February 16, 2021    11 min read

From the continuing impact of the global pandemic to the ever-increasing importance of ‘transparency technology’ and sustainable practices, the food industry has its work cut out for it in 2021. It’s become even more important that businesses navigate multiple supply chains with food manufacturing software.

So if you have a thirst for knowledge, here’s all you need to know about food industry trends for 2021.

Consumer trends in food industry

Better food tracing and origin

Perhaps one of the most significant trends to arise out of Covid-19 is the desire of consumers to understand more about where their food comes from. While tracing the origin of a food source and viewing transparent information about its manufacturing process has certainly grown over recent years – there’s no doubt the pandemic has sped up consumer demand for this. A trend survey released late last year identified that six out of 10 consumers are interested in knowing about their food’s origin.

But obviously, the difference between pre-Covid and now is that this push has been largely driven by issues of safety in food manufacturing and the supply chain, and also protection of food industry workers. However, there is still an increasing appetite (excuse the pun) for this knowledge to enable consumers to buy from food suppliers who value things such as ethical and responsible ingredient sourcing, and fair pay of their workers.

cooking at home Stuck indoors, many of us are getting adventurous with our home cooking

Growing digital presence

Another consumer trend hitting the headlines (and largely elevated by the pandemic) is the growth of a digitised presence, especially for those who previously used traditional channels, to meet the need for food on-demand. While the meal-planner/home-delivery players were already in the game in 2019, 2020 saw them catapult into the spotlight as people sought alternatives to long supermarket lines and to provide convenient at-home meals. Coined ‘omnichannel eating’, people are more able to eat what they want, where they want, with eCommerce allowing greater access to boutique, direct-to-consumer, suppliers.

But here’s what is perhaps most interesting — it’s not just about homemade burgers and chips. Because whether it is due to limitations on world-wide travel, boredom or simply because more people are discovering a love of cooking – consumers are craving access to exotic flavours to satisfy their hunger. Research shows that three in five consumers are interested in trying new sensory experiences (like aromas, tastes, textures, colours and sensations), or as a Forbes article noted – to ‘shop locally but eat globally’.

Health food industry trends

Functional food on the rise

There’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to motivate people to eat more healthily. Consumers are wanting food that can help to boost their immune systems and provide a sense of protection for their families. This has seen an increase in the blur of products, between what may have been traditionally seen as a supplement to a normal diet, to becoming a norm in the grocery aisles.

Ingredients that promote gut health and superfoods like elderberry, apple cider vinegar, ginger and turmeric are being added to more products, as brands see an opportunity to prosper from a spike in interest for food and beverages that contain perceived health benefits. With an estimation that 75% of the world’s population is planning to eat and drink healthier because of Covid-19, that’s one ‘bandwagon’ that needs to be jumped on.

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Meat alternatives

When it comes to health food trends, we also can’t go past the incredible growth of plant-based meat-alternatives that are continuing to reign supreme on the supermarket shelves.

What began as a humble food trend now has the potential to be a food revolution, with global research indicating three in five people are looking to incorporate more plant-based food into their diet. But why? Health benefits are seen as the biggest driver of this shift, with sustainability, variety of food and animal welfare concerns also featuring highly. However what will be interesting in 2021 is that while experts are forecasting continued success for both old and new plant-based brands, they also expect new ingredients to make an entrance – as opposed to pea, soy and wheat protein which are currently dominating the market.

Side note: In recent news, two food industry giants – Unilever and Kellogs – released their plans to focus on the growing demand for these ‘trends’ in 2021.

Food processing industry trends

While consumers are demanding greater choice, convenience and flavour to enhance their food offerings, the way food is processed will also meet certain challenges in 2021 – before it even makes it to the plate.

Build transparency with blockchain

Above we touched on transparency in the manufacturing process, and while this can be contributed to the consumer-driven desire for greater knowledge about food origins, there are also numerous benefits for the companies who look to implement this technology sooner rather than later.

Because while meeting the needs of consumers is key, so is protecting an organisation from problems that can easily arise without food-to-table traceability. For example, food quality and safety, particularly when it comes to perishables. Being able to accurately track products can assist with recalls and also mitigate any risks when it comes to transportation and storage – and the digital offerings in this space are coming thick and fast, with perhaps the most notable one, the adoption of blockchain.

This one can be a bit of a head-scratcher when it comes to understanding the nitty-gritty specifics of it, but basically, blockchain allows specific products to be accurately traced wherever they are in the supply chain process. It passes important information through each step, taking place in a fully-automated and data-protected space, but is able to be accessed by every party in the supply chain.

Reduce food waste

Not only does blockchain provide transparency and traceability, but it can also help to reduce food waste. With one-third of the food produced globally wasted – with much of that occurring in the supply chain – this ‘trend’ is unlikely to be just a ‘nice-to-have’ in the very near future.

Other innovations and trends in the area of food processing include things such as:

plastic free packaging Sustainable food packaging is still a priority for customers

Current trends in food packaging

With people wanting to live in a more eco-friendly way, sustainable food packaging still remains at the very forefront of consumer’s concerns.

