportunities to explore cooking from scratch. The question posed to food manufacturers is how can they focus on meeting this demand with more innovative ways to approach ‘scratch cooking’, that complements the existing, established ready-to-heat and eat food market?

5. Focus on nutritive claims

2021 could be the year we see manufacturers be held accountable if functional nutritive claims are inaccurate. Consumers have become more concerned with health and nutrition due to rising statistics around obesity and diabetes. As a result, brands will need to ensure that functional nutritive claims, boasting benefits such as lower cholesterol, are substantiated.

We await innovation of foods with nourishing ingredients in the coming year. However, with manufacturers prioritising nutrients and potential health benefits in product development, a refocus on labelling and the importance of truth in labelling will also be essential.

6. Digitalisation of food safety

Going into 2021, the step change for the food industry will be a focus on how technology is used to drive evidence-based decision making and predictive insight, with respect to risk identification and mitigation. From managing the impact of seasonal changes, raw material contamination, and supply disruptions to production failures and measuring factory compliance, the role that technology plays will be like never before. 2021 will be the year of smarter food safety; understanding what our data is telling us, applying a risk-based approach to food safety management and gaining a greater appreciation that – one size does not fit all.

7. Authenticity and transparency

Savvy consumers have more interest in where their food comes from, meaning they want to know more about the origin and legitimacy of products they are buying and consuming. This rise in the importance to consumers of provenance, PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) and CoO (Country of Origin) offers more potential opportunities for food fraud, especially when supply chains span across several countries, or foods are imported. Regulations mean companies must find ways to demonstrate verification and provide supply chain transparency for consumers.

Continued supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic, as well as changing global market access post-Brexit, pose elevated risks of substitution and other forms of food fraud. Therefore, the importance of demonstrable supply chain verification and transparency to companies cannot be underestimated. Increased vigilance is essential to ensure that both brand reputation and consumers are protected.