We all know only too well how the past 18 or so months have impacted our lives. From our retail habits and the way we approach life to the huge economic knock-on effects in many sectors, not least food and beverage processing and manufacturing.
Health and healthy eating have been right at the top of the agenda in 2020 and much of 2021; and while the industry seems to have taken these challenging times by the scruff of the neck – shaken them and made some radically successful changes, the pandemic has continued to influence some of the biggest food and beverage trends of recent times.
In this article, we will be looking at these trends and the food manufacturing brands and companies that have helped to shape the look (and taste) of the food industry across America.
The international food and beverage market was estimated to be worth $6.1 trillion in 2020. According to US food and beverage industry statistics, America contributes about $26 billion to the global market.
Not surprisingly, the annual growth rate slowed a little between 2019 and 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
However, there are some interesting statistics that we can most likely put down to being as a result of the pandemic; including changes in shopping habits and choices at the checkout, to the way we think about and buy our food.
With this in mind, let us also consider the saturated market when it comes to food and beverage processing and manufacturing, and the fight to remain competitive and stay relevant to consumers.
Let’s go back to basics … sales of edible groceries in the US grew by 7.8% in 2020, a higher rate than the global average. Globally, traditional grocery store sales growth stayed at under two percentage points in 2019, while online grocery sales increased at a high growth rate.
Looking at US grocery stores, big supermarket chains with annual revenues above 30 million US dollars reported a small increase in store openings over the last few years, while smaller chains saw a decline in their number of physical stores.
The retail landscape has become extremely competitive with high pressure coming from multiple retail formats.
Food retail is changing along with key shifts in consumer behaviour. An example of this is the surge of pre-portioned food or meal kits, which can be purchased in stores or subscribed to online for home delivery, allowing consumers to recreate the restaurant experience at home.
So, let’s check out some of the trends that have grown out of the pandemic, and that look set to be with us for some time to come.
The start of a New Year often leads to consumers thinking about kick-starting a healthy eating regime, but the pandemic and the start of 2021 led to this being a double whammy.
Companies looked at launching food and drink with immunity-boosting ingredients; with many stepping up their manufacturing and offering of plant-based alternatives, global flavours and turning to innovation with tech-enhanced foods.
So – here’s a rundown of some trends that emerged during a tough year.
The consumer desire to try and stay healthy was a dominating factor in making food choices – and saw many food firms hitching a ride on the immunity train.
Trend forecasters WGSN identified immunity-supporting ingredients as a key theme for 2021. Product developers are learning from consumer demand, with elderberries and probiotics to turmeric and moringa among the ingredients with immunity claims among those poised for further growth.
Immunity-boosting ingredients have seen a sales bump already, and more companies are expanding their portfolios with those features. Within the last year, Chobani launched a line of yogurt that spotlights probiotics, and Uncle Matt’s launched an Ultimate Immune Orange Juice Beverage offering a large dose of Vit C.
You may remember from early in the pandemic, news stories focussing on Covid-19 outbreaks at some food and meat manufacturing plants. The result of this saw more consumer focus on looking critically at where their food comes from and who makes it – with technology now working hard to make food and industry workers safer.
In fact, a study has revealed that six in 10 consumers are interested in knowing more about their foods’ origin, which can be increasingly achieved with new packaging technologies like invisible barcodes and digital expiration date labels that offer real-time monitoring of food quality.
In addition to smart packaging, food producers are also increasingly using blockchain to track products from farm to table, which can help if there is a recall and can provide better traceability.
Other technological innovations for food safety have arisen during the pandemic. For example, companies started to look at wastewater to catch coronavirus spikes.
While plant-based food has been a major trend in recent years, experts say that we should be prepared for this section of the market to skyrocket. As consumers’ appetite for sustainable, tasty, healthier foods continues to grow – so does the market.
It is predicted that the plant-based food market will exceed $162 billon dollars in the next decade.
And it seems that it is not only the huge vegan movement that enjoy the benefits of pea, soy, wheat protein, quinoa, hemp and pulses in their diet and shopping carts.
The number of vegans in the world climbs higher all the time. Currently, around 5% of the population identifies as vegan, says a report by Bloomberg Intelligence (BI).
But it’s not just vegans and vegetarians driving the plant-based market. Flexitarians are boosting it in a big way, too. Flexitarianism refers to lifestyles whereby people mostly eat plant-based foods but occasionally include animal products in their diet.
BI named flexitarians a ‘key demographic’ for alternative meat products, now making up a third of the US population.
Americans have an insatiable appetite for flavours and food from around the world – with many African, Asian and European influences.
