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COVID-19 likely to hijack three emerging 2020 food-bev trends

Expect to see several emerging 2020 food-bev trends change course as consumers cope with the coronavirus crisis… These are observations for the US market, but have global relevance.

American food industry think-tank and forecaster, Culinary Tides, believes consumers will revert to certainty and comfort in these troubled times.

“As part of our ongoing work, we have been tracking the political and economic unease here and abroad, well before the onset of COVID-19. What the spread of COVID-19 has caused, is an amplification and acceleration of the tide that was already rolling in,” says a Culinary Tides report.

“It’s no less significant for its abruptness and shock value, but pandemics can have the effect of shaping and altering the trajectory of already identified trends.

“It can be difficult to know which trends are most likely to rise above the noise over the next 12 months as the situation is still very much in flux.

“It can be even more confusing trying to decide which will resonate most with your brand and customers… and understanding that a trend is coming is only valuable if you know how to strategically leverage it.”

Prior to the pandemic, experts predicted momentum for meat alternatives, low- or no-alcohol beverages and sustainability-driven purchasing behaviours. Their trajectory has been altered by the political and economic uncertainty created by COVID-19, says the consultancy’s president, Suzy Badaracco.

A bust for faux meats

Consumers may behave more conservatively and cautiously in the months to come, relying on food and beverages that provide comfort and familiarity. Such behaviour does not bode well for plant-based meat alternatives, Badaracco notes.

“It is clear from research that faux plant-based meats are consumed by meat eaters, not vegetarians, with curiosity being their driver,” she says.

“As sales numbers on these products continue to slide, COVID-19 will push meat eaters back to animal protein at an accelerated pace, while vegetarians will celebrate plants being plants.”

The dairy category, with its “winning combination of health attributes and comfort,” also may benefit from changing consumer attitudes, she believes.

“A newer, more promising direction, which supports the current mood, is to hybridize the categories —¬ an alliance between animal and vegetable protein, with vegetables maintaining their natural integrity and voice,” she adds.

A boon for booze

The sober-curious movement, another leading trend gaining ground in recent years, will give way to a rise in classic cocktails (think gin & tonic), global ciders, wine and beer, Badaracco predicts. Hard seltzer also will remain popular.

“When times are difficult, consumers drink,” she said. “Overall, alcohol consumption is expected to rise — and the balance of which type of alcohol is consumed will shift between categories.”

Baby boomers, Gen X and older millennials will lead the shift back to booze, while younger millennials and Gen Z are more likely to remain steadfastly sober.

“Spirits will be focused on global classics, but will be taking a more reserved role this year. When consumers are feeling positive, cocktails lead beverage. When they are not feeling confident, cocktails take a back seat to beer and wine. Cocktail styles will showcase regional and historic classics, but no experimentation here,” says the report.

A check on sustainability

A third trend reversal expected to occur in a post-pandemic world is a de-escalation of sustainability spending while consumers regain financial footing.

No- or low-cost sustainability solutions, such as composting or embracing ugly fruits and vegetables, may continue, but purchases of organic food and beverages are expected to slide in the meantime.

“Sustainability spending will bounce back; however, its return will be linked directly to economic health and consumer confidence,” Badaracco adds.

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