Food for Thought: what will the food and drink industry look like in a decade?

Over the last year alone, consumption habits and legislation have driven a sea of change within the sector, leaving businesses racing to adjust to drive revenue streams amidst a myriad of mitigating factors.

By examining three essential topics within the sector, namely, sustainability, policy and purpose, we can begin to outline what the next ten years may look like for businesses striving to stay ahead of the competition.

Sustainability

Once confined to the lifestyles of environmentalists, the youngest ever Time Person of the Year has ensured sustainable living is within the consciousness of the wider public. At just sixteen years old, Greta Thunberg has led the charge towards more ethical and environmentally responsible lifestyles and food production, of which transport, packing and consumption forms a large part.

Consumers’ individual choices have the power to disrupt entire industries. For example, flexitarinism is on the rise with record numbers of people expected to take part in Veganuary in 2020, surpassing last year’s total of 250,000[2]. As people alter their diets, the demand for a greater choice of healthy and sustainable vegetarian and vegan products grows and many are predicting this as the largest area for growth within the food industry in the years to come.

Looking at PR stunts of 2019, Greggs’ vegan sausage roll was one of huge popularity and has given way to a proliferation of new vegan product launches at the beginning of 2020.  A few big stories that came out in the first week included Gregg’s new vegan steak bake and KFC’s first meat-free burger, whilst both Co-Op and Asda announced they will be launching a vegan range. It’s safe to say that many more meat-free alternatives will be on the market by 2030, including everything from fishless goujons to vegan croissants as brands begin to monetise their marketing and invest more in people and the planet as part of their drive to futureproof sustainable business offerings.

Furthermore, Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 had a ripple effect in alerting more of us to the damaging effects of global plastic pollution. While plastic has benefitted the food and beverage industry enormously and resulted in millions of tonnes of food waste being prevented over the years, manufacturers are increasingly committed to finding sustainable and recyclable alternatives.

According to a recent report[3], a third of consumers prefer brands that invest in sustainable solutions. There is a burgeoning market for alternatives to plastic and we will see the development of a whole new innovative category of products over the next ten years as single-use plastic falls.

Purpose

Building on this, pressures from consumer groups, activists and the general public has evolved the mission statement of many business with profits being sidelined for strategic ‘purpose’. Smaller brands such as Alpro and Provamel that are owned by Danone are committed to sustainable organic sourcing and harvesting, as well as working with small, organic farmers in Europe. Additionally, Domestos credits itself with having built millions of lavatories and provided education on sanitation to people below the poverty line. This change in thinking has paved the way for start-up’s and small forward-thinking food and drink companies to lead the way on issues covering the environment, ethical business practice and public health.

Consumers continue to reward brands that help make a difference by forging lasting and loyal relationships with companies that get it right. We have seen many food and drink brands partner with philanthropic organisations, take sandwich chain Pret a Manger for example; The Pret Foundation supports over 40 charities across the UK in the communities local to their shops. This year, as well as donating money, Pret has provided everything from showers and sleeping bags to food shopping and chefs.

Some of the world’s leading food and drink brands including Nestlé, Arla and Unilever are also among 22 companies that have committed to the Sustainable Dairy Partnership which aims to improve animal care, working conditions and limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Again, this step is being driven by younger consumers and millennials who will represent three quarters of the global workforce by 2025[4]. According to one report, societally engaged brands are gaining traction and we will continue to see purposeful brands reaping the rewards of doing good world over the next decade[5].

Policy

Perhaps the biggest driver of change within the food and drink industry over the coming years will be policy, particularly within the UK, and directives from our government will have a large impact for both brand and consumer.

We feel sin taxes will continue to be introduced, as it was for sugar in 2018 as the government seeks to alleviate costly health problems such as childhood obesity and heart disease. From a manufacturing standpoint, ‘shrinkflation’ will continue to be the preferred option as tax eats into profits, alongside healthy alternatives such as alcohol-free drinks that are exempt from rising taxes.

At the time of writing, it is still unclear of what long-term impact Brexit will have on the UK’s industry. We have already racked up hundreds of tonnes of food waste due to a shortage of workers, and we may be on course to ditch EU food standards in favour of a more closely aligned atlantic partnership. As an island nation, 95% of everything we consume is imported via cargo ships and our food production policies will need to be carefully considered in the coming years.

Technology

Driving these trends is partly due to technology and innovation. With rapid advancements in tech progressively increasing the efficiency of food production, harvests, packaging processes and even our own diets through personalisation, we can expect the pace of change to increase as we progress through the next decade.

So in 2030, whether our burgers will be made from beef, beans or bugs, we can predict the packaging will be at the very least recyclable and the company behind it has a purpose as well as profits.

The food and drink industry is one of rapid growth and high scrutiny, and as communications professionals we understand the complexities of the emergence of new laws, policies and brand developments. We have identified three key issues that the industry is facing and can work with you to build and develop your corporate communications plans around the following three areas: purpose, sustainability and policy.

We have delivered campaigns globally as well as nationally and worked with multiple trade and government bodies to drive and support active discussions to help our clients be part of the most important issues affecting your sector.

To learn more about Definition’s Food and Drink division, visit https://www.definitionagency.com/sectors/food-drink/

[1] https://www.fdf.org.uk/statsataglance.aspx

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/31/veganuary-record-high-participants-plant-based

[3] https://www.unilever.com/news/press-releases/2017/report-shows-a-third-of-consumers-prefer-sustainable-brands.html

[4] https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/the-millennial-workplace-of-future-is-almost-here-these-3-things-are-about-to-change-big-time.html

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2014/05/09/why-purpose-not-cash-is-king-in-the-food-industry/#406d30712cc3

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