12 Key Trends

12 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2014

Every year, highly-regarded UK think-tank and research company, New Nutrition Business aims to entertain and inform its customers with its annual analysis of the Key Trends in the business of food, nutrition and health. It’s used by the smartest companies in the world – from global giants to two-person startups.

FOODStuff SA brings readers an exclusive peak into the main elements of the 102-page report.

Key Trends

Key Trend 1: “Naturally functional” the biggest trend

What natural means to consumers

This trend covers two broad categories—different, yet entirely complementary—of “natural” as defined by consumer perceptions:

1. “Naturally healthy”: the message that a food or food ingredient has a natural and intrinsic health benefit is one of the most persuasive that people can hear.

2. Fewer and simpler ingredients, “clean label”: This definition in fact attracts by far the most attention in industry discussions. It means: – products that are “free-from” artificial colours, preservatives or additives (for example) OR – can be described as “clean-label” OR – have an ingredients list that is short and is in language that people can easily understand (“only things they might find in their kitchen cabinet” as one industry executive describes it).

Key points:

  • Don’t call your product “natural”: Natural is the biggest trend in food and drink, but if you have concerns about using the word on your label, don’t – instead use one of the many other ways of communicating the same thing that are more subtle, and that make a better connection in the minds of the consumer.
  • Ingredients speak for themselves: The “natural halo” of its ingredients legitimises a product. Consumers draw their own conclusions, and no health claim is needed.
  • Fewer, more simple ingredients: Fewer ingredients, and ingredients that sound like they are from a kitchen rather than a factory, signal naturalness to consumers. There is a particular responsibility for ingredient suppliers to make sure that their portfolio is matched against this market need and in fact leading edge companies are orienting themselves around natural, such as Chr Hansen, “Nature’s No 1”.
  • Processing is OK: Fears that consumers will reject products for being “too processed” are overblown. What consumers mean is that they want their foods to seem simple and uncomplicated, and this concern is addressed by using as few ingredients as possible – labelled as simply as possible. And if they like the taste and texture of your product they are likely to be forgiving about processing.
  • The biggest trend: As the biggest trend, naturality also overlaps with – and influences – most other trends.

Key trendsKey Trend 2: Dairy 2.0 – dairy’s re-birth as a natural whole food

Dairy has been more effective than any other aisle in the supermarket at creating new categories and innovative products.

Dairy 1.0: The first wave of functional dairy products was a two-decade-long effort to shoehorn into dairy products ingredients such as plant sterols, omega- 3s, CLA, glucosamine and many others, in order to market medicalised benefi ts such as lowering cholesterol, heart health and joint health.

It was the added ingredients providing the health benefit, rather than a “whole dairy food” product format. Some were very successful – such as probiotics. Others, such as marine omega-3s, were not, for various reasons.

But this period is over. The growing importance to consumers of foods and beverages being “natural” – as defined in the consumer’s mind, not necessarily as defined by regulation or science – is now the most influential driver in the business of food and health and, as before, it’s dairy which is at the cutting edge of this new development.

Dairy 2.0: Dairy innovation is no longer focused on positioning dairy as a competitor with dietary supplements but on:

a) ingredients and benefits that are a more logical and “easy to accept” fit with dairy

b) ingredients and benefits that are “as natural as possible”

c) new and more interesting product formats – usually in the form of companies reinventing “old formats” or taking traditional regional dairy products from one geography and launching them into new geographies where they are “new and exciting”, but adapted to suit the tastes of the new markets

d) taste and texture, in particular re-establishing dairy’s strengths in the minds of the consumer. The recent surge in higher protein products is one element of this since protein significantly adds to a dairy product’s pleasurable mouthfeel.

Key points:

• Strong natural image: Dairy enjoys a strong “naturally healthy” image in consumers’ minds and has become a credible category for health messages.

• Ingredient potential: Dairy proteins are accumulating a growing body of science behind their benefits. Protein is emerging as an essential ingredient to support “healthy ageing”.

• Science bringing new opportunities: Emerging science is improving dairy’s image even further, and changing the bad image of dairy fat. Could the next decade bring the realisation that low- or no-fat dairy products have been a huge mistake?

