January, 2024

Sneak Peek into 2024: Emerging Trends in Food & Drink

With the start of the new year, it is already possible to spot the trends in the food & drinks sector, dictated by the new needs of consumers. As every year, Mintel offers us an overview of the trends of the new year, in its report entitled 2024 Global Food & Drink Trends, providing useful tools for companies in the food industry to improve their existing and upcoming products and to optimise their overall strategy, involving all aspects from ingredient selection to taste, texture, claims, and packaging.

Given the current socio-economic situation and the rising cost of living, consumers are placing the emphasis on taste and convenience of products, with increasing attention on the quality-price ratio. Although important, issues such as sustainability are temporarily being put on a back-burner in favour of more affordable products. Consumers are increasingly reluctant to pay more for sustainable products, as they believe that this characteristic should be a common basis for all products. Health, on the other hand, remains at the forefront of consumers’ purchasing decisions, but there is still a desire to indulge in foods that offer comfort and reassurance.

3 exciting trends to watch in 2024

AGE REFRAMED: nutritional, physical and mental health needs for the Gen X consumer.

Gen X consumers, in other words, those between the ages of 44 and 58, are increasingly turning their attention to foods and beverages that can support the ‘well-aging‘ or ‘healthy-aging‘ process, considering food as an ally in promoting long-term health. According to the report, 63% of German Gen X consumers agree that food and a healthy diet play a key role in maintaining optimal health. To meet this growing need, food companies are called on to develop or reformulate their products for Gen X, focusing on both nutritional and functional aspects. The aim of this approach is to promote tangible health benefits, both on a physical and mental level, by helping to maintain brain function and improve sleep quality. This opens up a whole scenario dedicated to functional ingredients, including dietary fibre and botanicals, as well as exploring potential partnerships with companies specialising in artificial intelligence to offer personalised solutions through precision nutrition. One example is the French start-up Nahibu, which has developed a platform, named Shido, to analyse the gut microbiota, looking specifically at its functions such as digestion, sugar tolerance, and immune defences. Based on this analysis, the platform then suggests foods and supplements that can provide exactly the right kind of support for the gut microbiota for each individual. Another example is Viome, a healthcare start-up operating in the field of precision nutrition. Viome has developed microbiome tests that can be taken independently at home and which exploit mRNA sequencing in combination with artificial intelligence, offering personalised nutrition recommendations, using the data collected to develop supplements tailored to each individual.

CLIMATE CHANGES, COMFORT ENDURES: taste and convenience remain the priority for consumers, even at the expense of sustainability

With the rising cost of living, consumers feel compelled to de-prioritise sustainability as a primary criterion in their purchasing choice, placing more emphasis on product taste and convenience. This does not imply that consumers are insensitive to sustainability and climate change; nevertheless, they are not willing to pay a ‘premium price’ for a product just because it is declared ‘sustainable’. At the same time, food companies will have to be able to offer products that are tasty and affordable while maintaining environmental, economic, and social sustainability aspects.

Consumers, as reflected in the “Unguilty pleasure” trend in 2023, will continue to opt in favour of foods that can offer a feeling of comfort, but will also look for foods that have a good nutritional profile, so that they can indulge in a tasty food without feeling guilty. With this in mind, adding sustainability-related features to a product considered ‘junk food’ could make it possible to present consumers with products that are good, affordable, and sustainable, lessening the sense of guilt associated with consuming products deemed ‘unhealthy’. For example, according to the report, 83% of Italian respondents agree that buying sustainable products makes them feel good, as they help reduce their environmental impact.

TRUST THE PROCESS: there is a need for clear communication to help consumers make informed decisions about food.

There is growing consumer interest in the production process, ingredients, and nutritional values of food products on the shelf. This interest concerns in particular those foods defined as ‘ultra-processed‘, for which consumers are increasingly keen to know all the information about the product they are buying. This requirement opens new perspectives for companies producing foods that undergo minimal processing, which should aim to promote their products as healthier options with a better nutritional profile and a lower environmental impact. On the other hand, companies that produce ultra-processed foods must capitalise on consumers’ desire to consume, in moderation, products that provide a feeling of pleasure and comfort. By the same token, they can explore opportunities to reformulate best-selling products, creating nutritionally improved versions with more natural ingredients. Companies that deal with plant-based products must also strive to clearly communicate the production process and reassure consumers about the nutritional and environmental goodness of their products.

This year’s trends promise interesting developments for several product categories, focusing on topics of ongoing relevance to consumers, such as health and the environment. In particular, companies in the plant-based sector can benefit from the addition of claims related to nutritional aspects, and may even contemplate the introduction of functional ingredients that bring additional benefits to the consumption of their products. They will certainly need to continue to refine taste and make products more affordable in order to compete more effectively with conventional animal-based products. Communication plays a crucial role in this category, as it is essential to reach more and more consumers. Last but not least, clearly and effectively explaining the benefits of plant-based products is essential not only from the point of view of physical and mental health, but also to promote the benefits in terms of environmental well-being, as a strategic lever for the success and increasing acceptance of plant-based products in the global market.