This article was updated in January 2023 to reflect current trends, statistics, and pricing.
Everything is changing. The way we eat, technology, people’s expectations — the knock-on effect of this is revolutionising much of the food industry, from the ingredients we buy to the food manufacturing software we use.
So what are the food processing trends to watch out for in 2023?
In this 2023 global food processing trends report:
Increased operational costs
As we continue to recuperate from the economic damages of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising prices will be a huge factor for food manufacturers in 2023.
According to the IDC Global Food and Beverage Industry Trends 2022 Report, higher operating costs caused by inflation are predicted to have the greatest impact on the food processing industry over the next five years. Shortages of raw materials are also a contributing factor in the rising operational costs of food processing.
This has led to higher retail food and beverage prices for consumers.
The Office of National Statistics reported that food-at-home prices in the UK are up by 14.6% since January 2022. This marks the biggest industry inflation in 42 years. The average price of milk in August 2022 was the highest since records began in 1971.
Food manufacturers must remain aware of how pricing can affect their brand reputation. A fine line must be walked to remain profitable without upsetting loyal customers. A focus on brand transparency is extra important as we roll through a potentially tumultuous 2023.
Renewed focus on sustainability
Consumers care about sustainability when it comes to their food. In fact, 54% of survey respondents to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) said they believe sustainability is very or somewhat important.
In November 2022, the UN held their annual climate summit: COP27. The impact of food processing on the environment was a central focus, as food systems account for one third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
A subset of food sustainability to watch out for is food wastage. Globally, says the UN, about 1.6 billion tonnes of “primary product equivalent” food is wasted, while 28 per cent of the world’s agricultural land produces food that is lost or wasted. Combined, this creates an economic impact of about US$750 billion per year.
One positive to come out of COP27 was Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST). The initiative was launched on 12 November 2022 by the Egyptian COP27 president and 20+ agriculture ministers. It aims to transform agriculture whilst adhering to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C global warming limit.
Sustainability is increasingly important to consumers
Changing habits: The rise of plant-based foods
Plant-based products are increasingly all the rage, taking over supermarket shelves and freezers around the globe. Indeed, the global plant-based meat market is worth over US$10 billion – a metric expected to double by 2025.
These substitutes were once the domain of vegans, but vegetarians, flexitarians and general omnivores now make up a large portion of potential customers and are driving growth in the market. People think these options are healthier, and as we’ll explore further in this article, health is another major concern of the modern consumer.
Of course, sustainability is also a key factor. Consumers are regularly bombarded with stories of animal abuse in the agriculture sector, and worry about the long-term sustainability of meat-based food products over plant-based alternatives. This has spurred serious short-term growth in the sector: according to Nielsen data (gathered by FoodDive), meat alternative sales were up 129% during the pandemic.
No matter where this growth goes in future, it’s clear that 2023 will be another strong year for plant-based food manufacturers.
Changing habits: Healthy food, healthy body
Health foods have been a craze for a long time, but the pandemic put a whole new emphasis on eating to stay healthy.
For example, changes to consumer behaviour show that people are thinking more and more about their immune system, and how their eating habits can impact it. 57% of global consumers say they are now more concerned about their immunity as a result of Covid-19 (AMD). This is leading to a market uplift for products containing probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics.
AMD also highlights that the immune system is not all that people are concerned about. Concerns with cardiovascular disease, weight management, personal nutrition, and mental health are all pushing behavioural shifts which are having a knock-on effect on product growth. To put that in numbers, nearly 50% of consumers plan to purchase food items relating to their health and wellbeing, and 31% are already purchasing items tailored for their unique health and nutrition.
When you look at this in conjunction with the rise of plant-based foods (again, seen as healthier options) and the importance of sustainability, ‘green’ foods that appear healthy are shaping up to have a strong year.
Consumers are paying closer attention to their health and wellbeing
Supply chain disruptions continue
Food supply chain disruptions are still happening at an increasing rate despite newly reopened borders as businesses face labour shortages and ingredients scarcity.
In a recent whitepaper, the IDC gives evidence that supply chain disruptions are on the minds of many food-and-beverage manufacturers. Flexibility and visibility of food supply chains will be critical as these businesses attempt to balance customer expectations and profitability.
It can be inferred, then, that companies in the food processing sector should double down on their supply chain planning processes in 2023. This will provide the best shot at mitigating new supply chain risks and optimising overall order fulfillment efficiency.
