4 trends big retailers are backing for 2021

19 January 2021, 08:47 AM
  • Discover the food and drink trends the multiples are betting on for the year ahead – and what it means for independents
4 trends big retailers are backing for 2021

Covid-19 has transformed the food industry in countless ways, from ramping up health concerns to driving the hyper-local shopping trend. But which of the latest crazes are here to stay? We look into the food and drink trends making an impression on the UK’s largest supermarkets.

Vegan food

Plant-based eating has gone mainstream, and it’s clear from the investments that the UK’s largest retailers have made into vegan product development and research that this is not going away any time soon.

In December, Tesco announced its biggest ever range of plant-based Christmas centrepieces and called plant-based food “the biggest culinary trend this century”, with current demand for meat-free food growing by more than 50% at its stores. According to Derek Sarno, head of plant-based innovation, the retailer took two years to develop its vegan No-Turkey Roast Crown, including working with a flavour house to create a natural, meat-free turkey flavouring.

Fake meat in particular caters to the rising ranks of flexitarians. “14% of Brits now identify as flexitarians – twice as many as pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans combined,” said Selfridges food product developer Jessica Abela.

M&S is also keen to get in on the action with plant-based foods. Just this month the retailer launched its Innovation Hub to develop more sustainable food and environmentally friendly packaging. M&S will look to capitalise on the rise of veganism with research into soya-alternative proteins for plant-based foods, including a partnership with alternative protein supplier 3F Bio.

To find out more about how indies can compete with large retailers on Veganuary click here.

Online shopping

2020 didn’t only shake up what we were eating, it also fundamentally changed the way consumers shopped for their food – and the changes are likely to stick. Waitrose’s Food & Drink Report 2021 says 69% of people who shopped for food online during the pandemic plan to continue doing so. Before Covid, Waitrose’s online food operations accounted for 5% of sales – soon, online sales will make up 20% of the total business.

The retailer is actively investing in its online capabilities, growing its delivery capacity to over 250,000 delivery slots a week, up from 55,000 pre-Covid. “We’re seeing huge shifts in how we all shop, and for a high proportion of people these changes look to be permanent,” said Laura Burbedge, director of online for Waitrose.

Waitrose isn’t alone. Over the summer, Tesco said it would create 16,000 jobs to bolster its online business, while grocery retailers including Aldi, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have partnered up with Deliveroo to reach more customers.

Over the pandemic, indie retailers proved that they can compete with the big players on food delivery, especially when it comes to feeding their locals. But to keep up with the multiples, continuing to optimise online shopping and delivery services will be crucial.

Nostalgic favourites

“An increase in the importance of food and its power to bring us together has pushed many of us back to old-fashioned meal planning and recipes. Comfort and nostalgia are back,” said executive chef Martyn Lee in Waitrose’s Food & Drink Report 2021.

The desire for nostalgic meals soared as uncertainty dominated in 2020. In July, Speciality Food reported on research from Co-op that found sales of traditional quick-fix, packet desserts had exploded in lockdown, while traditional tinned foods, such as pineapple slices and ham, also rocketed higher.

“When times get tough, escapism brings happiness,” states a report by M&S and the Young British Foodies (YBF). At M&S, sales of mini battered sausages chip shop style boxes jumped last year. “Friday and Saturday night, we’re seeing Britons are buying our mini battered sausages chip with curry sauce as a treat,” said April Preston, director of product development at M&S. With the government opting not to put an end-date on the current lockdown, and the economic impacts of Covid-19 set to last well into 2021, comfort food is here to stay, and fine food retailers can get in on the action by stocking premium versions of classic British favourites.

Health food kick

For many consumers, the pandemic has had a sharp impact on mental and physical health, and Waitrose’s research found that 70% of us feel a greater need to keep up our health now than before Covid-19 hit. Waitrose’s healthy recipes were up by 134% in 2020, with many shoppers showing a greater interest for immunity-boosting food, foods with a high nutritional density, and foods that promote gut health.

Indeed, in response to this global health crisis, 80% of shoppers have adopted a ‘food-and-drink-as-medicine’ mentality, M&S and YBF say in their report. To support this, M&S is launching new immune support shots and cold-pressed juices this year.

Selfridges’ Jessica adds that half of UK consumers believe plants and botanicals have medicinal benefits. “The food-as-medicine movement is being rebranded to fit modern lifestyles, balancing flavour and function to shape our physical and psychological states,” she says. “The desire for health and wellbeing post-pandemic is a consistent trend across all markets.”

For this reason, fine food retailers shouldn’t worry about encroaching on the territory of specialist health shops and instead must be sure they’re not overlooking the value of food and drink with strong health credentials. Think mushroom powder that’s high in antioxidants, superfood supplements and products infused with CBD oil.

By taking stock of these four trends, speciality food retailers can ensure products will be flying off the shelves in the year ahead.

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