How have 2020′s food trends changed?

Food marketing agency Nourish updates its predictions to see which pandemic behaviours are here to stay.

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Commentator George Will once said the future has a way of arriving unannounced.

When Nourish Food Marketing released its annual report on the food trends to expect in the year ahead, it had no way of knowing about the impending impact of COVID-19 or how it would affect consumers relationship with the food they buy. But the agency has updated its outlook, using what it has seen over the last few months to determine what trends are around the corner, announced or otherwise.

Rethinking alcohol

The journal Alcohol Research points out a direct link between heightened alcohol consumption in the first year after a disaster. Lower alcohol content had been the order of the day for the health-conscious, soon displaced by a culture celebrating a glass of wine or a beer on the sofa during times of stress, and breweries large and small have embraced home delivery to try and make up for the closure of bars and restaurants.

However, Nourish says the blip beer sales is experiencing is a pandemic-induced outlier, and that it anticipates “a collective refocus on wellness and alcohol reduction post-COVID, with a renewed focus on immunity boosters and anxiety busters in our beverages as the new way to relax and be healthy.”

For example, in May, the CEO of Big Rock Brewery, cited the substantial growth in the ready-to-drink segment in the company’s latest earnings report, with a 4% growth in sales volumes in Q1 2020 versus Q1 2019. Waterloo Brewery, meanwhile, is doubling its line capacity after continued growth, investing in a new facility that will be able to produce any style of beer, as well as ciders, coolers, seltzers and, according to its CEO, “any other beverage the market might demand.”

Environmental solutions beyond recycling

Environmentalists may bemoan the face masks dotting the urban landscape, and the COVID-induced spike in single-use packaging and containers and groceries barring reusable bags, but the same public health concerns that seemed to set us a step back might beget even better solutions.

With disinfecting protocols being put in place for workers to safely handle reusable items, Nourish says that perhaps this will motivate a more cooperative model, where the industry can come together around standardized bags or containers that are used and dropped off for sanitizing and recirculation – seeing that a standardized model makes these processes much more efficient. Circular shopping platform Loop is continuing with its launch plans; CEO Tom Szaky reports that sales have never been stronger.

AI and hyperpersonalizing food

Grocery delivery adoption has increased across demos. In addition to driving trial and acceptance of the service, consumers have also accepted the trade-off of their data privacy for their personal security, so that genie may never go back into the bottle, Nourish says. This may make it easier for grocers to use that data to personalize the shopping experience, which may be more important as that behaviour stays online. One area that may suffer, ironically, is future-predicting algorithms, which may be skewed by present behaviour – the flip-side of the challenge marketers have faced in finding a replacement for historical data that isn’t applicable to the current situation.

Shopping evolves from a chore to an experience

Online shopping rates will decline slightly once stores fully reopen, but they won’t go back to their legacy level of around 3%. Nourish insists that consumers love to shop, and will miss the discovery process in-store, which will be supplemented by a return to favoring local produce and products. According to the report, “telling producer stories, whether in-store, on-pack or digitally, will be more important than ever.”

Some governments and even brands are stepping in as well. Saskatchewan, for example, announced one million dollars for a provincial marketing campaign to encourage people to support local businesses and their employees.

Environmental impact-based eating

While consumers have turned to comfort foods in the short-term, especially meat and snacks, plant-based eating has surged in Asia; in May Nestlé announced it is opening a plant-based meat factory in China, its first on the continent. Nourish is asking if plant-based proteins, which were mainstreamed thanks to their introduction into QSRs, will finally take hold, thanks to meat supply chain disruptions. Industry leader Beyond Meat has been betting on that, changing its pricing structure and expanding its retail offerings to take advantage of disruptions in “traditional” meat.

Redefining health and “real food”

Nourish cautions, however, that as plant-based proteins become more widely accepted, there will be heightened discussions about their health claims and a debate about what constitutes “real” food. Consumers have disputed whether plant-based alternatives like Beyond Meat really are healthier, due to how heavily processed they are. That research is complicated by the fact that vegetarians tend to be more health conscious overall.

Overall, post-COVID, Nourish anticipates a refocusing on our collective waistlines, and products that tout being “Keto-friendly” will hold their appeal, but as part of a more balanced diet and lifestyle.