When alternative becomes mainstream

by Erica Shaffer
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Vegetables have joined the ranks of novel protein sources.
Novel protein sources, fat and more natural less-processed foods will appeal to more consumers in 2016, Mintel says.

CHICAGO – Both global and local influences are reshaping consumer attitudes and behaviors when it comes to the foods and beverages they buy, according to new research by market intelligence firm Mintel, which identified several trends food and beverage companies will see in 2016.

“These trends explore how consumers’ evolving priorities, opportunities from advancements in functional formulation and the almost inescapable reach of technology will affect food and drink in the coming year. Consumers are not the only influencers, as shifting economics, natural phenomena and social media are shaping what, how, where and with whom consumers are choosing to eat and drink,” said Jenny Zegler, global food and drink analyst at Mintel. “The trends will play out differently across the world based upon a variety of factors, including cultural norms, regional availability and societal needs. In some cases, established trends from one area are migrating to new regions, while a few emerging trends have the potential to disrupt the worldwide landscape.”

Dietary decisions

For example, consumers not constrained by dietary challenges and non-vegetarians are more willing than ever to explore alternatives to animal proteins and dairy, Mintel found.

“Veggie burgers and non-dairy milks have escaped the realm of substitutes primarily for people with dietary concerns and followers of vegetarian diets,” Mintel said. “Instead, the growing ranks of novel protein sources and potential replacements appeal to the everyday consumer, foreshadowing a profoundly changed marketplace in which what was formerly ‘alternative’ could take over the mainstream.”

Also, foods marketed as “free-from” preservatives, artificial ingredients and other food additives are growing in importance to consumers. Mintel research found that 43 percent of consumers agreed that foods bearing “free-from” claims are healthier than foods without those claims, while 59 percent of respondents said they believe that products with fewer ingredients are healthier for them.

“Consumer demands for natural and ‘less processed’ food and drink are forcing companies to remove artificial ingredients,” Mintel noted. “Products that have yet to do so will face scrutiny — or worse — from consumers who are looking for natural formulations with recognizable ingredients.”

Sustainability will become a necessary part of new product development, according to Mintel.
Sustainability will become a necessary part of new product development, according to Mintel.

Along with the trend toward more natural foods, consumers seem less preoccupied with the fat content of foods. The Credit Suisse Research Institute found that global fat consumption will account for 31 percent of calorie intake by 2030, up from 26 percent currently. The institute said consumer buying patterns and medical research are starting to embrace food products with more natural, unprocessed fats in addition to foods containing saturated fats and monounsaturated fats such as grass-fed meats, natural oils and organic dairy products. Mintel also noted that consumer attitudes about fats are changing.

“Consumers’ negative stereotype that any and all fat content is evil has begun to diminish,” Mintel said. “The awareness of the many sources of good and bad fats is ushering in a paradigm shift in which fat content is not the first and foremost consideration — and barrier — in the search for healthy products.”

Support for sustainability

The issue of sustainability has cropped up in discussions about federal nutrition guidelines, and major food companies have stepped up to address the issue of climate change. Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst for Mintel, said in a presentation that only 60 percent of the water needed to meet the needs of a global population will be available by 2030. Mintel said drought, food waste and other natural phenomena influence food preparation and production.

“In 2016, sustainability evolves from being good for the bottom line to being a necessary part of new product development for the common good,” Mintel said.

Moving toward mobile

E-commerce is blurring the lines between at-home and on-the-go shopping experiences. More food and beverage companies are turning to mobile solutions that attract tech-savvy millennials while enhancing convenience for existing customers.

“Online shopping, apps and delivery services are transforming consumers’ access to deals, niche offerings and even full meals,” Mintel said. “While the Internet has not yet vastly changed the landscape of grocery shopping, innovations encourage consumers to think outside traditional physical retailers.”

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