Trends that affect your company

Companies active in the food industry and the health care sector are very much affected by trends. Those who can predict what will be popular can keep on top of the game and gain business advantages over the late comers. However, it is not easy to know which of all the alleged trends that are real, and worth betting on. This is why we will tell you about six meta-trends and nineteen short- and medium-term trends to watch.

HMT, the Healthy Marketing Team (HMT), is located in Malmö, or “Greater Copenhagen” as they call it. They are a consultancy that helps food companies such as Oatly and Bayn to sharpen their messages on nutrition, health and wellness.

In 2019, the HMT’s Global Gamechangers 2019 report was published. I have read the 90 page report. Among many other things it describes the nineteen trends that affect companies in the food and health sector. It covers not only what is happening now, but why it happens and how you can use it to develop your brand.

The 19trends have arisen and are driven by meta-trends. These are changes that occur over a long period of time, and which slowly but completely change the rules of the game. That’s why they are called game changers in the report. Six game changers are identified.

My idea is to here explore the six game changers and the nineteen trends they give rise to. But before we start our journey, let’s equip ourselves with a better understanding of what trends and meta-trends are.

A trend is a trend is a trend? No?

When tabloids and magazines write about new trends it usually isn’t a question of trends at all, in the academical sense of the word. It’s rather more or less guess work on what is hip and not. That is not the kind of trends we’ll cover here.

With trend we mean a stable and long-term change in society regarding e.g. economy, demographics, values, interests or consumer patterns. In any case this is how the encyclopaedias put it.

In their book Practical Business Intelligence*, Linda Genf and Johanna Laurent describe the term like this:

A trend is a long-term change in a certain direction. It has movement, it increases or decreases. It has a historical development and is ongoing. A trend is not something that will happen. It is happening now. A trend can also be proved by statistics, examples or other quantitative or qualitative examples.

Trends run for longer than you think

Trends are long-term. Even the so called short-term trends. A cyclical economic fluctuation is an example of a short-term trend, no matter that it may go on during several years.

Medium-term trends run over a decade or more. An example of a medium-term trend is that more and more consumers are buying goods and services online.

Many of the trends covered in the HMT report are probably medium-term trends.

What creates and drives short- and medium-term trends are usually significant changes that occur slowly but surely during a very long time. For example, urbanisation. These changes that feed other changes are called meta-trends, popularly also called mega trends. These are the kind of trends that HMT call game changers.

From daredevils to dilly-dalliers

We are going to look closer at the six meta-trends (or game changers, if you like) that HMT has identified. But first let’s look at how trends spread.

You have probably heard of early adopters, consumers who catch on early, driven by an insight possessed by only a few. Early adopters make up 13-14% of all consumers. They are the first to embrace the new, despite the fact that it almost always leads to problem and disruptions for them.

That last bit is not always entirely true. Two to three per cent of consumers are willing to hop on the train even earlier. These are the daredevils who so strongly believe in an idea that they are willing to put up with almost anything. They are often a part of creating the trend. That’s why they are called innovators.

A large amount of consumers are open to new trends and show an interest in them as soon as they become aware of them. But to be aware of and interested in is not the same as to embrace. They are keen to try, but won’t run the line until “everybody else” is also doing it. They make up about a third of all consumers and are collectively named early majority.

A large part of consumers are not at all as keen. Some will embrace the idea when it becomes too inconvenient not to. They are called the late majority and make up about a third of all consumers.

We are now left with the laggards. Actually this is all too kind a description. Like luddites they resist every change and stubbornly refuse to accept the new until they are forced to do so by circumstances. About 16% of consumers belong to this group.

Spreading innovation

This description of consumers is a free interpretation of the late Everett Roger’s description of man’s will to embrace innovation. He was a professor in communication theory and sociology, most known for his contribution to science with his Diffusion of Innovations.

Already in the late 19th century they studied how innovation spread. But the research only caught real speed in the 1930s, when it was investigated hybrid corn kernels were accepted by farmers in Iowa.

Studies show that the time it takes before people embrace an innovation is a normal distribution (blue curve in the figure). This is why Everett Rogers in the beginning of the 1960s suggested that the 2.5% who are quickest to embrace a new technology should be called innovators, the 13.5% following should be called early adopters, the next 24% early majority, the following 34% to be called late majority and the last 17% should be called laggards.

The accumulated number of people who over a time embraces an innovation describes an s-shaped curve (yellow in the figure). This shows how the market share of the innovation is growing. At first hesitantly when only innovators and early adapters board the train. Then at full speed when both early and late majority comes on board. In the end phasing out as it’s mostly laggards left on the platform.

