How to spot the next big thing in food and drink

09 September 2021, 11:00 AM
  • While identifying today’s established trends may be simple enough, how do retailers and producers predict the next products customers will love?
How to spot the next big thing in food and drink

Keeping up with the ever-evolving food and drink trends on the market today can feel like a mean feat when you have a business to run, but for retailers, wholesalers and producers alike, being quick to spot an exciting trend or a buzzy new brand can be great for business.

How does one go about discovering the next in-demand products before they’re in every shop window? Ben Black, head of European food and beverage at the investment firm Verlinvest told Speciality Food that identifying small, local brands that are poised to create a big buzz can be done by looking at inflection points in consumer behaviour. “We’re looking for generational changes in attitude,” he said, “or black swan events, like Covid,” which are unpredictable and rare events with significant impacts. Sectors from chocolate to tinned tomatoes to milk have all experienced a big shake-up in recent years thanks to changing consumer habits.

‘Look for the tribe’

The brands that are leading the charge – rather than becoming the second or third brand surfing the wave of popularity – stand out because they are able to educate the consumer while also providing a solution to a problem in their category, Ben said. He points to Dutch confectionery brand Tony’s Chocolonely, which engages with customers about a serious issue: slavery in the chocolate industry. “That has got to be done in a fun way, because when you and I are opening a chocolate bar, lower down our priority list in that moment is thinking about economic subjugation of children in West Africa,” he said. 

To find the small, fine food brands that have the potential to create their own trends, Ben also looks for those that can engage customers and communities in a passionate way. Another example of this is the tinned tomato brand Mutti, which uses a high-quality product to educate customers how to cook with tomatoes the Italian way. “I look for the tribe. I look for people that are willing to recommend it to their friends, that are willing to join the company’s mission, that are willing to engage with brands in more than just a buying relationship. That to me is a sign of a brand that has potential for international can scale, even if that’s started in a small community.” 

4 long-term trends to keep an eye on

To identify products that your customers will love, retailers can watch out for the big shifts in consumer habits today. Here are four examples…
1. As a recent report by NeilsenIQ revealed, consumers have shifted to a purpose-driven mindset and are actively choosing products with stronger health benefits and traceable ingredients. According to Ben, the emergence of purpose-led brands is one of the most exciting trends transforming the food and drink sector today. Across numerous categories, products are being created by entrepreneurs with a vision to change the future and make the world a better place, and consumers identify with these brands.

2. Similarly, with sustainability having becoming a hugely significant movement across the sector, Ben suggests that plastic-free hydration will be a segment with potential to perform very well in the coming months and years. “I’m very bullish on this area because I think most consumers recognise that plastic is something that we all need to reduce and have a responsibility to reduce.”

3. The digitalisation of grocery and shopping habits is yet another area ripe for innovation. Indeed, while online grocery sales have dipped in recent weeks, Kantar’s data reveals that digitally-inclined shoppers in the UK are staying loyal to e-commerce despite lifting restrictions.

4. Finally, one of the biggest trends sparked by Covid is the return to provenance, localisation and supply chain ethics. “People are looking to their local butcher, their local cheesemaker or local greengrocer for products. There is a high focus on provenance: where that product comes from who’s making it and what’s going into it,” Ben said. “Provenance and supply chain ethics are to me a big, big trend that’s only accelerated during Covid.”

With independent retailers well positioned to capitalise on these long-term transformations in food and drink purchasing habits, the future looks bright for fine food.

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