WATCH: Gut health soda, plant-based, and regenerative agriculture... Trendspotting with PRESENCE

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Presence Marketing trendspotting

With 33 years operating in the natural foods industry, national food broker PRESENCE has seen many trends come and go and others grow into long-term growth drivers for the industry.

Drawing from its latest trends report​, which called out several emerging trends from carbonated soda for gut health and mushrooms of all varieties, to the rise of regenerative agriculture and sustainable packaging trends, FoodNavigator-USA sat down with CEO and founder of PRESENCE Bill Weiland to discuss the company's top trend predictions for the years to come.

Gut health soda

"When an assault to our systems occurs... immunity 101 is our first defense,"​ Weiland told FoodNavigator-USA, who said that the functional beverage category will continue to grow at an accelerated rate with the introduction of value-added products such as the new wave of gut health soda. 

Weiland called out carbonated drinks with digestive benefits – prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic – as the next generation of functional beverages evidenced by the explosion in sales for shelf-stable better-for-you soda touting gut healthy benefits. According to SPINS data provided by PRESENCE, shelf-stable energy drinks and other functional beverages containing probiotics were the top sales drivers with 4,357.4% growth in 2021.

For the niche gut health soda category, sales gains were more modest at 12.8% in 2021, but Weiland sees explosive growth for the emerging category as it picks up more steam and consumer traction in 2022. 

"Let's take a category like soda, obviously soda has been on decline for many years. A nascent category like gut health soda, is breaking out into its own. It's going to be a quick run-up to $1bn and then then billions of dollars. It's just a category that you can feel is ready to explode,"​ he said.

Weiland added that even if consumers are not savvy to the difference between pre-, pro-, and post-biotics, the low sugar profile of many products in the category will help brands tap into a more mainstream audience watching their sugar intake or who may be chasing certain low-carb diets fads such as keto. 

"Low net carb is the element of keto that will live in perpetuity,"​ he added.

Mushroom boom

Mushrooms continue to be a strong driver of growth in the natural retail channel with SPINS reporting year-over-year sales growth of 16.1% hitting $420m in 2021. But how are retailers capitalizing on the trend?

"I think you're going to definitely see retailers stepping up to the plate and having a more diverse offering of fresh mushrooms. When it comes to commercializing success on the medicinal mushroom side, powdered formats both loose powders combined in capsules already are firmly entrenched,​" said Weiland.

"I think extracts are an underserved portion of that delivery system, so I think we'll see some excitement there. And then infusing medicinal mushrooms into food and beverage is something we think we'll have great application."

Where next for plant-based?

Like some other industry critics that have questioned the longevity of certain plant-based categories such as meat analogues, PRESENCE also believes plant-based foods are approaching somewhat of a saturation point and that consumers will turn to fresh foods with fewer ingredients.

"Plant-based is already stagnating and if you really look at statistics everyone is overpredicting where plant-based is headed. We're seeing a great distinction that what consumers want is calories of consequence, so the highly processed plant-based products and lab tech foods, to me, are going to take a backseat to fresh food ingredient products,"​ said Weiland.

"The chasm is actually growing between plant-based offering and value-added dairy and meat."

Regenerative agriculture, a bankable trend?

Weiland holds an optimistic outlook on the regenerative agriculture industry, which has seen increased uptake from businesses looking to deploy regenerative land management practices into their operations as consumers become more conscious and supportive of brands making sustainability claims.

"When you think about organic, to me, organic has failed after decades,"​ said Weiland, noting that the cache of organic has won big with consumers but that less than 1% of farmland in the US is USDA organic certified, he claimed.

"Regenerative agriculture is everything organic is with a much more powerful land management aspect. So I believe in as little as 20-25 years, we're going to see 8-10% of US land regeneratively farmed."

Sustainable packaging, how much does it matter to consumers?

"While there's been lots of conversations from consumers regarding environmental sanctity, packaging effect, etc., consumers really haven't to date made purchasing decisions based on the carrier or the vessel. That's about to change," ​said Weiland. 

"In the back half of 2022 or in the first half of 2023, we think packaging is going to jump to an actual trend," ​said Weiland, adding that consumers will be more willing to play a slight premium for a product made with sustainable packaging materials provided all other attributes are the same. 

"I think technology will play a huge role... in a much more powerful way than counting on consumers' habits."

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