Food in the 21st Century: Where we’re headed, according to Mintel

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Above all else, food and beverage products 'should taste good', says Mintel director of innovation & insights, Lynn Dornblaser. ©GettyImages/SvetaZi
Above all else, food and beverage products 'should taste good', says Mintel director of innovation & insights, Lynn Dornblaser. ©GettyImages/SvetaZi
Keeping track of emerging food trends can be daunting, especially in an immediate, digital-centric environment, but there are a few constant principles to lean on in the increasingly cluttered, fragmented food and beverage market, according to Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation & insight at Mintel.

Speaking at the ACG Chicago Future of Food conference last week, Dornblaser zeroed in on the underlying prerequisite for all food and beverage products:“It has to taste good.”

She adds that while “health and wellness” ​attributes certainly aren’t going anywhere “deliciousness"​ is absolutely essential.

“It’s amazing how often companies forget. It can’t be, ‘Oh that’s pretty good for a meat-free burger,’”​ Dornblaser said. “That’s a fail.”

This is especially true in the meat-free alternative space where major players like Beyond Meat​ and the Impossible Burger are aiming to taste just as good, if not better, than animal protein.

Meat alternatives also have a clear environmental play that is also resonating with consumers, Dornblaser added.

“We see a lot going on with meat alternatives, but what’s important is the message is changing,”​ she said. “The message is less about ‘this is for vegetarians’ and more about ‘this is a product that’s better for the environment’, and that’s the important difference.”

Companies like Perfect Day​, using cellular technology to produce cow-less milk, also fit well into this double-sided consumer expectation of not sacrificing on taste while having a reduced environmental impact.

Even though consumers are voting with their dollars by purchasing products that have less of an environmental impact and recyclable packaging, they expect companies to do bear most of the sustainable stewardship burden, Dornblaser added.

“Consumers expect companies to do all the heavy lifting, and oh by the way, not charge more for it,”​ she said.

Talking about what’s good

In the past, what was considered a “healthy”​ product usually touted descriptions of what has been eliminated (e.g. fat, calories, salt), but what has become more important to shoppers are the positive attributes of a product, according to Dornblaser.

“What’s most important today is talking about the good things in that product – the probiotics in yogurt, or the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in the juice. It might be the inherent goodness of granola or it might be the trendy ingredients of the moment like turmeric,” ​she said.

Among the number of products that have launched over the past few years into the market, “all natural​” claims continue to decline in mentions due to its vague connotation among consumers.

Fragmented marketplace

At a minimum, the average consumer shops at 2.1 stores per week for groceries with Walmart, Target, and Amazon being the most popular retail channels, according to Mintel.

Amazon captured 18% of the total online grocery market in 2017, according to One Click Retail, a share of the market that will only increase as time goes on especially for purchases of shelf-stable pantry items, according to Dornblaser. 

A third of consumers who are primary grocery shoppers in their household buy groceries online; however, three in five report that they have some interest in buying groceries online, Mintel found.

“Consumers are beginning to experiment a little bit with shopping on Amazon,” ​she said.

Mintel research data shows that 6% of US consumers purchased produce online in 2017, while 5% bought fresh meat, poultry, or seafood from an online retailer.

However, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods​last year -- combined with the e-commerce giant’s ability to deliver fresh, quality products within hours -- will likely drive further adoption to virtually shopping the perimeter of the store, according to Mintel.

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