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Despite waning interest and investment over the last 12 months, the plant-based sector remains a strong focus for consumers, manufactures and developers. Growing awareness of its sustainability credentials is helping to drive continued demand, particularly in the context of reducing our impact on the planet.
What has changed, however, is that consumers are feeling the cost-of-living squeeze and are therefore sometimes prioritising value and dropping anything considered a luxury from their weekly shop. Given the premium price point of many meat and dairy alternatives, it’s not surprising we’ve already seen several companies decide to streamline product ranges rather than flood the market with new plant-based concepts.
In the short term, we expect to see more brands leaning into environmental platforms and building on the success of established categories, such as oat milk. Whatever route is taken, the sector will have to adapt and pivot to give consumers what they want.
What’s next? New technologies such as cultured meat are paving the way for plant-based innovation, but it may be a little longer for this to trickle down to the everyday consumer. Expect brands to focus their attention in the short-term on products that are performing well rather than expand ranges.
In the established functional beverage space, we’re starting to see an interesting dynamic between two contrasting trends – energy and calm.
The ever-popular energy drinks sector continues to benefit from the gaming community’s quest for improved mental focus during intensive sessions. Meanwhile, the launch of highly caffeinated, viral sensation Prime Energy sparked a social media craze and a global industry debate. Following initial success, Prime has launched non-caffeinated variants rich in natural ingredients.
At the other end of the mood spectrum, there’s growing interest in drinks that help to improve sleep quality. Dubbed the ‘anti-energy’ trend, this is all about countering the stresses of everyday life with natural remedies formulated to promote rest and relaxation. But exactly how and to what extent this trend evolves remains to be seen. TikTok’s ‘sleepy girl mocktail’ – a blend of tart cherry juice and magnesium – generated a huge number of views, yet PepsiCo’s first move into this space resulted in its wind down water Driftwell being pulled after only 18 months.
What’s next? We’re likely to see more products in the nutraceutical space and a continued blurring of boundaries between supplements, foods and beverages, as consumers seek out products to help regulate rest and wellbeing.
We’re seeing a wave of new chilli products, pastes and seasonings that play on the complex flavours of different chilli peppers sourced from around the world. Product development is going beyond heat to embrace a range of sophisticated smoky and sweet notes, that are communicated on pack in a bid to attract a wider audience.
At the same time, the popularity of hot sauce continues to rise. Product launches were up significantly in 2023 compared to the year before, with creative flavour combinations such as hot honey and spicy mayonnaise enjoying notable success.
What’s next? Expect to see more chilli sauce product launches and spicy additions to other well-loved condiments as brands seek to widen their appeal.
Social media platforms continue to provide inspiration for flavour innovation, with cooking videos and shared experiences from around the world providing a window into new trends and possibilities.
Korean flavours have enjoyed considerable success over the last couple of years, with gochujang and kimchi now largely mainstream and Korean BBQ a popular choice in eating out settings. However, although this transition from restaurants to more accessible FMCG products is a tried and tested path, we may start to see the arrival of flavours drawn from relatively unfamiliar cuisines.
What’s next? Look out for Sri-Lankan, Pan-African and Caribbean inspired flavours, particularly in snacks and confectionery.
Fibre remains one of the most enduring trends in product development. Associated with a range of health benefits, from gut health and immunity to cardiovascular health, it has a credible health halo that brands can leverage to attract consumers. This includes aligning with specific health benefits, reformulating products to achieve a cleaner label and better nutritional profile and – for UK products – improving HFSS scores.
With most consumers still not eating the recommended amount of dietary fibre, there has been a notable increase in products formulated to meet this need. Interestingly, one of the stand out stories in this space is ‘healthier’ soda brand Olipop which has been well received in the US market. Containing prebiotics, plant fibres and botanicals, it promises to ‘support digestive health’ and comes in a range of interesting flavours and eye-catching packaging aimed at a younger audience.
What’s next? We’re likely to see fibre and gut health claims appearing on more products, plus new concepts deigned to attract and engage Millennials and Gen Z. Expect food companies to continue to focus on the types of fibre present as well as identifying novel sources of fibre.
Consumers are prioritising health and want to make informed choices about what they eat. Given the level of scrutiny, manufacturers are responding with simpler formulations, shorter ingredient labels and minimal processing declarations.
It’s important to note, however, that this doesn’t mean consumers are turning away from familiar favourites completely but making conscious decisions about when and how often to enjoy moments of indulgence.
What’s next? Brands will continue to clean up labels, but perhaps create a greater point of difference between products for health and those that offer comforting familiarity.
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