Some significant changes are because of government legislation but consumers are pushing for change too. Research has found that two out of three people cited ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘recyclable packaging’ as important, with nearly 75% of consumers willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.

Because of this, many in the food industry are moving towards the use of glass as primary packaging – though it adds to the cost of manufacturing and shipping, it is endlessly recyclable.

Food packaging design is also seeing its own revolution of sorts, with the creation of ‘hyper niche’ brands and categories. But what does that actually mean? It’s about labels that feature entrepreneurs, unique family recipes or strong storytelling. ‘Homegrown’ packaging that often promotes a cheeky, humorous approach that goes against the grain of the more traditional, cliche food labelling — see if you can spot it next time you’re at the supermarket! This clever adjustment does the trick, appealing to various demographics and target markets.

A few other food packaging trends to look out for include:

  • Interactive packaging. Allows the customer to interact with the brand in a unique way
  • Refillable packaging. Another nod to the demand for sustainable, environmentally-friendly options
  • More on-packaging messaging. Allows manufacturers and brands to communicate their values and social responsibility commitments
  • Organic packaging. A focus on removing harmful and toxic chemicals from food packaging

uber eats delivery In 2021, we’re seeing a shift in how people order food

Food industry trends and challenges across the globe

While the global supply chain has been affected in a number of ways by the pandemic, due to shutdowns and lockdowns of varying degrees, there are also many examples of nuances between the regions of the world. Because we all have our own unique food sources, production capabilities (and an assortment of approaches to the pandemic itself), it’s rather interesting to look deeper into how the food industry has been affected across the different continents.

Australia and New Zealand

From panic buying to weak spots in the supply chain and a lack of packaging for products, New Zealand certainly faced its fair share of challenges in the food industry over the last year. But Aotearoa Circle National Food Strategy, established in November 2020, is aiming to tackle those issues head-on by developing a set of recommendations for the industry that will be delivered to government ministers and private sector partners.

And when it comes to consumers – watch out! More New Zealanders want to build relationships with brands they trust in 2021, with measuring the perception of the brand’s performance during the pandemic a key takeaway for those in the food industry. Sustainable and regenerative agriculture also continues to rise, with more growers working towards a conservation and rehabilitation approach to farming.

Across the ditch, Australians have been out in their gardens in droves, growing more food at home than ever before, but that hasn’t stopped a huge increase in direct-to-consumer channels providing ready-made or cook-your-own-meal delivery services. However, a unique challenge faces the food industry this year – finding a balance between achieving the country’s 2025 National Packaging Targets, while not impacting on the 2030 Food Waste Strategy.

UK & Europe

Uncertainty. That would be the one word many in the food industry would use to describe the current situation in the United Kingdom and Europe. Covid-19 has hit parts of Europe particularly hard and the UK has become anything but united in the wake of Brexit knocking on the front door – with many experts unable to agree on what the new trade deals will mean for the food industry. A few of the primary concerns include an increase in food prices for UK consumers, issues with export compliance and the prospect of competing against imported produce of a lower standard. It appears the pandemic could be the least of the country’s worries.

Across the English Channel, Europe has seen a large behavioural shift in the way people are buying food – with nearly half reporting an increase in online shopping (45%), bulk purchases (47%) and carefully planned shopping trips (45%). Research has also shown that the pandemic’s impact on supply chains increased direct-to-consumer initiatives, for example – developing sales channels in order to sell surplus stock directly from farmers to consumers. And it shows no signs of stopping in 2021.

US

Perhaps one of the most notable learnings for the United States has been the fragility of the just-in-time (JIT) model – with major out-of-stocks causing issues at the beginning of the pandemic. This has led to some experts commenting that there may be a shift to more of a ‘just-in-case’ approach moving forward, by holding more inventories.

Reliability over price has also taken a front seat, in which grocery trade customers have come to realise that being able to rely on supply is sometimes more important than best price. And another trend in the US this year is that bigger brands are looking to remove some of their more minor SKUs in favour of prioritising mainstream products.

Asia

Food security was one of the biggest issues facing many parts of Asia in 2020, with a shortage of particular SKUs, shipment delays and the pause button pressed on the introduction of many new products. That said, online grocery shopping was up 40 per cent in Asia and there has been a significant increase in the consumption of packaged food – in part due to its longer shelf life.

But manufacturers of these ready-meal/on-the-go products will be facing a challenge of their own this year, with consumers becoming more health-conscious and educated when it comes to nutrition labels, as well as governments across Asia bringing in policy changes to promote healthy and fortified instant foods.

No matter the corner of the world we live in, grappling with the constant disruption of the supply chain has presented numerous problems to the food industry. And perhaps what this pandemic has glaringly pointed out to us all is that food manufacturing software is critical to minimising this impact.

The simple truth is that many of the issues those in the food industry face can be mitigated with the right technology in place. Whether you need to reduce expenditure or keep track of your inventory, there are solutions.

We hope the trends covered above have allowed for insights into areas in which your business can expand and grow its offering while understanding where to invest to meet consumer and industry demand.

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