10 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2021

Authoritative London-based trends think-tank, New Nutrition Business, has released its annual Ten Key Trends report for 2021. Here are some trend insights from this brilliantly perceptive and practical document.

As you can see from the infographic here, the report outlines five mega trends that are the drivers behind its key trends. These are Naturally Functional, Fragmentation, Weight Wellness, Snackification and Sustainability that variously drive and influence the following key trends:

Ten Key Trends
  1. Carbs – fewer, better comfort
  2. Animal protein powers on
  3. Alternative protein
  4. Digestive wellness
  5. Plants made convenient
  6. Immunity gets a boost
  7. Fat fuels growth
  8. Fragmentation of sweetness
  9. Emerging mood food
  10. The power of provenance

NNB has given FOODStuff SA access to the first three Key Trends. Infographics are included, and some pertinent takeouts from the lengthy discussion around these trends.

Key Trend 1: Fewer carbs, better carbs, comfort carbs

The gradual shift by consumers towards eating ‘fewer carbs’ and ‘better carbs’ cannot be denied. The move to fewer carbs is strong and it is a long-term shift. What was once seen as weird is now scientifically-validated and will soon become normal. It’s a change driven by weight loss and no-one should mistake this for a fad.

Key Trend 1

Carb categories won’t go away, but they may be smaller and look different a few years from now.

This shift is an unavoidable driver of change and an opportunity for creative companies. More and more companies are showing how carb categories can be reinvented to keep themselves relevant to consumers’ health interests.

Sugar is in consumers’ minds the leading ‘bad carb’ that they want to reduce. Happily, most other carbohydrates are not in the spotlight to the same extent and indeed many benefit from a health halo.

There are some people who are trying to dramatically reduce their carbohydrate consumption – to manage insulin or blood sugar levels or to because they are following a ketogenic diet (or a version of it).

But while wanting to cut down on carbs, most people enjoy carb-based products, be they breakfast cereals, bread and bakery, pasta and others. What they really want is ‘permission to indulge’ in these much-loved foods. And companies are rising to the challenge by making carb categories more permissible with ‘better grains’ (for example) that can deliver digestive wellness or “steady energy”. Or with fewer carbs, replacing them with vegetables or more protein or other ingredients with a health halo.

One of the most common strategies companies are using is ‘permission to indulge’ – for example:
• upgrading the ingredients to produce ‘better carbs’
• lowering sugar
• adding protein
• incorporating more plants
• emphasizing benefits such as digestive wellness which allow people to go on enjoying higher carbohydrate products.

Key Trend 2: Animal protein powers on

Protein is the nutrient that can do no wrong. Protein’s association with many benefits means it can profit from increasingly fragmented consumer views about foods for health. Protein is a safe ingredient, with no history of conflicting messages (unlike fat or sugar). Together, these factors will keep protein demand growing steadily for many years to come.

Key Trend 2

Animal protein is what most consumers still want and where sales and growth are strongest. What data from 2020 shows is that people want animal-source protein as much as plant protein. A consumer shift away from animal protein is going to take decades – if it happens at all.

Protein’s benefits drive demand growth in almost every country. And the coronavirus crisis has only served to underscore how much people want to get their protein from familiar and traditional sources,

Demand for dairy protein has been strong and it still has lots of innovation road ahead of it, as well as a competitive advantage that has yet to be fully exploited.

The wise thing for the animal protein business to do is to begin to differentiate itself very, very strongly on protein quality and figure out how to acquaint consumers with the concept of nutrient density.

Animal protein suppliers are faced with constant media attacks on grounds of sustainability. Because most people enjoy the taste and texture of animal proteins and appreciate their versatility, and want to go on doing so, they are open to messages that give them permission to do so.

Emphasis on delivering on sustainability, and communicating these efforts, will increase. Here are two current examples of ‘permission to enjoy animal proteins’ that are gaining momentum with consumers: grass-fed is an important reassurance message for many consumers and should be developed further; investing in regenerative agriculture to improve soil health and carbon neutrality will be important.

Key Trend 3: Alternative protein – growth beyond the pea

The protein market is set to become more diverse – and product developers will be faced with an ever-increasing array of alternative protein choices. Just as the sweetener market, which 20 years ago was sugar and a few alternatives, has exploded, Alternative Proteins will fragment and create a wealth of niches for new proteins to get a toehold.

Key Trend 3

What most consumers want these days: novelty and new products. We are all food explorers now, with over a third of people buying things ‘because they want to try something new.’ The excitement of the new has been the biggest motivation for people to experiment with alternative protein.

Things like lentil proteins, chickpea, hemp, chickpeas, and mycoproteins will be the proteins of the future.

Insect-source will not increase (in the West at least). Cell-based meat substitutes will probably make progress – but much, much more slowly than their investors imagine. Most business plans we have seen from cell-based meat companies reveal companies with great scientific know-how and great consumer and market know-nothing.

Plant-based proteins have a halo of health based on their origin as plants. The idea that they are ‘naturally functional’ is credible to consumers. And for anyone developing new proteins, you have on your side the fragmentation of consumer beliefs, plus the now established behaviours among urban food explorers.

The dynamics and direction of plant-based proteins are somewhat different from the desire that consumers have for more vegetables and more fruits in their foods. It is important not to confuse ‘plant proteins’ with ‘more vegetables’. The latter is lower risk than the former – and has more opportunities.

The challenge many alternative proteins have is the same – the incomplete amino-acid profile. It may be that success comes from companies who use combinations of protein blends (similar to how sweetener blends are used) where missing amino acid profiles of some proteins fill the gaps of the others.

But protein quality is going to matter more in the future – currently consumers think only of quantity and rarely of quality – and there’s a gap in the market for proteins with a profile of amino-acids, the building blocks of protein and a measure of quality, that can compete with that of animal proteins, whose
quality score is higher than plant protein.

The creation of ‘vegan proteins’ as a substitute for dairy protein appears to be a strategy conceived by people with no knowledge of markets or strategy. It can be summarised as: entering a well-established market, with well-established players, which is commoditized and price-driven, using a massive investment in technology, tackling very strong consumer taste and texture expectations – but offering no actual additional benefit to the consumer other than ‘it’s vegan’.

Some will argue that sustainability is the competitive advantage, but this is a mistaken view. By itself, sustainability does not sell products – and dairy is running fast to achieve carbon-neutrality and other targets.

More about the Ten Key Trends Report

This is a unique document. Our industry is bombarded with trend predictions. But this is the only set of predictions written by people with both industry experience and scientific knowledge, and the only one on which you can base business decisions.

What makes the 10 Key Trends unique is that it:

  • Explains and forecasts, based on both quantitative and qualitative data, the most important long-term growth trends in food, nutrition and health. It explores why they are important and where they are heading.
  • Even more importantly, it sets out your strategy choices if you want to connect to the growth trends. The report spells out 42 strategies companies can adopt to create success in food, nutrition and health. It identifies which strategies are higher risk and which are lower risk, which have already become established paths for companies and which are emergent opportunities.
  • It shows how each strategy is developing and use examples of companies and brands working with each strategy.

For more on the report, and to purchase it, head to New Nutrition Business….