Food and nutrition trends to watch for 2020

New Nutrition Business has just launched its latest assessment of the key trends in food, nutrition and health. It reveals changing consumer beliefs and a remarkably fragmented market – trends that are driven by a shift away from faith in official health guidance. What does this portend for 2020 and beyond?

Allene Bruce
Allene Bruce Director, New Nutrition Business
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Published: Dec. 11. 2019

My team has again put together its annual publication, which scrutinizes the key food, nutrition and health trends that matter most to consumers at the start of this new decade. I’m delighted to share some of its highlights with you.

Fragmented food tribes
One strong trend we’re seeing is fragmentation of the market. Simply put, this means that the market has become more finely segmented. It’s such a powerful shift that we’re calling it a megatrend and anticipating it will be around for the foreseeable future.

This splitting of consumers into ‘tribes’ with specific health goals and philosophies has been facilitated by the search-and-connect capability of internet. This is a significant change from the past when official health and medical advice shaped what people thought they should eat and drink. Today, consumers are inspired by forces as diverse as social media influencers and just-released medical research, and communities of belief develop accordingly. 

The good news is that this means there is a niche for everything. From plant-lovers to keto enthusiasts, gut microbe cultivators to muscle builders, there is a market – it’s merely a question of how big it is and how appealing products are to them.

It’s worth noting, though, that because there are now more niches, they are correspondingly smaller than before. Businesses have to either accept that success will be measured by smaller numbers than in the past, or find a way to appeal to multiple niches. The most successful brands connect to two, three or more major trends.

Fat is reborn and rehabilitated
This shift away from trust in official health advice, spurred partly by its apparent U-turns on messages such as the dangers of fat and the health benefit of red wine, means that many people are open to health messages around fat. Fat certainly improves flavour, which gives products a huge advantage! Peak yogurt from the US proudly boasts its 17% dairy fat content. Successful messages here are likely to focus on ‘healthy fats’ and are likely to be coupled with low-carbohydrate content to fit with the trendy ketogenic diet.

Plants and protein are heroes – but meat and dairy don’t flinch
One thing most people are convinced of is the health benefit of eating more plants. But it’s likely that people will keep enjoying meat or dairy and have their plants, too, in the form of hybrid proteins. To take two examples, Tyson Foods this year launched its brand “Raised and Rooted”, which features blended meat products that are part vegetable, and the Portuguese dairy brand Mimosa launched lactose-free milk that is half dairy and half oat or almond. We expect to see more hybrids launching shortly.

In consumers’ eyes, protein retains its place as the nutrient that can do no wrong, and plant protein continues its rise. We doubt, though, that ‘fake’ meat will ever take centre stage, because consumers perceive it as being highly processed with many additives. 

Who buys plant protein? There’s no getting around the fact that the amino acid profile of animal protein is superior – but then, 98% of plant protein consumers also eat meat. For most people, the shift is about eating more plants, not less meat or dairy. 

Plant-based milks have had a strong run for the past 12 years, but their growth is slowing, and it seems likely that they will shortly be overtaken in the US by lactose-free cow milk. Dairy milk still accounts for the vast majority of milk sold (94% in the US). There’s still growth to be had, however, in plant-based yoghurt and desserts. 

Digestive comfort
Dairy continues to hold the advantage of being fermentable into gut-healthy products such as yoghurt. Mounting evidence of the value of a healthy gut microbiome, along with consumers’ realisation that digestive solutions can alleviate their discomfort, is offering great opportunity.

Promising strategies include grain-free products; prebiotic fibres, which are slightly sweet; lactose-free and goat dairy; and low-FODMAPS foods (FODMAPS are certain fibres and sugars that cause some people digestive discomfort).

There’s another distinct opportunity to alleviate discomfort in a broader sense. Western consumers increasingly care about the environmental impacts of their purchases, making sustainability a basic ‘must-do’ for every company. To help prevent climate change, 64% of Swedes said they will try to buy more sustainable food, and 27% of US consumers say environmental sustainability is a key driver for purchasing decisions.

Packaging is the most overt signal of sustainability, and there will be few manufacturers who are not looking at improving their packaging in this regard. Home compostable packaging is one obvious success story.

Other successful strategies are upcycling waste to create high-value products – such as the Regrained snack bar based on spent brewing grain, and products from whey, which was once considered a waste by-product – and goods grown in regenerative agriculture systems.

For now, though, sustainability is not the most important deciding factor for consumers; they want broader benefits such as taste, nutrition and convenience, too.

Snacking adventurers
Make it easy, make it a snack! The drive for convenience has created a ‘snackification’ trend, and most of the trends I’ve described can be tucked into bars, nuggets or bites. And while you’re at it, make it interesting, because we’re all food adventurers now. The days of brand loyalty are gone, and many consumers are neophiles on a quest for the interesting. The cleverest new product developers are taking niche traditional foods, such as the Icelandic skyr, and tweaking their flavour and texture to make them palatable to the market.

Kombucha is another example. Will it be passionfruit and blackberry or ginger and turmeric on your Christmas table? This traditional fermented drink has exploded in popularity so that there seems to be a kombucha for every occasion. It hits multiple trends: it’s low carb, delicious, convenient, plant-based and often packaged in glass. It bubbles with probiotic microbes. If it’s made at a boutique brewery in the next village, its provenance puts it even further ahead.

So to all new product developers and strategists, I hope these few insights assist you. I raise my flavoursome glass of something bubbly, healthy and sustainable, and wish you every success for your new product endeavours of the new decade.

This blog contains material and information intended for B2B customers, suppliers and distributors, and is not intended as information to the final consumers.