Seven food and drink trends for businesses to navigate in 2020

29 November 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, we’ve been reflecting on what’s on the horizon for the food industry. Here’s our take on seven food and drink trends for producers to consider when setting their priorities for 2020.

1. A surge of CBD products

CBD and CBD-based products are increasingly prevalent. There have been lots of beverage products hitting the shelves, from chill-out teas to quirky alcoholic drinks.

Every trade show we’ve attended in recent months has shown an increasing amount of people making a claim for natural CBD in their products. To be honest, we’re not entirely convinced in every case because CBD is fat soluble, not water soluble. So, if you use it in a more natural form, you need to either find some way to emulsify it or buy it in a form that’s bonded to, or sprayed onto, an emulsifier. Yet, producers are claiming to have created natural CBD tea infusions which will presumably be added to water.

An unusual aspect to CBD is that, technically, it’s still awaiting novel foods safety approval. We recently spoke to a food lawyer who specialises in cannabis and CBD who stated that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has all but said it’s not going to enforce people using CBD and food products while it’s under novel foods approval, which is something that has rarely (if ever) happened before.

Typically, consumers can’t buy a food product until its ingredients receive approval. When approval is confirmed, there are then caveats attached, such as levels on ingredients and restrictions on use. The second round of activity following approval is the health claims legislation. Food, as opposed to medicine, cannot make disease prevention claims, instead producers can only make “positive function” claims.

That hasn’t stopped food marketers extolling the health virtues of CBD, which is an enforceable offence. Yet, the interesting thing is that it’s not stopping anyone and it will definitely continue to be among the key food and drink trends in 2020.

We’re currently in a grey zone where there’s a distinct lack of guidance as to what is accepted around this product. Meanwhile, there is a swell of consumer interest. The concern for producers is that if they wait until the approval process is finished, they will be far behind the curve. However, barring it being banned, CBD looks like it’s not going anywhere in 2020.

2. (More) personalised nutrition becomes a reality

Personalised nutrition has been long spoken about as an ideal in individual health. Current legislation of nutritional values is set around averages. For example, the average adult recommendation is 40mg per day of vitamin C. However, there’s obviously no such thing as an average person. Different people, in different circumstances, will require – or benefit from – different levels of vitamin C consumption.

Technology supports individuality with mobile phone apps and smartwatches recording our individualised levels of activity, heart rate and sleep. Plus, mail-order blood/stool and saliva tests are providing another level of personal health awareness.

The issues for a food producer are around complexity and logistics. If a supplement company plans to move towards personalised nutrition, they will have to take into account the impossibility of creating a product that can address the myriad variables of a wide range of customers.

Something we expect to see in 2020 is producers bringing a range of products to market for a number of nutrition requirements, or types of people, and products containing differing levels of nutrients.

We’ve seen basic versions of this before: women’s vitamins, supplements for pregnant women, the over 65s etc. Finding ways to do this on a grander, more bespoke way, from a manufacturing point of view is still difficult but certainly, personalised nutrition is something consumers want.

Check out The Nutrition Society’s website for more information and tools around establishing specific nutritional requirements.

3. Diabetes prevention needs to be among the food and drink trends

NHS diabetes prevention programmes have sprung up all over the UK and for good reason: Type 2 diabetes and related treated costs the NHS £10bn a year – a tenth of its entire budget. Yet, according to the International Diabetes Federation, 80% of cases of Type 2 are preventable through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.

What does this look like from a food product point of view? What with the relatively successful introduction of the sugar tax, to reduce on sugar levels in soft drinks, there’s increasing pressure on the government to curb sugar levels across all confectionary and beyond – effectively a “calorie tax”. While this hasn’t yet been introduced, it might well be in the next parliament.

Adapting products to a healthier nutritional profile is becoming far more mainstream, to the point of being a hygiene factor. We’ve seen this with GMO ingredients, where, unless there’s a crucial reason, these elements are no longer desirable in food production from a consumer point of view.

