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If you’ve read our recent features on the forces shaping the future of the food and drink sector (part one and part two), you’d be forgiven for thinking that the evolution of our industry remains outside of our control.
Government regulations, planet Earth’s environments, and scientific advancements all play a sizeable role in what we consume, but to ignore the valuable position of the fine food sector – consisting of passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated small and medium-sized enterprises of all descriptions – would be to do it a disservice.
We caught up with Brandt Maybury, cofounder and managing director of Tastehead – a food and drink development agency – to gather their thoughts on how these huge market forces are set to impact the day-to-day of food industry professionals in the coming years.
According to Brandt, we need to look beyond the obvious to learn the full extent of the forces shaping food and drink. “I think it’s fair to say that more external forces than I can ever remember are currently affecting our industry. The obvious ones include: Covid-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, the cost-of-living crisis, global warming, various strikes… The less obvious ones include the advent of artificial intelligence. It might sound silly to think it’s going to have a significant impact on the F&B industry, but in a similar way to how rapidly the pandemic evolved the DTC (direct to consumer) channel, I think AI has the potential to change our day to day lives enough that it impacts our supply chains, consumer habits, marketing strategies and much more.”
A topic that Speciality Food readers will be far more familiar with is the evolution of the plant-based category. “This is a pivotal position at the moment whilst consumers, brands and retailers all try to better understand the role that plant-based alternatives play and how much they should/shouldn’t copy existing animal-based products.
“The plant-based revolution will probably drive diversity in flavours and products as we explore new ingredients to replace animal derivatives. Clinical studies, data and news articles will continue to debate what is best for us, best for the planet, and ultimately the most ethical decision to make which will continue to be a huge influence on the trends and NPD in this category.
“Finally, HFSS is still on many people’s minds. We’re still waiting to see what the final outcome will be, but brands and retailers are continuing the work towards changing and developing new offerings in anticipation.”
Speaking of new offerings, format will play a vital role in the future of what we eat and drink. Today’s consumer is more conscious than ever of the danger of single-use packaging, leading forward-thinking businesses to rethink the materials they are using to package their produce.
The differing ways in which consumers shop is having an effect too. “The rise in DTC will likely see an increase in online-exclusive brands and personalised products, changing the way we shop and consume food and beverage products,” says Brandt.
“The first noticeable impact will most likely be on availability and diversity of products,” says Brandt. “External pressures like Brexit and global warming may impact supply chains, potentially leading to a more locally focused, sustainable product offering. This could result in a resurgence of traditional British flavours and ingredients, while exotic ingredients may become rarer or pricier.”
How will consumer tastes adapt to fit the new reality? “They may become more accustomed to local flavours, seasonal availability and a lean towards healthier taste profiles. With continued efforts to reduce sugar consumption I would expect this to have a real impact on the general population’s acceptance for sweetness levels in the long term. It will be interesting to see how the latest news around sweeteners not actually helping people to lose weight (and potentially being linked to health issues) impacts HFSS and the overall approach to reducing sugar in sweet foods.
The world’s consumers have become more aware of their health than ever since the Covid-19 pandemic kicked it into the headlines, and British shoppers are becoming increasingly keen to add an element of health-giving functionality into their diets – ideally via convenient formats.
This push is coming from potentially unexpected places. “For starters, the push towards sustainability will give rise to the exploration of new, under-utilised local ingredients, potentially unlocking novel natural sources of nutrients,” explains Brandt.
“Furthermore, the growing focus on health and well-being will create opportunities for functional foods that offer additional benefits beyond basic nutrition, such as immune support or gut health. And the adoption of AI and other advanced technologies will open up opportunities for precision nutrition and hyper-personalised products.”
While it may seem niche now, the American market offers a taste of what’s to come. “I was over in California last year on a research trip, and adaptogens, nootropics, prebiotic fibres and other functional ingredients are now featuring in almost every category, even in the larger/ mainstream retailers such as Ralph’s and Target,” explains Brandt.
“The entrepreneurs of the industry will view these as opportunities for growth and transformation, rather than a cause for anxiety,” he says. “However, it is essential to acknowledge that these changes require agility, adaptability, and a willingness to take some risks. Traditional models may need to evolve, and I’d suggest that businesses should be prepared to invest in technology and sustainable practices to facilitate this.
“It’s a transformative time for the food and beverage industry. We’re at the cusp of significant change – much of it driven by external forces. But it’s also a time of great innovation and potential. Despite the challenges, I firmly believe that the industry’s future is bright. As we navigate these changes, it’s important to remember that at the heart of it all is the need to nourish and delight consumers in a sustainable and ethical way, whilst keeping taste at the heart of any food or beverage product. Let’s not lose sight of that amidst the whirlwind of change.”
Read more about what’s in store for the future of the sector in our report, A Taste of the Future.