Innovations are more than inventions

It’s easy to think of an innovation as an invention of something technical. That is what we usually mean. But innovation can also be a new idea, or a concept. And these are spread in the same way.

One example is the spreading of the idea that it’s good to top up with intestinal bacteria (probiotics), and to feed these (prebiotics). Another is the realisation that not only those with diabetes can benefit from dampening the fluctuations in blood sugar. And a third example is that the thought that protein enriched foods are good for “regular people” too, not only those who want to build muscles.

A connection between spreading and trends

The yellow curve in the diagram above describes not only how the market share is growing. If you stop to think you will realise that it also describes the development of a trend. It is the growth of the innovation’s, or of the idea’s, market share that is the trend.

When the market share grows faster during one period than during the previous period of the same length, we have an increasing trend. When it grows slower we have a decreasing trend.

The conclusion is that innovations or ideas can create and drive trends.

Trends of the kind that HMT covers in their report are driven by underlying ideas. It’s these ideas that HMT calls game changers. These are the trends we are going to take a closer look at, and the 19 trends they drive.

I. Food for health and well-being

In the Japanese culture they are of the opinion that food serves three purposes. Food shall give nourishment to sustain life. Food shall have taste, smell and texture that provides an experience. And food shall change physiological qualities in a positive direction (further to provide nourishment).

So it is not strange that the concept functional foods was coined in Japan. It is used of food that is produced with the third purpose in mind.

The concept was first used in 1984 in a Japanese science project to survey the effect different foods have on people’s health. But it took more than ten years for the concept to spread. This happened at a conference in Singapore where the aim was to unite Asian food culture and knowledge with that of the West’s.

Perhaps it can be seen as the beginning of the meta-trend which HMT describes as “food for health and well-being”. The trend is the way East Asian thinking is spreading to the rest of the world. More and more people are moving from considering food as fuel to seeing it as building rocks for better health and well-being.

According to HMT this meta-trend drives four “regular” trends:

1. Probiotics 2.0

Consumers’ interest in good bacteria is moving from the generalised to the individualised. They look for products that add the bacteria (probiotics) that your body needs or products that help these bacteria thrive (prebiotics).

2. Live to exercise, exercise to live

Ever more people see a fit body as a part of their personality. This means an increased interest among a wider range of consumers, in protein enriched food and functional foods, for e.g. focus and recovery.

3. Sugar sensible

Consumers are moving from accepting artificial sweeteners as a replacement for sugar, to demand more natural solutions giving a more even blood sugar without compromising on taste or texture. A good solution is sweetened fibres: Sweetening from a natural source attached to dietary fibres and with the right texture.

4. A mental advantage

More and more consumers are interested in foods that are nootropic, or contain psychobiotics. Nootropic foods contain substances that increase your mental capacity. Psychobiotics are healthy bacteria (probiotics) or support for such bacteria (prebiotics) that has a favourable affect on mood, motivation and learning.

II. People are getting more numerous, older and richer

When Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount he shared the globe with an estimated 0.3 billion people. During the first half of the 19th century we were up to about a billion. Somewhere between the Beatles splitting up and ABBA winning the Eurovision Song Contest we passed the four billion mark. At the turn of the century we were six billion. Only ten years later another billion people had been born. In just a few years’ time Earth will have a population of eight billion people.

And we get ever older. In the middle of the 19th century the average life expectancy in Sweden was about 40 years. Now it’s more than twice that. And the number of people who have reached their 60th birthday in the world has doubled in the last thirty years.

We are also getting richer (even if some get there quicker than others). For instance, the world’s total BNP is more than twenty times as large today as it was a hundred years ago (in today’s money).

So we become ever more numerous, ever older and ever richer. And it goes on. According to the UN there will be 9.8 billion people in the world by 2050. 2.1 billion will be older than 60 years. And the middle classes will make up about a third, according to the investment bank HSBC.

This will, according to HMT’s report, drive three trends:

5. Let the children lead

More and more health conscious parents, wanting to make the most of their children’s early years, are trying to find new ways to give them super healthy habits. One of these ways is to involve the children early on in cooking to encourage them to experiment with taste and texture, so that they will be open to all kinds of food.

6. Pro-aging

How the older generation views aging is changing. More and more are investing in their health. They want to remain active as long as possible so they can enjoy life as much as possible. They see themselves as health conscious consumers rather than aging consumers. Also the weaker of the elderly put a focus on quality of life.

