From low-sugar to climate change: The macro trends shaping food, beverage innovation

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - Prostock-Studio
Image Credit: Getty Images - Prostock-Studio

Related tags Trends Sustainability plant-based

Food and beverage CPG brands looking to stay ahead of the market are innovating around reduced sugar, plant-based eating, and sustainability, Barb Stuckey, chief Innovation & marketing officer at Mattson, shared during an IDBBA webinar on leading consumer trends.

Consumers are looking more critically at their sugar intake, which was the top trend on Stuckey’s list of macro-trends influencing food and beverage. According to an IFIC global survey​, 73% of consumers are limiting or avoiding sugar in their diet and frequently opting to drink more water than other beverages, Stuckey shared.

"The bottom line is we're consuming too much [sugar]. And for years and years and years, we just added sugar to just about everything in every category," Stuckey said. "This is not about [people with diabetes] or even followers of the keto diet. Yes, those people are obviously concerned about sugar intake, but these days it is really about everyone. Everyone it seems is watching their sugar intake.​"

While bottled and sparkling waters are growing, low or no-sugar soda and products like Gatorade Zero are also succeeding, Stuckey pointed out. Beyond the beverage space, no sugar added has become a popular claim even in products like ketchups, drink mixes, lactose-free milks, donuts, and others, she added.  

Plant-based is a marathon, not a sprint

The overall plant-based market is growing and its current struggles "are not as dire as they seem,​" Stuckey said.

We look at it as a marathon. It's not a sprint. Burgers [are] maybe off pace in the meat department, but movement is picking up in other categories. So, if you look at dollar sales of plant-based meats and other categories, we know that perhaps post-COVID the plant-based meat segment has stagnated, although it is doing well in frozen. And the real news is that other categories in plant-based continue to grow.​”

While plant-based cheese sales have declined, Stuckey sees that “there is tremendous opportunity in cheese, as technology gets better and there are more ingredients to enable the technology.​” The egg alternative space with Just Egg​ and Wundereggs is also growing, she added.  

On the other side of plant-based trends, “veg-forward eating​” is an alternative to reducing animal-based meat and products but also serves as “a bit of a backlash to the processed meat alternatives,​” Stuckey said. Instead of eating processed plant-based burgers or nuggets, consumers are looking to “celebrate vegetables​” by eating them plainly or assembled together in bowls, she added.

Creating a more sustainable food system, combating food waste

In addition to looking for healthy and nutritious products, consumers also look for products that promote sustainability through their ingredients and packaging, which is especially true for younger consumers, Stuckey pointed out.

"Gen Z, who are the younger generation and driving a lot of trends these days, they grew up in a world that has never been without extreme weather," Stuckey said. "They don't remember a childhood where we weren't talking about these wildfires and hurricanes and tornadoes and ... extreme heat. So as a result, they are very, very interested in the environment and products that are sustainable.​"

Climate-conscious brands like Neutral, with its line of Organic Whole Milk, and The Jack Fruit Company are two brands that lean into the message around sustainability and climate change, Stuckey said. Neutral is Certified Carbon Neutral and works with farmers to reduce emissions on the farm and invests in carbon offsets, and The Jack Fruit Company found an opportunity to bring the fruit to the US in the form of ready-to-eat products designed for stir-fries, wraps, and salads.

Consumers are also looking for brands and products that are committed to reducing food waste, which has opened the door for upcycled foods and beverages that repurpose ingredients that would have otherwise been discarded, Stuckey said. Products that tap into this upcycling trend include Flock's Chicken Skin Chips, Renewal Mills upcycled baking mixes and cookies, Rind, and many others, she said. However, while upcycling is a key trend now, it has been a part of the food and beverage industry for some time, she added.

"This is not a new thing. Whey protein actually ... came from cheesemaking years and years ago. It was a byproduct, and today, whey protein is so broadly used, that there's actually a process for making it now because it has so much value in the marketplace.​"

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