Consumer preferences often shift, but there are some underlying themes driving much of the innovation in food and drink today. Innova Market Insights shares its expectations of some of the top megatrends in ingredients, from clean label and organics to healthier formulations and plant-based eating.

Transparency: clean and clear labels

Clean label generally refers to simple, recognisable, easy-to-understand ingredients, but a precise definition has been notoriously difficult to pin down. Foodvalley Member Innova Market Insights first noted a move from ‘clean’ to ‘clear’ as a trend in 2015, reflecting demand for more transparency around ingredients, and that demand is still strong today.

“Consumers want to know more about what ingredients are in the food and how the food was produced,” said a spokesperson. “Shoppers are examining package labels to look for GMOs, human welfare claims and animal-related claims such as ‘cage free’ and ‘antibiotic free’.”

Meanwhile, companies continue to remove any ingredients that consumers might consider artificial in an ongoing quest for simpler, ‘cleaner’ ingredient lists.

Healthy reduction

Many health conscious consumers are looking for foods and drinks that are lower in salt, sugar, saturated fat and calories. However, rising global rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease tell a different story, and governments are beginning to step in with targets and taxes to ensure food and drink companies play a part in improving public health.

“With sugar taxes in effect in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and European countries like Ireland and the UK, future launches in soft drinks in these and nearby countries will consist of mostly low/zero-sugar beverages,” said an Innova spokesperson.

Across product categories, the market researcher says that most reformulation is likely to be ‘stealth reduction’, as consumers often equate reduced salt, sugar and fat with reduced flavour.

“For fats, the content of saturated and trans-fat is going to be the focus, since there is an ongoing debate about the healthy versus unhealthy fats.”

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Indulgence

On the flip side of the healthy reduction trend, there is also robust demand for indulgent flavours, textures and premium ingredients. According to Innova Market Insights, this reflects consumer desire for pleasurable foods, even as they aim for a healthy diet overall.

“Consumers are looking for healthier balance. The pursuit of healthier eating for the long term is driving interest in products that successfully balance enjoyment and health without compromise.”

In addition, Innova highlighted labelling initiatives such as Nutriscore in France and the traffic light system in the UK, which aim to educate consumers about the macronutrient composition of their foods, helping them make more informed decisions. Sometimes, consumers will use this information to eat healthily, and at other times to choose more indulgent foods.

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Free from foods

pasta gluten free

European sales of allergen-free foods rose sharply in 2017, but most of the sales growth did not come from consumers with allergies. Foods with a gluten-free or lactose-free positioning have become particularly well-established, and many consumers say they consider such products healthier and easier to digest.

“Though gluten-free products have slowed down, there is still room to grow as companies introduce new product innovations such as frozen pizza with a cauliflower crust to retain the interest of lifestyle users, and incorporate other claims such as grain-free and Paleo/Keto-diet friendly,” said Innova’s spokesperson.

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Dairy alternatives

almond milk

The number of new dairy alternative product launches witnessed an average annual growth of +17%  from 2013 to 2017, according to data from Innova Market Insights, and the global market for dairy alternatives drinks alone has more than doubled in value since 2010. It predicts that the rise of veganism for ethical and health reasons will continue to boost demand for dairy alternatives – but such products are gaining broader appeal too.

“The non-dairy market in the western world is becoming increasingly established and mature, which is expected to result in greater uptake of dairy-free options from the wider population,” Innova’s spokesperson said. “As has been seen with some dairy-free ice cream alternatives and single serve shakes, the ability of non-dairy options to compete in the mainstream is improving all the time. In line with this, more indulgent flavours are expected to make a greater mark in the coming years.

“In the case of non-dairy cheese, these products have more complex recipes than dairy alternative drinks or non-dairy yoghurts, and blends of ingredients are most common to achieve the best flavour and mouthfeel from a plant-based formulation.”

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Plant-based protein

Plant-derived meat alternatives have been making headlines as technological advances have led to more realistically meat-like products. According to EU figures, sales of meat substitutes grew by 451% in Europe in the four years from 2013 to 2017 – and the market shows no sign of slowing down.

“Plant-based foods are poised to continue growing strongly as they appeal to consumers on a number of levels: personal health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability,” said Innova’s spokesperson.

The market researcher pointed out that despite the sometimes long lists of ingredients, meat alternatives are expected to do well in the longer term, largely because of their appeal to values-driven consumers.

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Botanicals

hibiscus

Consumer interest in natural formulations has also spurred innovation with herbs, spices and extracts. Popular botanical ingredients in soft drinks include ginger, elderflower and yerba mate, which provide sophisticated flavour with less sweetness, either on their own or in combination with fruit flavours.

According to Innova, “The importance of the ‘health halo’ in foods and beverages will likely expand as consumers, especially millennials, seek out low and no alcohol drinks that are low in sugar content. Consumers continue to be much more focused on quality over quantity, preferring premium soft and alcoholic drinks that focus on high-end ingredients.”

Apart from in beverages, botanicals are beginning to appear in other categories too, such as yoghurt, ice cream and sweets, and floral flavours like rose and hibiscus are on the rise.

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Organics

blueberries

In ten years, sales of organic products have more than doubled in Europe, according to IFOAM, but demand continues to outstrip supply for many ingredients. What is more, expansions in the amount of EU farmland dedicated to organics is not keeping up with increased demand.

“We are likely to see the ‘made with organic…’ claim to become more frequent in new launches,” said Innova’s spokesperson. “There is still a supply shortage for many kinds of ingredients preventing brands from labelling the whole product organic. Employing the ‘made with organic…’ claim, the brand can assure consumers about the soundness of the chief constituent(s) of its product.”

The market researcher predicts that demand for organics will continue to grow, spurred by controversy over claims like ‘natural’, which lack a precise definition. By contrast, certified organic products benefit from an officially recognised framework, standards and certification process.