7. Gender roles are (not) dead

The idea that there are general gender specific needs in the matter of health is considered more and more outdated. Focus is instead on the needs of each and every individual. At the same time what socio-cultural group a person considers themselves to belong to, their identity, becomes more important. Consumers prefer brands that assert their identity. One such identity on the rise is female empowerment.

III. Resources will be scarce

We have ploughed up a bit more than a third of all arable land on Earth. Farming uses more than two thirds of all the water we bring to the Earth’s surface. And the global food and beverage system, from field to supermarket shelf, counts for a third of all the greenhouse gasses – more than transport, heating, and lighting does together. On top of this we throw away a third of all the food manufactured in the world. This is not just a waste of food; it is a waste of land, water, energy and of course business opportunities.

For most people there is no doubt that production and distribution of food cannot go on like it does today. As a consequence more and more consumers and companies make practical and considerate choices that contribute to stop this negative development. This is the driving force behind two of the trends in the HMT report:

8. Eating activism

The development goes from a few principled activists driven by a strong conviction, to many who make practical and considerate choices that contribute to stop the negative trend. For example, while there is only one in one hundred Swedes who considers themselves a vegan, one in four eat a vegetarian meal at least twice a week. Companies make contributions too. For instance more of them make use of and refine by-products from their food production.

9. The superiority of plants

The attitude to vegetables is moving from being a healthy addition on your plate to being the most important thing on your plate. An example is the interest in plant based “meat” – meaning products that look, smell and taste like meat but are entirely made entirely of plant protein. Another example is the increased demand for vegetarian ready meals and snacks.

IV. A natural and transparent manufacturing process

The manufacturing of foods has changed dramatically during the last one hundred years. From bakers’ apprentices who with their naked (and probably dirty) feet treaded dough for the first fresh bread of the day, to food technicians in white coats overseeing how enzymes during high pressure and with nickel as a catalyst, makes chemical wonders that consumers can eat.

The problem of  this fast evolution is not that foods in general have become bad or worse, but that the process from field to supermarket has become incomprehensible to the average consumer. They find the manufacturing process unnatural and what is produced artificial, less healthy and perhaps even hazardous. An expression for this is the fear of E-numbers. Some consumers consider them dangerous, when in fact they were actually established to ensure the safety of foods.

Consumers want food to be made from natural ingredients and in a natural process. This is a trend that has been growing for some time now.

We who work in the food and beverage industry know that “natural” is a relative term. Yeasts do the same “natural” job in the bread produced today as they did a hundred years ago. The difference is that there are no dirty apprentice feet that tread the dough.

But to just point this out is not going to help. What is needed is increased transparency. A trend that goes hand in hand with the demand for natural.

These meta-trends are what is driving the three trends mentioned by HMT in their report:

10. The process is the  product

A product is much more than what the consumer takes home from the supermarket shelf. It is the entire experience of the product. Previously experiences were shaped by the product itself, its price, packaging and  place, its message in advertising, and what others said about it. But now there are a lot of other things affecting a consumer’s experience. They are asking: What is it made of? Where is it made? What were the conditions? How was it made?

You can no longer hide the naked truth. Stand up for it. Own it. And use it to create stories that engage the consumers.

11. It is alive!

Bread that looks fresh years after the best before date is considered unnatural and unwanted. The opposite, food with live bacterial- or yeast cultures, are considered more natural and something desirable. The interest in food made with traditional methods, that includes live organisms, is increasing. Just take the popularity of sour dough bread, for one. Another is kombucha, made by adding bacteria and yeast to tea brewed with sugar.

12. The food (r)evolution

Consumers avoid things that are considered unhealthy or cause problems. The free-from idea has been popular for a long time. Free from sugar, gluten, lactose… add the undesired substance of your choice. But now consumers demand the inclusion of different substances. It could be healthy things, like protein, vitamins, minerals etc. But also things that make the food more enjoyable. Do remove the sugar, by all means, but don’t change the taste or texture.

V. Technical innovations give consumers power

We are currently undergoing a digital transformation in society. This means that old and familiar approaches and methods slowly but surely are being replaced by completely new ones. Approaches and methods that previously have not been possible but now, thanks to digitalisation of information and processes, are.

Information digitalisation means that information that was previously stored and transferred in the shape of paper documents and the like, is now stored and transferred as digits (zeros and ones). An example is the information on foods, that three decades ago was usually just available on printed product sheets, but are now sent to and stored in a database, from which, among others, the FMCG businesses can retrieve the information.

