Snack trends, ingredient claims, and plant-based perceptions: Highlights from Fi Europe 2023, part 17 Dec 2023
Value-led snacking, sustainability storytelling, and the importance of having a ‘star ingredient’: we asked consumer analysts and market experts at Fi Europe about the trends and innovations that are shaping the food industry.
The rise of the ‘values-oriented’ consumer is changing US snack products
According to Brandon Casteel, vice president of partnerships at SPINS, snacking products have “definitely changed”.
SPINS tracks retail sales data across the US and combines this with detailed information about each stock keeping unit (SKU), such as ingredient lists, health claims, positioning, and more. Last year, it also began conducting consumer surveys.
“We started about a year ago asking consumers specific questions about all products and snacks as well,” said Casteel. “And what we overwhelmingly heard was that they are not just caring about whether a product is clean or organic; they care, at an increasing level, where the product came from. What farming methods were used in making this product? How were the humans and animals treated in the process of bringing it to life?"
This was such a significant trend that SPINS coined a new term for this segment of the population: the values-oriented consumer.
"When we look within snacking in particular, 77% of values-oriented consumers read the entire ingredient panel before deciding to make a purchase. That's a really big difference than a couple of years ago, especially when compared against the standard consumer population [...]. They are one a half times more likely to read the entire ingredient panel,” said Casteel.
"What you have, as a result, is a far more educated consumer understanding what is in their snacks and that has made a huge difference in how products are being sold and marketed, research and formulation developments. They want more health benefits from their snacking occasions."
This has led to the rise of functional ingredients, such as added protein in categories not usually associated with this macronutrient. Recent product launches in the US include protein-infused chips, such as Wilde Brands’ chicken chips made from chicken breast, egg whites, and bone broth. Other functional products recently launched in the US are True Dream’s melatonin-infused sparkling water and even collagen-fortified cold cereals.
Brands must communicate about sustainability – but avoid greenwashing
Euromonitor data shows that 64% of people are concerned about climate change. How can brands translate this into products that help people make a positive impact?
"I think it's quite a challenge for companies to communicate what they are actually doing,” said Euromonitor analyst, Linda Lichtmess.
She noted that some companies have become reluctant to communicate about their sustainability efforts over fears that they will be accused of greenwashing.
"I think there is a bit of tension. Consumers do actually expect a lot from companies [and] from regulators but there is tension because they might also think that companies only care about their profit […] or their brand reputation, especially the younger generation [that] talks about authenticity. Consumers are seeking more transparency from companies and this would also help the brand reputation. So, I think that tension is more of a miscommunication.”
Companies should not shy away from communicating about their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts but must be mindful that any claims should be substantiated by evidence, such as third-party certification.
Consumers want plant-based alternatives that are less ‘ultra-processed’
Sales of plant-based meat products in US supermarkets are falling. In value terms, they have fallen by 9% year-over-year and, in volume terms, they are down by 15%, according to Cyrille Fillot, global strategist at Rabobank.
“I think the trends behind plant-based are still there – animal welfare, sustainability, and perhaps nutrition – but consumers are not buying these products as much as everybody expected,” he said.
So, what can manufacturers do to win back these consumers? Many industry analysts have called for a more “whole food” approach to plant-based formulation, using minimally processed ingredients like beans and vegetables rather than highly processed ones, such as protein isolates and concentrates. But do consumers want to eat beetroot and bean burgers rather than a burger that tastes like a beef patty?
"I'm not entirely sure,” said Fillot, “but what we do know is that they are not necessarily interested in this ultra-processed food. They are looking at the back of pack of the burger and are saying, '17 ingredients – what am I eating?'. That is why we believe there is definitely a market for products that have whole plants in them or at least that have ingredients that are identifiable for the consumer."
Cyrille Fillot gave a presentation at the Fi Europe Conference entitled, ‘Back to the drawing board for plant-based meat’. Click here to read more.
Make sure your product has a ‘star ingredient’
Innova's top trend for 2024 is 'All about ingredients'. Brands should feed into positive consumer attitudes towards key ingredients by promoting a product’s “star element”, it said, noting that 42% of consumers globally believe protein to be the most important ingredient.
"Ingredients are taking the spotlight and I think that trend has really evolved from the past years [when] the consumer wanted to understand what is in the product and why, about the sustainability and storytelling,” said Nicole Jansen, team manager for insights and innovation at Innova Market Insights. “Now, I think we have arrived at a moment where they have a better understanding of the ingredient and [want to know] what is the benefit of a certain ingredient.”
Some manufacturers may draw attention to a healthy star ingredient in a product that high in fat, salt, or sugar, for example, using a health claim to market a sugary drink. Is this a risky strategy?
“I think, overall, the most important is that brands are authentic and transparent,” said Jansen. “I wouldn't necessarily try to make a product more positive by highlighting one positive ingredient if you are talking about a really sugary drink – that then might lead to the risk that consumers do not trust the brand anymore. Nowadays, trust and transparency are so important.
She added: “Companies need to be authentic about what they do and if there is the slightest chance of the consumer thinking, 'oh, this sounds a bit sketchy', they might lose trust. Always be very honest. But I do think a star ingredient is what you want to make it. It can be protein but it could be another ingredient that fits the product."
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