It’s been another interesting year in the food and beverage industry as consumer demands continue to shift, prompting the development of innovative products. Based on what we observed in our ongoing tracking of U.S. food and beverage consumption habits, we predict tailwinds behind the following behaviors …
Plant-based continues to sprout
Plant-based food and beverage alternatives have been around for some time, but Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods helped propel the plant-based alternative market from fairly niche to mainstream. Since nearly 90% of these consumers also use traditional meat and dairy, it’s fair to say people aren’t necessarily becoming vegetarians or vegans; rather, consumers are integrating these products as additional options for their daily repertoires. Watch for continued growth of burger alternatives at foodservice operators and for in-home consumption as these options become more widely available across both.
Will this be a fad or a sustained trend? Time will tell, but it seems the flash-in-the-pan time period might have passed — U.S. consumers have used some plant-based alternatives, such as almond milk, for decades. Millennials and Gen Z have grown up with these alternatives so they’ve come to expect these products to be available when they want them. Plant-based dairy items like cheese could be the next growth area, in addition to other meat alternatives, like replacements for chicken.
Food as medicine
The top reason consumers use plant-based alternatives is that they’re considered healthier options, and we’re seeing consumers attempting to take control of their health with food choices. Nearly one quarter of U.S. adults report they are on a nutrition plan with the goal of promoting long-term health, but not necessarily weight loss. This represents a dramatic shift in the way consumers approach food and beverage choices compared to their behavior in the 1980s and 1990s, when they changed behaviors in response to a specific health issue.
Increasingly consumers see food and beverages as a pathway to better health; this is more pronounced among younger adults. And when health issues arise, many turn to natural alternatives for help. One in five adults manages a health condition with food and beverage choices. This doesn’t mean they aren’t taking any medication, but that many first look at their food and beverage consumption options as a first solution before jumping on medication.
The AM shift
Few dayparts have experienced a shift like the one we’ve seen in the morning daypart, and more change is in store. The morning story isn’t just about what consumers are eating — it’s also where they obtain the items. In the last decade the number of in-home prepared and consumed breakfasts declined, but consumers aren’t skipping this meal more often. There has been an increase in morning snack occasions as well as restaurant meals that nearly equals the in-home decline.
Categories increasing during this time are portable and functional, reflecting the needs for speed and health, which drive much of consumer behavior in the morning. We expect sustained growth for categories like breakfast sandwiches, juices with functional benefits, such as energy, and categories with protein, like eggs.
Greater focus on sustainability
Sustainability is often a tertiary concern in food and beverage, and it is expressed differently here compared to in other industries. Even so, food and beverage marketers still need to have a play in this area as it can be a deciding factor for consumers. Food and beverage is unique since taste and health needs are satisfied first, before other needs are addressed. A product’s packaging could be recyclable and sourced sustainably, but that won’t matter if consumers find the taste unpalatable. This explains why animal welfare and sustainability rank low among the reasons for using plant-based foods.
Consumers are still interested in how products are produced and want to feel better about supporting brands that use sustainable methods. When comparing two similar products, consumers could find them equal in taste, convenience, and price, but if one uses sustainable production methods while the other product does not, that could be the deciding factor.
Darren Seifer is executive director, industry analyst, food consumption, with marketing consultant firm The NPD Group, based in New York City.