Sceptical consumer

Leatherhead’s Top Trends for 2014

Leading UK food research organisation, Leatherhead Food RA has published these five key trends that it believes will be prominent for the industry in 2014, among them consumer scepticism and a growing focus on the supply chain.

The sceptical consumer

2013 saw consumer trust in the food and drink industry take rather a battering with scandals such as “Horsegate”. What consumers hated most was not so much the fact that they were eating horse per se, but more the fact that they perceived companies had tried to pull the wool over their eyes.

While sales of beef may have returned to pre-Horsegate levels, consumer trust has undoubtedly been dented. We now see a more sceptical and wary consumer emerging. Companies will have to battle hard to restore trust in 2014.

Claims that count

One way companies can rebuild consumer trust is by looking at their products holistically and carefully considering the claims they are making about those products. With hyper-sensitive consumers who are concerned about the number of processes which they believe their food is subjected to, and with a hungry press who are waiting for the next big food scandal, claims need to be spot on and actually deliver on their promises.

Consumers are getting wise to ubiquitous claims like ‘natural’ which promise a lot without clearly saying what the product is actually delivering. It seems regulatory and marketing teams might need to get a whole lot closer in 2014 and onwards.

The growing focus on the supply chain

The traceability and sustainability criteria of the ingredients which go into companies’ products are becoming ever more important; companies are conscious of the need to understand the operations of their entire supply chain in order to mitigate any risks before they occur and to give them evidence for the good news stories about their products.

The case for supply chain ethics is becoming clearer too. Trade is changing. Food companies can no longer assume they can pay the right price and get the commodity they want. With fears around the supply of key commodities like cocoa, not only is the reality beginning to sink in that there might not be an endless supply of commodities, but the growth of food companies in the southern hemisphere means there are a greater number of companies demanding scarcer commodities.

Small scale producers are finding they now have options and companies could find themselves being cut out of deals. Companies are beginning to see real benefits in nurturing and protecting their supply chains. It seems there may be an alignment between business and sustainability objectives after all.

Health and wellness rather than ‘diet’

With consumers’ personal memories of failed weight loss attempts and with the media delving into the science behind weight loss, ‘diet’ is becoming a dirty word. Rather than compartmentalising ‘healthy eating’ to a particular part of their lives, consumers are looking for more balanced approaches to weight loss and weight management.

Companies are responding by moving from diet products which sit in a single aisle in the supermarket to more mainstream ‘healthy products’ which can become a more integral part of people’s lives. They are seeking to reposition ‘healthy’ in a more positive framework, as something to be enjoyed rather than dreaded.

Natural sugar alternatives

The pressures for the industry to address growing obesity levels means sweeteners remain a key area for innovation. Plant-derived sweeteners, such as stevia, that can be marketed on a more natural platform are expected to provide the main impetus for growth in the sweetener market in the coming years.

As manufacturers work to create the right taste profile for stevia and wait for other plant- derived sweeteners, such as monk fruit, to attain regulatory clearance, the artificial sweetener market still offers growth opportunities, however – in particular, the sucralose and acesulfame-K markets.

These are just some of the issues facing the food and drink industry in 2014. There’s much more detail in Leatherhead’s Global Industry Outlook 2014, due for publication in January 2014, which will explore these and other trends.