• Greek yoghurt phenomenon: The massive success of the Greek yoghurt category in the US, which has quickly boomed to $700-million (€519-million) in annual sales, illustrates how there are still a wealth of untapped opportunities to create new dairy propositions, even in developed markets. 

Key TrendsKey Trend 3: Protein beyond the tipping point

If 2012 was the year protein “went mainstream” in the US market, then 2013 was the year when the trend was confirmed by sustained growth.

The most prominent symbol of that mainstreaming was the massive first-year success of the General Mills Nature Valley protein bar, one of the 10 most successful new products launched in America in 2012, earning $95-million in retail sales (IRI). This success was sustained in 2013 with an impressive 36% increase in sales to $130-million.

Key points:

An old trend: Protein for weight and energy is not a new trend – in fact it is one of the oldest, dating back to the 1950s

at least, when Special K launched with a high-protein message. High-protein diets were the weight management method of choice from the 1860s to the 1960s. But for decades the approach has been out of favour as low fat, high carb diets grabbed the spotlight. Now protein’s fortunes are on the turn again, propelled by:

– consumer interest

– increasing scientific c evidence for its benefits

– better taste and texture

– inclusion in more mainstream products and markets

Consumers see protein benefit: A growing number of consumers bracket protein with fibre and calcium as a “good ingredient”. Their slowly growing understanding of protein as having a wide range of benefits gives marketers multiple opportunities.

Backed by science: Feeding the growth of consumer interest over the last 10 years has been a steady stream of media reports of scientific studies supporting a beneficial role for protein: science that’s convincing enough for even a heavyweight conventional weight management regime such as Weight Watchers to alter its food weighting system in favour of more protein.

A more mainstream choice: High protein sports nutrition products have moved from being the preserve of a niche of gym-obsessed “muscly guys” to being among the repertoire of health choices for active, healthy people.

Dairy the flag bearer for protein: Dairy in particular has led the way to “real foods” as being an identifiable source of quality protein and not just sports nutrition products, with Greek yoghurt one of the products that has educated consumers about protein.

How much is enough: Dietitians say we get enough protein but advances in science show that received wisdom about protein intake may be incorrect for many groups of consumers.

New sources of protein: Because of issues like price stability and availability, companies are looking at a wealth of new proteins such as microalgae.

Key TrendsKey Trend 4: Energy – an unstoppable global trend

One of the biggest marketing advantages a product can have – and the surest way to create loyalty for a brand – is to deliver a benefi t that the consumer can quickly see or feel.

It’s this “feel the benefi t” advantage that is the underpinning of the now 25-year-long success story of energy drinks (a 50-year success story in Asia). Providing an immediate and detectable shot of stimulation has made energy drinks a continuing story of growth and of premium prices. It made energy drinks recession-proof – growth barely paused in the depths of the economic downturn.

Energy drinks’ power also lies in the fact that they meet one of consumers’ key needs. According to respected consumer researchers Health Focus International, in the 32 countries in which it conducts its research “energy” is consistently among consumers’ top-5 needs.

Delivering such a powerful tangible benefi t means that – at the moment – energy drinks are one of the few categories where “natural” is not yet a key infl uence: it’s an important opportunity for innovation, but having said that, their blatant lack of natural credentials has done nothing to restrain energy drinks’ growth.

Key points:

Premium prices: With their strong “feel the benefi t” advantage, energy drinks continue to command premium prices.

“Natural” not a key driver: Because energy drinks offer such a strong benefi t, consumers don’t worry about how natural they are.

Long-term answer to a permanent need: Public health concerns and regulatory scrutiny over the caffeinated beverages may possibly have contributed to slowed sales growth, but the industry is confi dent that energy drinks remain a long-term proposition – the answer to a need state that’s not going away.

Caffeine wins a health claim: In contrast to health concerns over energy drinks, the world’s most demanding health claim regulator has found that caffeine is safe for most people – and should even be able to make health claims. However, how these fi ndings translate into reality is still under discussion.

Innovation opportunities: The energy drink category is built on innovation, and areas of focus for new opportunities include:

– Slow release caffeine, slow release energy

– Older consumers

– No sugar, no calorie

– Natural

– New formats