Process digitalisation means a change in companies’, branches’ and markets’ manners of operation and business processes, made possible by information digitalisation. One example is computer programmes for diet and menu planning that compose nutritious meals with information from the above mentioned database.

Of course the food and beverage industry is greatly affected by the digital transformation. Most certainly as the transformation means that more and more power is moved to consumers. This results in four trends, according to HMT:

13. The experience is everything

Two thirds of millennials share a picture or video of their food before they grab their fork and knife. The behaviour is an expression for a human need for experiences, and the need to share these with others. In its simplest form it is about giving consumers an experience worth sharing.

14. My clan online

The digitalisation has made it easier for consumers to find like-minded in blogs, pods, vlogs and Instagram accounts, and in the comment fields for these. And among participants in forums and Facebook groups. It creates new arenas for meeting and sharing your experiences and knowledge. And this, in turn, creates new risks and possibilities for food and beverage companies for bad and good PR respectively.

15. Convenience is a lifestyle

Smartphones and apps like Swish [the Swedish app based payment system] has made life more convenient for most people. And years after “smart homes” were first mentioned we are starting to see signs of them becoming a reality. Smart speakers is a start. Soon, 5G will make the “internet of things” possible, and quickly thereafter we’ll have blockchains. This affects the food and beverage industry, with new possibilities as well as new demands. And not only technical ones. Convenience takes many shapes, for example; increased shelf life without giving the appearance of an artificial product. Or packaging that is easy to re-use or recycle.

16. Trace yourself

Digitalisation enables personalisation. Personalisation means that the behaviour of individuals is traced, to later be used to predict what the consumer desires. Depending on the means this may be experienced as anything from desirable to offensive. The trend is increased usage of personalisation, as it gets more and more accepted and even expected. This trend also affects the food and beverage industry. Consumers want ever more foods adapted to their own needs, and they are expected to become more willing to, in exchange for personalised products, to do tests or use apps that collect data.

VI. Science for a smarter future

In East Asia it is considered normal to think of food as medicine and the other way around. What we eat should provide us with energy as well as and prevent disease.

That is not the case in the West. We draw a sharp line between food and medicine. Food is nutrition. Medicine is a cure. Full stop.

But the line is no longer that sharp. The East Asian way of seeing things is bringing the idea that food does not only contain nutrients but also substances that may have a medicinal effect. The interest in such foods is increasing in consumers who want to prevent and alleviate. In the public sector it is seen as a possibility to reduce the cost of health care. The progression is slowed, however, by EU’s strict regulations for health statements.

According to HMT the increased interest drives three trends:

17. The root to healing

In East Asia consumers can buy plant based mixes that allegedly have a positive effect on your health. Some may contain as many as a couple of thousand different substances supposed to affect different parts of your body. As an example turmeric, ginger, leafy greens and berries are used to reduce low grade inflammation. The interest in these mixes is increasing in the West, and more and more of them will undergo western evaluation.

18. Food therapi

Consumers’ interest in how food contributes nutrients for the body to stay and become healthy is on the rise. They are not looking for miracle cures, but rather a diet that contributes to prevent, or be a part of, a way to alleviate your specific health problems. They are seeking a more holistic solution that integrates functional foods in a diet based on nutritional science.

19. Longevity

We live ever longer. A common denominator for a long life seems to be a good diet – rich in vitamins, minerals and fibres. But the modern diet is low on micronutrients – minerals and vitamins which we need in minute amounts, like iodine and vitamin A. This could lead to an inability to heal, and to chronic disease. To enjoy a long life you need a good diet and personalised supplements.

Read more

Whew! that was a long journey we just took together. We have looked closer at six meta-trends affecting the food and beverage industry, and we have acquainted ourselves with nineteen trends driven by these meta-trends.

The six + nineteen trends are described in detail in the report HMT’s Global Game Changers 2019, published by Healthy Marketing Team (HMT) in Malmö. The description above is not from their report, even if it has of course been used as an inspiration and a source, so any and all possible mistakes are mine, not HMT’s.

Perhaps you’re wondering if there is anything left to read in the HMT report. Absolutely! It contains much more than we have looked at here. First and foremost the report provides a more in depth presentation of the trends, including suggestions for how to harness the possibilities that the trends present. More than a hundred examples of brands that made use of the trends is covered. Six of these are analysed more thoroughly with HMT’s method. Furthermore, four consumer segments that can be described as early adopters of the trends are presented.

You can read more about the report, and download a summary, on HMT:s website.

Author: Thomas Barregren

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