Food manufacturers holding more stock
The just-in-time supply chain model has dominated the food industry for decades, helping organisations upstream and down eliminate waste and manage costs. However, under the severe strain of Covid-19, this model has proven too brittle for the modern era.
In our recent Manufacturers Health Check report, we found that firms are currently holding twice as much stock. Capricious supply chains have resulted in many businesses switching from a just-in-time to a just-in-case strategy.
This, of course, requires a major overhaul of the supply chain; while there are benefits (upstream partners face less pressure to produce goods at the same frantic pace while downstream partners build resilience to supply chain disruption), this comes at a cost. Larger inventories, for examples, could lead to a greater risk of shrinkage.
Technology, therefore, is a key investment for food processors to consider in 2023 — anything that will help them automate, monitor and analyse their key processes, such as inventory management, to maintain visibility over operations and mitigate the risk of excess shrinkage.
Other solutions include:
- Introduction of new suppliers
- Dual sourcing strategies
- Greater sourcing diversity
- Product redesigns
Greater investments in food manufacturing software
Costs are high enough without getting higher due to changes in consumer behaviour and supply chain restrictions. One way many food manufacturers are helping to mitigate — or at least manage — those costs is with advanced food manufacturing software.
Tools of this nature are all about gaining visibility and control of your inventory as it enters and exits your warehouse. For example, food inventory management software is designed to accurately track every item as it passes through your business, from purchase to sale. It can monitor the age of stock, where it’s located, custom recipes, how products are selling — any aspect of the business.
This transparency leads to better business intelligence, which in turn can help you make informed, evidence-based business decisions (perhaps a particular product is selling poorly, or certain raw ingredients are growing more difficult to acquire).
Business intelligence is critical to success in the modern era. Visibility and real-time monitoring help an organisation accurately control its costs, giving it the breathing room to make adjustments based on emerging trends.
Greater investments in automation
In addition to software, 2023 may be the year to invest in physical technology – namely, automation.
Automation can be a difficult subject to discuss and it isn’t right for every organisation. However, some experts predict it will be the saving grace for food manufacturers still trying to recover from Covid-19 (among other major economic changes, such as Brexit’s departure from the common European market) amidst crippling worker shortages.
For example, in Canada leaders in the food manufacturing sector are warning of a predicted near-25% gap between available workers and the demand for workers by 2025. Organisations in Canada are asking for support in updating their technology to help alleviate these vacancies with streamlining and automation.
Meanwhile, experts in the UK are suggesting the same thing in order to handle Brexit.
Of course, all investments in automation must be balanced with the needs of human workers and what role they might play in your future business. This isn’t one to rush headlong into.
Brand transparency holds more value
As we mentioned earlier, brand transparency is a key trend for 2023, and a way for manufacturers to show off their sustainability and healthy eating initiatives.
According to the IFIC survey referenced above, consumers struggle to recognise environmentally sustainable sources in their food. 60% said they don’t know which of their food choices are environmentally friendly, and 63% say it would have a greater influence on their purchase decision if it were easier.
In addition, an Innova survey found that six in 10 global consumers have a genuine interest in knowing where their food comes from.
This puts great emphasis on clean product packaging that tells a clear story. Information on animal welfare, sustainable and fair sourcing, supply chain transparency and clear ingredients could all have a big impact on product desirability this year.
No complaints when it comes to having your pet food delivered straight to your door
Pet food: Going direct to consumers
For pet food manufacturers in particular, the direct-to-consumer trend that has taken the rest of the food sector by storm has not left pet food untouched.
“[One of the top trends] is a continued push towards everything being digital in the pet food environment,” Jared Koerten, Euromonitor International’s head of pet care research, told Pet Food Industry magazine.
Mr Koerten, among other experts interviewed by Pet Food Industry, believes that this growth in eCommerce sales will be sticky even after the pandemic ends and consumers feel more able to visit their old brick and mortar stores.
“While it’s possible that some consumers may swing back to purchasing their pet’s food in stores,” agreed Melissa Hartley, senior market manager at FONA International, “many will continue to embrace the convenience and benefits of having food delivered to their front door.”
As a result, pet food brands will have to do more to attract online sales.
2022 was a year of recovery and rebuilding – and change. Consumers are increasingly taking control of the food that they desire, leaving manufacturers with little option but to bow to the new demand. This coupled with the need for technological innovation will likely lead to 2023 being a year of upgrades and R&D.