While travel has been restricted over the past months, many have had to settle for enjoying global flavours at home; cooking dishes in their own kitchens or enjoying take-out from their favourite restaurants.
The big winners of the pandemic have been companies that offer ready-to-eat meals, sauces, soups and meal kits with popular flavours like spicy offerings including hot sauces and peppers, as well as African fare.
From pioneering new ways with the pea to lab-grown ice-cream – the past 12 or so months have seen some tantalising innovations in the food and beverage industry. Many new products have been developed and have come to market – delighting shoppers and pointing the way forward.
Let’s take a look at the Top 10 big hitters:
With over 30 years’ experience, crop genetics company Puris launched a new high-protein pea variety that can be grown at a large scale by commercial farmers around the United States. Normally confined to the midwest and Canada, the new pea variety is viable across six climate zones and is being grown in California and Arizona, meaning that it can be cultivated almost year-round, helping farmers harvest more. The company shifted all of its sourcing to become fully domestic and the new pea has cemented its status as the largest producer of pea protein in North America this year.
Using fungi fermentation to create dairy proteins (casein and whey) Perfect Day invented the world’s first animal-free milk protein, bringing its first commercial product to market in the form of an animal-free dessert developed with Brave Robot ice cream.
Online organic grocery store Thrive Market became a B corporation in 2020 – making it the largest US grocer to earn this qualification. The food provider, which sells products to registered members (similar to Costco), has added hundreds of thousands of new customers during the pandemic (reaching the one million mark) and was able to continue factory operations safely, and even introduce new food categories during 2021.
Established in 2013, New York-based Goldbelly recognises the emotional power of food and how it brings people together and creates moments of nostalgia. Like a big old comforting culinary hug, as shelter-in-place orders took effect, more than a million customers (a 100% increase from the year before) turned to the marketplace to buy comfort food from its roughly 800 local purveyors, including the independent restaurants that sell meal kits through the site.
Helping to close the healthy food gap by making it accessible to everyone in all communities, Revolution Foods served an average of two million weekly meals and snacks to charter schools, food banks, senior and community feeding centers, and homeless shelters—in 23 states. The company achieved this by working with existing partners expanding or starting new summer programs and new partnerships with senior homes.
Made by locals for locals, the 1,000 team of employees are hired, trained and promoted within the communities they live in.
Working with nature to reduce food waste – Apeel led the way in helping to extend the shelf life of fresh produce, using plant-derived coatings that increase the shelf life of produce. By using a product specifically for apples, it helped launch plastic-free cucumbers in more than 100 Walmarts, removing 60,000 pounds of plastics from the supply chain per year. The company also expanded its global reach opening facilities in Peru, the Netherlands, and Mexico.
Raising the bar when it comes to organic farming and fighting climate change Patagonia Provisions, the regenerative agriculture arm of Patagonia, worked with the Rodale Institute and Dr. Bronner’s to create the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA), which administers the Regenerative Organic Certified certification standard for food, fiber, and personal-care products for all applicants. The company then launched one of the first-ever products to meet the standard: Organic Chile Mango, sourced from Nicaragua. This year, the company also changed its business model, turning its website into a marketplace with products made with regenerative organic ingredients or those that are “on the road to regenerative.”
For businesses looking to run more productive, profitable and sustainable kitchens by cutting food waste in half – enter Winnow. The London-based company develops technology for foodservice institutions and hotels to cut food waste and reduce costs. Its waste monitors track food waste with weight monitors, showing staff the value of what they’re throwing away. A new AI-enhanced version, “Winnow Vision,” is used by Ikea and Armani Hotels.
After launching in December 2019, Purecane – the world’s first zero-calorie sweetener made from sugar cane – expanded its product line with Purecane Baking Sweetener in March 2020. The calorie-free baking sweetener has zero glycaemic index sweetener and acts like sugar. The company has been approved for use in Canada and Brazil, as well as the States where it launched on Amazon. This summer Purecane entered a partnership with AB Mauri, which provides baking materials to industrial baking customers – meaning consumers can have their cake AND eat it .. but without as many calories!
From veggie ketchup and mustard to no or low sugar sauces – condiment company True Made Foods uses fruits and vegetables to replace sugar in its ketchup, sriracha, and barbecue sauce. Adding an extra flavour to America’s favourite dishes, it is now the official provider for the Boston Red Sox. In 2021, it expanded into a new category: mustard, which hit supermarket shelves early this year. Top-line sales have grown 115 per cent year over year, with grocery sales growing by 500 per cent – which really does make this company hot stuff in the condiments market.
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