The year is not quite finished, but market analysts have already placed their bets on which trends will define the food industry of 2017.
The majority of predictions build on the clean label craze that has spurred manufacturers’ to clean up their supply chains and reformulate their products with better-for-you ingredients, Chief Editor of Innova Market Insights Robin Wyers said.
Innova analysts identified four other “Top Food and Beverage Trends of 2017” that manufacturers will need to adapt to in order to stay competitive. Trends were determined after analysts in 80 worldwide markets scoured Innova’s database for common terms for products and companies that launched in 2016.
Innova analysts and editors then discuss the movements they’ve observed and determine how they will impact the products and manufacturers of tomorrow.
Clean and clear labels
Transparency is no longer just an attractive bonus for food manufacturers. Consumers want to know about all aspects of the food they purchase, from where ingredients are sourced to the the sustainability of the packaging.
Innova classified this next-level clean label movement as the top trend of the new year, calling it “Clean Supreme.”
“In the last few years, we’ve been noticing a lot has been happening within the field of clean label,” Wyers said. “Last year about 20% of new products tracked in the U.S. featured some kind of clean label claim, [meaning] that they are free from artificial colors, preservatives, [and were] either natural or organic.”
GMO-free ingredients are perhaps the most critical component for the clean label trend of 2017.
“There’s been an absolute explosion of GMO-free claims in the U.S. in the last year or two, so it just shows that [consumer focus] is really going back to the source of the product, and that has a lot to do with traceability,” Wyers said.
Wyers thinks consumer fascination with whole chain traceability can be traced back to the European horse meat scandal and public uproar in the U.S. over ground beef additive “pink slime.” Food products that focus on environmental sustainability and animal welfare claims showed a CAGR of 72% and 45% respectively, between 2011 and 2015.
Wyers warns that eventually, it will become even more difficult for manufacturers to adopt transparent practices and natural sourcing.
“If everyone keeps demanding natural and clean label products… at some stage that’s going to have an impact on the supply chain and there will not be enough available ingredients, and that will be one of the future challenges going forward.”
Vegan and vegetable-based products
Innova dubbed the second top trend “Disruptive Green,” referring to consumers’ desire to incorporate more plants and vegetables into their everyday diets.
Analysts predict that consumer interest in plant-based milks and vegetable-based meat alternatives will only continue to grow in the new year, as a result of increased nutritional awareness.
“Even a couple of years ago, ‘vegan’ was really seen as something for tree-huggers… but now it’s actually become quite mainstream,” Wyers said.
This trend is also reflective of the rise in “flexitarian” consumers, who maintain a vegetarian lifestyle the majority of the time because of health and animal welfare concerns.
In the U.S. and Canada, Unilever’s Hellmann’s brand recently launched a vegan-certified eggless mayonnaise.
“The fact that you see a really big brand like [Hellmann’s] actually launching a vegan option and putting it really big so the word vegan on the pack is almost as big as the word Hellman’s itself — that says something.”
Innova researchers found a 63% CAGR growth for new product launches with plant-based claims from 2011 to 2015.
The third Innova trend, “Sweeter Balance,” anticipates taxes on sugary beverages and foods will continue, driving consumers to products that use natural sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar and stevia to create indulgent flavors.
“I think that sugar reduction has been by far the biggest story of 2016, and it’s going to have a massive impact,” Wyers said. “The fact that the World Health Organization has endorsed these [soda taxes] shows that this is something to follow.”
Wyers said that the industry is already scrambling to get ahead of sugar taxes, with many manufacturers reformulating their products to reduce sugar levels, or trying to remove sugar completely.
He also warns manufacturers of a “sugar and clean label paradox.”
“On the one side, consumers want all of these natural clean label alternatives, but on the other hand you can’t really replace sugar with stevia altogether. You can only reduce it to a certain extent. If you go much further, then you run into taste problems,” Wyers said.
Suppliers have worked to optimize stevia throughout 2016, and Wyers predicts that the quality of extracts will continue to improve in the new year.
Pepsi and Coca Cola have tried to respond to consumers’ sugar concerns by rolling out Pepsi Next and Coca Cola Life, products that use stevia and sugar instead of artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
The problem with this strategy, Wyers suggests, is that customers may be confused about the amount of sugar that these “lighter” products still contain.
“You have consumers who think these [products] are healthier, but the sugar content has only been reduced by about 40%,” Wyers said.
Authentic, exotic ingredients and flavors
“Kitchen Symphony” is the fourth Innova trend, reflecting interest in unique and exotic flavor profiles. Mintel outlined a similar trend in its 2017 trends report, called “In Tradition We Trust.”
Mintel's trend seems a little more different. A press release about the trends says because of the increasingly hectic pace of modern life and the instability of current politics, “people are seeking the safety of products that are recognizable rather than revolutionary."
The company’s findings are similar, however. Mintel says manufacturers should look to “ancient grains, as well as ancient recipes, practices and traditions” from different cultures as a source of innovation. Mintel also suggests that cultural food fusion could serve as a low-risk way to incorporate new ingredients into familiar formulas, modernizing products without alienating consumers.
Innova also attributes consumer interest in foreign flavors to the fact that “the connected world has led consumers of all ages to become more knowledgeable of other cultures,” and that has resulted in “growing demand for greater choice and higher levels of authenticity in ethnic cuisines,” according to a press release.
The last of Innova’s top five trends focuses on personalized nutrition that echoes of genomics.
“Body In Tune” centers on the health benefits that consumers see in certain products — whether or not they have any true impact on their personal nutrition.
“In the past there was a lot of hype around personalized nutrition, but that was really genetic related. …Now we’re really understanding more and more that it goes beyond genetics — it’s also down to how you act in your day-to-day life,” Wyers said.
Wyers said this is especially the case with “free-from” products, such as items that are gluten-free or lactose-free.
The new consumer favorite in this category, he said, are low-FODMAP drinks.
“FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols,” Wyers said. “Low-FODMAP products are supposed to be better for your digestion by cutting back on carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine and cause severe abdominal pain, bloating and constipation.”
Nestle has come out with a low-FODMAP nutritional drink called ProNourish, and other beverage manufacturers may soon follow.