4. Finding the balance with fats and carbs

Refined white sugar is currently considered to be a problem, and the ‘sugar tax‘ has been one of the key food and drink trends of the last two years. The knock-on effect of reducing sugar content has, more often than not, been an increase in the use of fat(s).

A decade or so ago, we were very concerned about how much saturated fat and fat in general appeared in our diets and about our overall calorie level. These days, we’ve seen a switch, possibly because of the increase in Type 2 diabetes. While dietary fat slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream and ‘good fats’ are vital to our wellbeing, it seems consumers have forgotten about the dangers still inherent, particularly in saturated fat.

Coconut oil is a case in point here. It is widely used despite being very high in saturated fats and a concern for those with high cholesterol. The guidance on eating low sugar is 5g per 100g and in drinks 2.5g per 100g. The NHS guidance on saturated fat is 20g a day for women and 30g for men. We think that attention will widen to encompass the level of fats and sugars and producers should be thinking about how to balance these particular ingredients.

5. Innovating for more sustainable packaging

As food consumers, we’re questioning the amount of packaging in our lives, particularly the non-recyclable kind. Places like The Clean Kilo, the largest zero-waste supermarket in the UK (based in Birmingham) have opened up with the ethos to sell plastic-free products. They are challenging the food production system and its over-packaged supply chain by sourcing in bulk and selling without packaging.

Yet, there are other elements, which are a contravention of this thinking such as the food delivery model (e.g. Hello Fresh) where there’s a hugely increased amount of packaging for each amount of ingredient carefully weighed out for our convenience.

This presents an opportunity to food companies to rebrand with more eco-friendly solutions. It’s a case of balancing packaging that is robust and protects product while encasing them, with the possibility of being reused/recycled or composted quickly once removed.

It’s interested to note that, while paper comes up as something fairly easy to recycle, once it’s soiled, it’s spoiled. Food, oil, grease, and other liquids all contaminate the paper recycling process. Meanwhile steel is easy to clean and 100% recyclable. According to Recycle More, it’s also said to be the easiest packaging to recycle. Glass also falls into the cleanable, more easily recyclable category.

A more immediate eco-friendly solution is domestic compostability, like the corn starch wrappings of some subscription magazines.

6. Ingredients sourcing post-Brexit

While the outcome of Brexit is still uncertain, if and when it happens this will have an impact on food sourcing. Yet, being that functional food products and ingredients come from all over the world, it’s inevitable that leaving the EU will make sourcing of some ingredients easier and cheaper.

Let’s take pea protein, an increasingly used ingredient, as an example. Presently, it’s not manufactured in the UK, despite the fact we grow plenty of peas. Instead, much of it comes from Europe. But it’s actually much cheaper to source outside Europe, with China being the cheapest. Of course, air miles will need to be accounted for from an ecological and cost perspective.

In addition, within our borders, local companies may find there’s increased opportunity within their regional areas. At the moment, we’re in an uncertain position, but it may not be as bleak an outcome as many believe, at least from a food-sourcing perspective.

7. The Millennial diet

A 2019 survey commissioned by Sweet Earth Foods and conducted by OnePoll found Millennials have a somewhat virtuous relationship to food that differs from previous generations. Almost six in 10 millennials subscribe to a special diet like vegan/plant-based and of those around 40% do so because it’s better for the environment, while 37% believe it’s more ethical.

In addition, they make approximately 17 tweaks or changes to their diet over the course of a year, with the top changes centred on healthier foods, avoiding sugar and refined carbs and focusing more on plant-based foods. A further 34% have cut down on their meat consumption.

While research has demonstrated that millennials are drinking alcohol at a lower rate, they still drink and are favouring higher quality, artisanal brands. According to a survey conducted by Survation on behalf The UK Spirits Alliance, spirit-based drinks are the most popular among younger drinkers – with gin and tonic leading the way.

So that’s our take on the food and drink trends for 2020. Of course we’d love to hear what you think so email us or contact us via Twitter with your thoughts or questions. And, of course, if you’d like to talk about any of these themes with us in developing your next product, get in touch today.