By The Nation
It’s not just taste, freshness and convenience that drive food purchases today. Conscientious consumers also focus on health, wellness and social issues as they shop for meals.
They take nutrition labels, traceability of suppliers, humane treatment of animals and environmental sustainability into consideration when shopping for food. While these expectations put added pressure on food and beverage manufacturers, companies that already have technological systems in place should seize the opportunity. Meeting the demands of today’s socially aware consumers can be a valuable differentiator.
It starts with the farm. Consumers today want to learn more about the origin of their food and its journey from farm to fork. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation said in a 2019 paper on food trends: “Americans have a growing appetite for more information about their food, and technology is enabling eaters like never before … it’s also driving transparency across the food supply chain.”
Meanwhile, it is not just millennials looking for health-related options. People of all ages are turning to vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients that are potentially beneficial for bone, joint, immune system, digestive, and brain health. Research shows that 20 per cent of US consumers aged 65-plus currently use a supplement for joint health.
As consumers seek food and drink products that reduce inflammation, more products are featuring ginger, turmeric, green tea extract, and medicinal mushrooms. Food and beverage manufacturers can also benefit from research done by the beauty industry, which has found that certain berries and spices can have anti-ageing benefits.
The IFIC Foundation says: “There is a movement towards circularity as new approaches to sustainability span the entire life of a product, from ingredient sourcing to package design, disposal, or reuse. The 360-degree approach reflects the principles of a circular economy, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value while in use and then recovering materials at the end of use.”
Plastics have come under fire globally, pushing demand for new packaging innovations. Bio-based packaging materials will likely be key components to the next generation of responsible packaging. Additionally, initiatives such as “Loop” are attempting to bring back the idea of returnable and re-usable packaging.
Meanwhile, in 2018, awareness around “ugly produce” grew. Fruit and vegetables, that fall outside of the specifications retailers typically insist upon, got a second chance. Tesco became the exclusive retailer for a range of fruit juices, Waste NOT, which are made from produce designated as “ugly”.
Also, companies have started playing a part in replenishing soil to ensure healthy food. For example, US baby food brand Gerber’s is hoping its organic agriculture, featured in its “Clean Field Farming” line, will pay-off and increase biodiversity as well as enhance ecosystems. Additionally, Annie’s Homegrown is another brand helping to raise awareness in this area.
Many people are also responding to dietary guidance that recommends eating less added sugar, with 77 per cent saying they are taking steps to limit or avoid sugars in their diet, and 59 per cent viewing sugars as negative, according to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report. New plant-based and dairy sweeteners are gaining attention and providing new opportunities for updating classic product offerings.
Plant-based eating continues to gain adoption, with sales of “vegetarian alternatives” growing by 20 per cent since 2017. Only 5 per cent of Americans identify as vegetarians and 3 per cent as vegans, according to a Gallup poll, but others are adding vegetables and reducing protein consumption for general health benefits.
How technology can help
In order to remain relevant, food and beverage manufacturers must continually stay tuned into trends and update product offerings. Fortunately, technology can help in several ways:
Product innovation: Introducing new products quickly is a necessity. New product lines can represent healthier choices and include minerals and nutrients associated with wellness.
Reducing sugars, artificial colours and preservatives will also appeal to many modern consumers. Advanced enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, purpose-built for the food and beverage industry, will help manage recipes, raw ingredients, and formulations – ensuring quality is maintained. Product lifecycle management solutions (PLM) also help speed launches, managing the various steps and enabling improved project management, collaboration and product testing.
Clean labels: Transparency and visibility into how food is produced is increasingly important. Labels are the key tactic for conveying messages.
“With today’s instant access to information, if a consumer can’t understand or find out where and how a product is made and what’s in it, they’ll be more inclined to leave it behind,” says RSM, which serves as a consultant to the industry. Food and beverage manufacturers can turn to technology to help comply with current mandates for clean label formatting and content. PLM solutions help streamline the process, making it easier to stay within compliance.
Supply planning: As new ingredients come to market and the demand for them starts to expand, the challenge may quickly become a supply shortage. Companies must work closely with their suppliers and leverage supply chain planning tools so retailers can meet the demand.
Supply chain traceability: This is one of the top five food trends in 2019, according to IFIC Foundation, and will cause demand for technology solutions that provide clear product information. They note that as technologies become cheaper and therefore more accessible, more food manufacturers will be able to utilise them to manage supply chain activities. Modern supply chain management solutions are essential for full visibility and tracking suppliers.
Predictive analytics: Modern business intelligence solutions, with built-in artificial intelligence, will help companies project trends and anticipate market demands. This insight into the future helps procure raw ingredients and plan use of resources, like machinery, packaging, and personnel.
The world of food and beverage manufacturing is ever-changing – with taste becoming just one of many factors influencing a consumer’s decisions. Today, health, wellness and social issues like environmental sustainability are just as important. Manufacturers can see this as a challenge or as an opportunity to align with customers. With modern technology in place, companies can seize the chance to speed introductions and offer new product line-ups which will appeal to consumers. This can be the ticket to future growth.